Friday, May 26, 2023

Short Film: Fireworks (USA, 1947)

This here was our cat, Trotsky, named Trotsky because when we got him, our other cat was named Frida [Kahlo] and, since he definitely didn't look like a Diego [Rivera], he got christened after the only other person whom we knew Frida Kahlo had slept with, Leon Trotsky. (She probably slept with others, but none came to mind that day.) Trotsky, despite asthma and faulty kidneys, made it 14 years and across two countries (from Berlin to Mallorca). He died two days ago, on 24 May, the day a wasted life discovered, at boingboing, that Kenneth Anger (3 Feb 1927 – 11 May 2023) had also died, if but 13 days earlier.

So, what do the two things have in common? Not much, actually, other than our free-form interlinking of tangentially and/or non-connected thought that is, in our opinion, somewhat reflective of Anger's method of the free-form interlinking of tangentially and/or non-connected
visuals to create a free-form narrative in which a "plot" of sorts might be construed providing someone explains it. A style that is perhaps less so prevalent in his earlier films, but definitely in his later films (at least in those we've seen). 
In Fireworks, his first "official" film, released when he was twenty (though he liked to claim it was made when he was 17), his surrealist tendencies are already evident, but unlike so much of his later work, the narrative is surprisingly coherent. The roughly twenty-minute short got him busted — possibly incomprehensibly, when seen today — for obscenity. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of California, which deemed the film art, not pornography. 
"This flick is all I have to say about being seventeen, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July."
Kenneth Anger
quoted at the Tumblr Nino Rota

At boingboing, they write: "Kenneth Anger, the groundbreaking experimental filmmaker and occultist, has died. He was 96. Anger's visionary approach and integration of magick into his life and work is best embodied by Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969 / film) and Lucifer Rising (1972 / film). Those films and others in Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle were thematically based in the teachings of Aleister Crowley and visually amplified by the era's vibrant psychedelic aesthetic. Anger's films were a major influence on David Lynch, John Waters, Martin Scorsese, and, really, the cut-up style of early MTV music videos. Anger was also the author of the Hollywood Babylon books,* collecting the endless stream of rumors and gossip he heard while living in Tinsel Town."
* "He was a pussycat, albeit one with claws ready to strike when necessary. His salacious book Hollywood Babylon, first published in France in 1959, was full of scandalous tales of the private lives of stars such as Lucille Ball and James Dean, and was banned immediately on its US release 10 years later. It finally made it through the lawyers in 1975, as did a 1984 sequel. In both, the seamiest recesses of Hollywood were mitigated by Anger's black humour. [The Guardian]" Possibly, but if the entertaining first book, with it apocryphal and/or twisted truths remains an entertaining read, the second book has more bile than actual content. Still, had the legendary third one ever been published, we probably would've read it, too.
In memory of the influential filmmaker, our Short Film of the Month for May 2023 is his short Fireworks, the "first" of what was to become
roughly about 40 short films Anger was to make in total, and the first of the nine he was eventually to gather together and refer to as his "Magick Lantern Cycle". Fireworks is "one of the strongest contributions to the cycle of trance films inaugurated by Maya Deren, […] a feverish and disarmingly boyish study of male desire that revealed the rich dream logic and puckish charm that would remain a quintessence of Anger's films. [Harvard Film Archive]"
Kenneth Anger's
Fireworks (1947):

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