Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer was born on this day in 1927 and if you pay him a call at his official site, you'll find a biographical overview he's got to relish. In 2003, Maximilian Le Cain, writing for Senses of Cinema, cut straight to the chase in his opening paragraph: "Offering a description of himself for the program of a 1966 screening, Kenneth Anger stated his 'lifework' as being Magick and his 'magical weapon' the cinematograph. A follower of Aleister Crowley's teachings, Anger is a high level practitioner of occult magic who regards the projection of his films as ceremonies capable of invoking spiritual forces. Cinema, he claims, is an evil force. Its point is to exert control over people and events and his filmmaking is carried out with precisely that intention."
Then: "Whatever one's view of this belief may be, what is undeniable is that in creating the nine films that he either managed to complete (Fireworks , Eaux d'artifice , Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome [1954-66], Scorpio Rising , Invocation of My Demon Brother , Lucifer Rising [1970-81]) or else released as self contained fragments (Puce Moment , Rabbit's Moon [1950-79], Kustom Kar Kommandos ), Anger forged a body of work as dazzlingly poetic in its unique visual intensity as it is narratively innovative."
Kenneth Anger: Icons, an exhibition of films, photographs, press clippings, letters, and memorabilia is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles through February 27, and it's the most recent of a good handful of retrospectives in the past few years, among them the one at MoMA PS1 in 2009, focusing on the early films. That same summer, Anthology Film Archives screened a collection of new works on video, and Mary Hanlon reviewed each of them for the Brooklyn Rail. In 1996, Anthology presented "a suite of cibachrome frame enlargements along with a portion of his Hollywood memorabilia collection in the small basement gallery," a show that Jason Simon reviewed for frieze.
We could go on and on, of course, but on the occasion of the show at London's Sprüth Magers gallery in 2010, Simon Hattenstone met and interviewed the filmmaker for the Guardian: "This great avant-gardist is also a writer, best known for Lalaland's two most scurrilous gossip digests: Hollywood Babylon 1 and 2; the first was published in 1965, banned immediately and not published again until 1975. Among the books' more scandalous passages are allegations that Lucille Ball started Hollywood life as a prostitute; that James Dean had a 'disconcerting interest' in a 12-year-old boy; and that Bette Davis killed her second husband." Of course, man of these stories "are still disputed. For years, we have been waiting for Hollywood Babylon 3. Anger says it is written, but it's on hold. 'The main reason I didn't bring it out was that I had a whole section on Tom Cruise and the Scientologists. I'm not a friend of the Scientologists.' He says today's Hollywood is a dried-out prune of a place, its stars not even worth gossiping about. 'I covered most of the people who were interesting to me in the first two books.'"
Let's wrap for now with Le Cain: "Like other geniuses of the American Underground such as Brakhage, Warhol and Markopoulos he has had a certain amount of influence over succeeding generations of filmmakers. But, like them, whatever he has taught others, he will always remain unique, one of the few filmmakers whose work is capable of returning meaning to that much overused word — 'visionary.'"