In 1947, a year when the biggest thing at the box office was the Carey Grant-Shirley Temple romp The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Kenneth Anger released the homoerotic art film Fireworks. In it, a young man, played by Anger, is raped by a gang of sailors. In the 1960s, he went on to release a series of psychedelic experimental films — including Lucifer Rising, starring Manson Family cohort Bobby Beausoleil — and released the book Hollywood Babylon, a tome that detailed movie-biz scandals, and with which he's been accused of taking a fair amount of creative license. He's a provocateur, a magician and adherent of Aleister Crowley's Thelema religion who's been known to put curses on people, and an artist who's spent the better part of 70 years being ahead of his time.
On Sunday, Anger, who's now 89, is joined by collaborator Brian Butler for a screening of his Magick Lantern Cycle films — Invocation of My Demon Brother, Scorpio Rising, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Lucifer Rising — plus a psychedelic musical installation by Butler and Anger's Technicolor Skull (Anger plays theremin). In the following video, created by Butler, Anger explains his spiritual philosophy. It's followed by a Q&A with Butler about his creative partner. —Gwynedd Stuart
L.A. Weekly: Who is exactly is Kenneth Anger?
Brian Butler: Kenneth Anger is a master of avant-garde film. His influence can be seen in filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese (who calls him “without a doubt, one of our greatest artists”), Roger Corman, George Lucas, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin and David Lynch, not to mention the pop art of Andy Warhol, and almost every music video.
How did you become involved with him?
I first met Kenneth Anger while I was a producer on a TV show for Channel 4 in the U.K. Following this we became friends and began collaborating on a radical live performance project, Kenneth Anger & Brian Butler’s Technicolor Skull. Although we both work in a wide variety of mediums, light and sound is our common mode of expression. To begin this project I designed a room full of electronic instruments and invited Kenneth over, making sure everything was powered on before he arrived. Kenneth walked in and immediately began conducting on the theremin. I joined in on guitar and synthesizers. The next time we played was at a festival in Austria before an audience of several thousand. Since then we have performed at museums all over the word, each time increasing the sonic mayhem and further exploring the psychic impact of a magick ritual in the context of a live performance. For the upcoming Los Angeles installment of the performance at the Regent Theater, we have completely reinvented the piece, pushing it to the outer limits of our aesthetic and creative capacities. We welcome those who attend to join us on this journey through the seasons of the mind.
How does spirituality work itself into Anger's films?
Anger’s films evoke the power of spells or incantations, combining experimental technique with popular song, rich color and subject matter drawn equally from personal obsession, myth and the occult, casting pop icons such as Marianne Faithfull and Anaïs Nin. Anger commissioned soundtracks from rock legends such as Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page.
What is Anger's legacy in L.A.?
He gained notoriety as the author of the best-seller Hollywood Babylon, a tell-all book revealing scandals and controversies in Hollywood among the rich and famous — long before the current popularity of celebrity scandal blogs such as TMZ and Perez Hilton. The interest in Anger’s work shows no sign of abating in the 21st century.