Alice Hutchison’s book on filmmaker, Kenneth Anger is revised and revisted in a new edition, published by Black Dog this month. Here the author discusses her relationship with Anger, and his influence on her work. She has also shared with us previously unpublished images of Kenneth Anger by portraitist Don Bachardy, Christopher Isherwood’s long-time partner.
How did your association with Kenneth Anger begin?
With ‘Hollywood Babylon’ being the international classic that it has been over the last few decades, that book was my and countless others’ first introduction to Kenneth Anger and his mordant wit. Anger was doing a world tour in 1993 with a stop in Auckland, New Zealand, where i was a student at the time studying art history, and masters film studies with Roger Horrocks, Len Lye’s biographer. The fabulous civic theater hosted a memorable screening of Anger’s masterwork ‘The Magick Lantern Cycle,’ and after standing in a long line of die-hard fans, he signed my black notebook with a silver marker I’d brought along. Professor Horrocks had just introduced us to the radical film work of the American avant-garde, which is really foundational for film studies globally, and I almost levitated when I saw ‘Scorpio Rising’ for the first time (you see I am a Scorpio, and my birthday is on Halloween. Ha!) But on an aesthetic and very visceral level, it was a profound experience. The years passed, I became a Curator and Art Writer, lived in New York, London and moved to Los Angeles in 1998 as Associate Director and Curator for Ace Gallery. In 2003 I proposed writing a feature on Kenneth Anger looking at his influence on contemporary artists who’d adopted the moving image as their medium, for the LA-London journal ‘After all,’ which provided the occasion to interview him in person. Again, the occasion was so memorable – meeting at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Blvd. Under a large Christmas tree; and there I met this most charming, gracious, interesting, and witty gentleman. I was completely overcome… he allowed me to produce the first new color frame enlargements from his films. The ‘Scorpio Rising’ image was then on the cover…
Describe anger in 5 words.
The five letters of his name, or in seven letters: THELEMA
Can you divulge what his latest project, “Uniform Attraction” is about?
Rather than give you my 7-page draft on this substantial new (2008) film (there wasn’t room in the new book for it either), a few summary thoughts here may not necessarily reflect those of the filmmaker or other viewers. The men in uniforms are reminiscent of his 1947 classic “Fireworks,” and indeed the iconic image of the sailor makes prevalent present military economy- very cleverly co-opting TV recruitment propaganda for the marines into self-reflexive critique. The dramatic TV commercials are so theatrical, (even having Kenneth Anger-inspired fast cut editing) and over-produced, they almost seem to aspire to “triumph of the will.” The “patriotic pencils” which are emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty and the stars and stripes- made in china- encapsulates our world in one ironic image…an explosive ending too.
Why did you think a book about Anger was important?
There were two small books in french written on Kenneth Anger in homage, Pierre Hecker is an author in Paris whom I met, and he was incredibly generous to send me copies of his anger correspondence from the Cinematheque Francais and other French archives from Kenneth’s decade in Paris in the 1950s. Some of these letters and press clippings are in the book, with my translations. Celebrated contemporary film director Olivier Assayas also wrote a beautifully written book on Anger, quite passionate in fact, which i also referred to, translated from and quoted in my book. With Robert Haller’s early small monograph of 1980 (which was really the primary source for discussion of ‘lucifer rising’), a great British film institute publication and ‘Moonchild’ were precursors. And yet none had consulted Kenneth in regard to doing a book. As Kenneth had allowed me to make new frame enlargements from his films, many for the first time in color, a visual publication with his cooperation, was a first. His images became central. It was about acknowledging his influence in an art context, moreover, not solely his foundational status as a pioneering filmmaker.
How does Anger influence / inspire you in everyday life?
Kenneth Anger introduced me to profound knowledge, the understanding of which is a work in progress.
What is your favourite or most relevant piece that Anger has done?
‘Scorpio Rising’ …And ‘Puce Moment’ …And ‘Invocation of My Demon Brother’ … – But if only we could find his very early work from the 1940s, like ‘Drastic Demise,’ and also the lost documentary he made for English TV on Thelema Abbey in the 1950s… Maybe this will provide an opportunity for someone in London to finally track it down.
Interview by Eunice Jera Lee