Look Back in Anger

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Published July 16, 2009

 

Legendary occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger predicted that he would die on Halloween, 2008. For once, luckily, he got it wrong, and this summer could be interpreted as a life-affirming celebration of the octogenarian artist’s half-century of creative output. A retrospective of the artist’s films is on view at PS1 through September 14, and this weekend, Anthology Film Archives screening six of his newer films, the subjects of which span from Aleister Crowley to surfing. “Elliott’s Suicide,” the most poignant inclusion in the selection, is a stream-of-consciousness portrait of the filmmaker’s late friend, singer/songwriter Elliott Smith. Anger uses Smith’s songs to complement shaky, irresolute digital footage (Smith’s Rose Parade accompanies images of a parade), evoking a feeling that the film isn’t precisely complete. In that sense, it serves as a perfect memorial to the artist whose suicide in 2003 was an aberrational moment of ugliness triumphing over beauty. 
 
“Mouse Heaven,” which was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, is Anger at his most brilliantly obsessive. The film comprises footage of vintage Mickey Mouse paraphernalia, which the filmmaker activates to mimic the motion of cartoons. The work recalls a mash-up of macho aficionado culture Anger glorified in an earlier film, “Kustom Kar Kommandos,” and Anger’s brilliant film industry assassination tome, “Hollywood Babylon” (with which the artist opened the floodgates for Us Weekly celebrity vampirism). After watching “Mouse Heaven,” one is left to wonder: is Mickey Mouse just another pagan demon in short shorts? It’s precisely this level of rigorous cultural critique that has always underscored Anger’s artistic genius. As a filmmaker, Anger never stands in the way of a glittering good time. Yet, as a barometer of society’s devotion to the superficial, his on-screen artifice and glamour serve as an indulgent, but uncompromisingly astute moral mirror. (LEFT: A STILL FROM MY SURFING LUCIFER)
 

New Films by Anger will screen on July 18 and 19 at 7:30pm. Anthology Film Archives is located at 32 2nd Avenue, New York.