In 1959, the book “Hollywood Babylon” was published in France – it was immediately banned in the USA – a detailed chronicle of the scandals in the film capital. Author: Hollywood-raised underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, whose innovative work has influenced many directors. Anger, who died in May at the age of 96, was also deeply fascinated by German history. A previously unpublished interview conducted during his last visit to Germany.
WORLD: Mr. Anger, how nice to meet you here in Germany.
Kenneth Anger: I’m also very happy. My best audience has always been here and in Europe in general. My roots are actually German, unfortunately I never learned the language, but French as the only foreign language. But I even shot a film here, a passage in “Lucifer Rising” was created at the Externsteine, this impressive rock formation in the Teutoburg Forest, into which a temple was carved.
WORLD: One of your late films, “Ich Will!”, released in 2008, also deals with German history. You put this montage film together from propaganda films such as “Hitlerjunge Quex”. They dedicated it to their German cousin Karl-Heinz Anger. What’s it all about?
Anger: We wrote postcards and then I heard that he died in the war, in the last few days. I am fascinated by this period, which seems almost like a dream to me today. I found these pictures and wanted to edit them together. At the beginning of the film, I wrote a message that says, “Be careful when you hear voices telling you to do things.”
WORLD: You then underlaid these propaganda images with Anton Bruckner music…
Anger: I found his 8th symphony to be the perfect background for this compression, or whatever you want to call it. But with my prior warning.
WORLD: The Hitler Youth that you show, however, give in to the intoxication of the mass movement.
Anger: Yes, it has something to do with tribal affiliation. What brings people together as a tribe, good or bad, is powerful. And unfortunately it wasn’t for the good.
WORLD: You begin your biography in Max Reinhardt’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a film from 1935.
Anger: That’s right, he was my godfather. A friend of my grandmother.
WORLD: You were six years old then…
Anger: Something like that.
WORLD: … and do you still remember the legendary German director?
Anger: Max Reinhardt had an interpreter to communicate. He was very kind, we got along well. And the sets were so beautiful at Warner Bros. Studios, everything was spray-painted aluminum which made everything sparkle and shimmer. The cameraman was a master, Hal Mohr. Unfortunately, it was such a flop that studio boss Jack Warner said, “Never again Shakespeare at Warner Brothers” – and they never did another Shakespeare either.
WORLD: It was the only art film that Hollywood made in those years, and even when you started your film career in 1947, there were few alternatives to the industry. I think you prefer the term “independent cinema” to the word “avant-garde”…
Anger: Yes, but of course Hollywood has also done some great work. And a lot of junk. But the good movies were worth it. It no longer has any relation to today’s Hollywood cinema, which interests me very little.
WORLD: Well you lived right in the middle. Was it hard to resist the temptation of this industry?
Anger: I could have done that too, my best friend at Beverly Hills High School was the son of Harry Brand, the powerful publicist for 20th Century Fox, which was right next door to the school. So I certainly could have started as a mail boy and worked my way up. But what got me against it was the persecution of communists. Some of my best friends were leftists who lost their jobs in Columbia’s dance department. They went to Paris where they had an offer from the Lido nightclub. They took me to walk their dog, a beautiful poodle. I used it to walk down the Champs Élysées. I met Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson of the Cinémathèque Française and remained Langlois’ assistant for two and a half years, the director. Many French people were jealous of me as a young American whom everyone else had to get past first.
WORLD: You also met Lotte Eisner there, the legendary German critic who, as a Jew, had to flee from the Nazis.
Anger: Of course, Lotte was a big fan of mine.
WORLD: There you sat in the midst of all these unique film treasures and were even allowed to edit Eisenstein’s unfinished work “Que Viva Mexico”. Have you rediscovered this lost film yourself?
Anger: Eisenstein was tragically booted out by his financier, who didn’t share his political intentions. Material from it had been used in several films, but I got hold of the uncut negative and was allowed to work with it. I love working with archive footage. Wonderful things have been captured on film since the beginning of the 20th century.
WORLD: You also originally wrote your bestseller, “Hollywood Babylon”, in French …
Anger: That’s right.
WORLD: A third part has been announced for a long time, when will it be released?
Anger: I’m just waiting for Tom Cruise to be dead. It says a lot about Scientology in there.
WORLD: In any case, you yourself suddenly became famous in the art film scene in 1947 with your gay short film drama “Fireworks”.
Anger: That’s probably true, but I had also done films before.
WORLD: All of which are now considered lost. Why actually?
Anger: They are not really lost, I could copy them. I’ve canned them, though haven’t looked at them for a long time. Only they run at 16 frames per second instead of 24, and if I put them out with sound, they ran too fast.
WORLD: That wouldn’t be a problem digitally…
Anger: I don’t know…
WORLD: Your motorcycle rocker film “Scorpio Rising” is perhaps the first film to use pop songs from records as a soundtrack, “Easy Rider” did it later…
Anger: The music was what was popular in 1963, it was all around me. But she is very carefully chosen to provide commentary on the subject.
WORLD: It is a dark, visionary film full of near-death that anticipates the tragic developments of the Hells Angels. Did you already know the plot when you filmed the bikers?
Anger: I knew that these motorcyclists were flirting with death. They played their game with him. It’s difficult to drive those things, but they accept it, even if someone dies every now and then. I wanted to show that. The Brooklyn boys were working class, but they accepted me as some kind of camera nerd in their midst. I treated them with respect and was happy to find a group that trusted me so much. I don’t know if I can still do that today.
WORLD: How did you escape the censorship?
Anger: My films have never been shown in cinemas except after midnight. I love big screens though, because that’s where movies belong.
WORLD: I know that Andy Warhol’s films were held in high esteem by some Hollywood doyens like King Vidor and George Cukor.
Anger: My films have been shown in underground screenings and sometimes in regular cinemas after the regular schedule. That was exciting because nothing like this had ever happened before.
WORLD: Nevertheless, even in your darkest experimental films about the occult like “Lucifer Rising” there are echoes of Hollywood glamor. What does this word mean to you?
Anger: Glamor is a trance of beauty and transcendence. It’s in the dictionary and I accept it. You also find it in life when you see someone and that someone becomes like an aura of the most beautiful picture. Part of it is in her head, and part in real life. Because the world doesn’t stop creating amazing images and you have to open yourself up to them – because very quickly they will be gone again.
WORLD: For your films you discovered actresses who transport this natural glamor between life and film…
Anger: I knew a wonderful woman, Marjorie Cameron, who was in my film Inaguration of the Pleasure Dome; as an artist she called herself just Cameron. She was the widow of Jack Parson, the adopted son of Aleister Crowley, who was both a scientist and an occultist. It was an odd but compelling combination. He had invented the fuel for the moon rocket. Unfortunately, he experimented at home and blew himself up. They were about to leave for Mexico when Cameron went to do some grocery shopping. As the house approached, it blew up with her husband.
WORLD: Crowley is a particular influence in your work. In 1955 you made your film “Abbey of Thelma” about his house in Sicily, which he used as a spiritual temple.
Anger: It was one of the first artists’ communities in which sex parties were possibly also celebrated. They made a religion out of Eros. That makes it frivolous to only talk about parties. They put a religious aura on sex, because after all, sex is a magical community. good sex Feel free to try it! He painted the house with elaborate oil paintings, and in his bedroom a mural paid homage to nightmares. After the Mussolini government chased him away, he had to leave Italy and the paintings were painted over. In 1955 I uncovered them all – and in doing so the famous sexologist Dr. Kinsey paid a visit who was dying to see her.
WORLD: When you worked in the Cinémathèque, you must have become aware of the transience of the medium, after all, a large part of the film heritage is considered lost. Were you also aware of this danger for your work? The original “Invocation of a Demon Brother” has been stolen…
Anger: I restored him from residual material. However, the thief who stole it from the lab is serving life in prison for murder.
WORLD: …Bobby Beausoleil, the original lead actor of your film “Lucifer Rising” …
Anger: He was a good guy and only 19 when he fell under the influence of the terrible Charles Manson.
WORLD: He still records in prison.
Anger: That’s how you see it in California: it’s better for the prisoners to make music than for them to rebel.
WORLD: You used his music for “Lucifer Rising” …
Anger: I wanted him to have something to do. He and 12 other killers were my band in jail. I gave the prison a Nagra recorder, it’s still there.
WORLD: The music is wonderful.
Anger: I think so too. He’s very talented.
WORLD: Your last video works shot for the Berlin gallery Sprüth Magers also have something to do with Germany, “Zeppelin 1-3″…
Anger: This airship, which was never in a hurry, was my favorite means of transport. When I was four, my mother took me to the Pacific coast and said, “Look for the big silverfish in the sky!” It was the Graf Zeppelin on her world tour. This huge silver machine floated across the sky and had an amazing sound, like a dozen cats purring.