Kenneth Anger, experimental filmmaker and notorious figure – his trajectory emblematic of ’60s chaos, but influential far beyond the local time/place – author of the vicious Hollywood Babylon, a book referenced as though it’s the gospel truth, has died. He was far far out on the edges of mainstream society. He was a fabulist and manipulator. He loved Aleister Crowley (hence my headline) and had a surreal Jean-Genet-ish aesthetic. Querelle in the flesh.
I can’t remember what came first for me, Hollywood Babylon or the whole story behind Lucifer Rising. In my memory they are nearly simultaneous, although I have a feeling Hollywood Babylon – which I bought in high school, and still have the same copy – came first. Hollywood Babylon is filled with legacy-killing gossip, much of which isn’t true, but reported as if it’s true, in the most scandal-ridden prose possible.
People still quote the gossip from Hollywood Babylon as though it is true. (Thank God Karina Longworth fact-checked Hollywood Babylon for an entire season on her podcast You Must Remember This.) I discovered Kenneth Anger for real (because the Hollywood Babylon Kenneth Anger is, honestly, the least important and/or relevant Kenneth Anger) when I discovered his films, much of which I read about long LONG before I was able to see any of them. My entryway into Kenneth Anger speaks volumes – at least about me, lol, for anyone who knows anything about anything: I discovered his films, and basically him, because of my interest in Bobby Beausoleil. Which is … pretty sick. Especially since I was like 16 or 17 years old at the time. Around the same time, I read Truman Capote’s eerie prison interview with Bobby Beausoleil, included in the collection Music for Chameleons. Bobby Beausoleil scared me, and so naturally I did a little more digging
Again, if you know anything about anything, you know the name Bobby Beausoleil, and it might send a chill down your spine. And you know he is not “famous” because of Kenneth Anger’s films but because of a far more sinister America-changing event: his involvement with Charles Manson. One of the motivating factors for the murder of Sharon Tate, her baby, Jay Sebring, and et al et al, beyond the fact that Charles Manson thought Terry Melcher still lived in the Cielo Drive house and Manson was pissed at the dashing of his rock-star dreams (I honestly think the motivation was that petty, that stupid), was the murder of Gary Hinman, Bobby Beausoleil’s sort-of-roommate at the time. The Hinman murder was the practice run for the others. Beausoleil was in jail for the Hinman murder when the Tate/La Bianca murders happened. So the idea was: maybe if there was a series of identical murders, with words written in blood on the walls, etc., it would clear Bobby Beausoleil and he’d be released. Nobody said the Manson killers were intelligent. Dummy-dumbs, all of them. Bobby Beausoleil is 75 years old now and he is still in prison. He’ll never get out. Not as long as Debra Tate has anything to say about it. But before he met Manson, he met Kenneth Anger. And we’re talking just a year before. The ’60s were wild, man. You drift into San Francisco, you hole up with a gay filmmaker living in an old mansion, performing and filming mad “magick” rituals, and then you drift on and meet another powerful older man, and his name is Charles Manson, and within months you are stabbing your roommate. Beausoleil wasn’t even 20 years old when he met Kenneth Anger. One can understand the mutual attraction. Anger loved beautiful boys, he knew what it meant to be a beautiful boy, and Beausoleil was the quintessential beautiful boy.
Bobby Beausoleil by Kenneth Anger
So. To re-cap. As a teenager, I “got to” Anger through murderer Bobby Beausoleil. This is the glory of being a teenager where nobody is monitoring your reading material making sure it’s “appropriate”.
I am no expert on Lucifer Rising, Anger’s experimental short film which went through so many transformations it’s hard to keep up – with collaborators ranging from Bobby Beausoleil, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and … many others … a film “in the works” for 15 years or longer. If you want to learn more, you can’t do better than this lengthy piece on Pleasure of Past Times. It’s FASCINATING. There are so many fragments out there, and lost and missing pieces, and different scores (one by Bobby Beausoleil’s band at the time, one score by Mick Jagger) … so there is no definitive version but I highly recommend the version on Youtube:
My pal Glenn Kenny wrote a great obit on Anger for The Decider. My thoughts here are scattered and personal, and Kenny provides context and detail. He was not well-liked (understatement) but he was important. His work is a landmark of queer cinema, and he has many many heirs. His heirs far surpassed him. He influenced Warhol. He influenced David Lynch. Martin Scorsese has clocked him as an influence. I mean, the list goes on and on.
Anger’s 1947 film Fireworks, filmed when he was 20:
Anger’s 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome:
Anger’s 1966 film Scorpio Rising:
I must point to my dear friend Fartan’s piece on the long-lasting unforgivable damage Anger did with Hollywood Babylon. It had to be said and nobody better to say it than Farran.