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MOCA's 'Kenneth Anger: ICONS' Opening: Avant-Garde Filmmaker Parties with Dave Navarro, Porn Star April Flores and More

Kenneth Anger at the opening for MOCA's "Kenneth Anger: ICONS"
Kenneth Anger at the opening for MOCA's "Kenneth Anger: ICONS"
Brendan A. Murray

If experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger had written Hollywood Babylon today (instead of during the 1950s), his subjects would have been among Saturday night's turnout at the MOCA members' opening for Kenneth Anger: ICONS.

Just substitute guitarist Dave Navarro for Rudolph Valentino, plus-size porn star April Flores for Jayne Mansfield and Kenneth Anger himself as a living, breathing narrator of the Hollywood milieu.

Still from Anger's Scorpio Rising (1964)
Still from Anger's Scorpio Rising (1964)
© Kenneth Anger

While he's had gallery shows in London and Berlin, Kenneth Anger has never been the subject of an exhibition in his hometown of L.A. -- until now. When asked about his thoughts on his long-overdue retrospective here in Los Angeles, Anger told LA Weekly, "It's absolutely great." Yes, that's all we could get -- he's famously terse with the press.

Anger and Brian Butler performing as Technicolor Skull
Anger and Brian Butler performing as Technicolor Skull
Brendan A. Murray

Kicking off the evening was a courtyard performance by Technicolor Skull -- a multimedia art collaboration featuring Kenneth Anger on Theramin and Brian Butler on everything else. Distorted, cacophonous tones accompanied a backdrop of clips from the Magick Lantern Cycle, a series of Anger's short films screening on a pentagram-shaped installation inside the museum.

Installation of Anger's films at MOCA
Installation of Anger's films at MOCA
Tanja M. Laden

In addition to his films, ICONS features more than a hundred pieces of memorabilia from Anger's personal collection, from old-timey articles on Aleister Crowley and Rudolph Valentino to vintage lobby cards, signed publicity photos and original work by Anger and others.

Marjorie Cameron in a still from Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)
Marjorie Cameron in a still from Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)
© Kenneth Anger

Anger, who hates discussing his age, was born in Santa Monica in 1927. (Sorry, Kenneth.) His films are among the first to openly deal with homosexuality, and his relationship to the occult is just one of the reasons why he's never become part of the world of mainstream cinema. But it hasn't prevented that world from acknowledging his contributions to the film industry.

Still from Anger's "Invocation of My Demon Brother" (1969)
Still from Anger's "Invocation of My Demon Brother" (1969)
© Kenneth Anger

In the DVD booklet for The Films of Kenneth Anger, director Gus Van Sant writes, "Predating anything that I know as gay cinema, Anger is the original." Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese remarks in his introduction to the same DVDs, "Now, you hear the word 'visionary' a lot, but in this case, it fits."

Dave Navarro, Brian Butler and Bennett Simpson at the opening
Dave Navarro, Brian Butler and Bennett Simpson at the opening
Tanja M. Laden

Curator of "Kenneth Anger: ICONS" Bennett Simpson admits that the exhibition was "a lot of work," but also acknowledges that he didn't have much time to pull it together. Likewise, Richard Meyer, curator of the "Naked Hollywood" show of works by the photographer Weegee in the same building, says he had about six months to come up with his show.

While he confesses that the exhibits were not conceived together, Meyer says the parallels between Weegee and Kenneth Anger are hard to ignore, semi-jokingly referring to the two shows as "Naked Hollywood Babylon."

MOCA's 'Kenneth Anger: ICONS' Opening: Avant-Garde Filmmaker Parties with Dave Navarro, Porn Star April Flores and More
Tanja M. Laden

Simpson recognizes the parallel, too. "They're both commentators," he notes, pointing out that both Weegee and Anger shared an alternating reverence and antipathy for Hollywood. Weegee's complex relationship with stardom is more immediately apparent in his photographs, while Anger's unfolds gradually through his writing and films. Both exhibits are simultaneously tributes and critiques of celebrity, offering a rare glimpse into the dirty mechanics behind the Hollywood machine.

John Wyatt, founder of the Cinespia cemetery screenings, also sees the connection. "Both artists reveal the darkness swimming behind the Hollywood facade," he says. "The pairing also highlights how much Anger's films use that artifice and turn it into something meaningful and metaphysical."

At the  opening
At the opening
Brendan A. Murray

While "ICONS" is an especially impressive homage to Anger, it's dwarfed in size by "Naked Hollywood." Director of Los Angeles Filmforum, Adam Hyman says "ICONS" is, if anything, too small. "The display of items from [Anger's] collection is remarkable, but very dense," he observes. "It would have been nice to have even more additional artwork of his."

Anger after his performance with Technicolor Skull
Anger after his performance with Technicolor Skull
Brendan A. Murray

Still, the size of his show didn't seem to bother Anger, who's dapper, spry and ultimately ageless for a man in his eighties. (Sorry again, Kenneth.) The filmmaker relished in his belated accolades at the opening, graciously socializing with his fans and fellow artists, to the point that one almost forgot he was the same man who once worked with convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil -- or that beneath his crisp, charcoal grey suit and celestially-themed Chanel tie, Anger still has the name "Lucifer" tattooed across his chest.

Tanja M. Laden blogs at Pop Curious and Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @PopCurious666, and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts.

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Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA Grand Avenue)

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213-626-6222

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