Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: December 01, 2010
Anger Me is a biographical film about Kenneth Anger (b. 1927), an influential gay underground filmmaker and a pioneer in independent film distribution. While Anger's work has not been as widely distributed as most commercial films, it has had an outsize influence on film aficionados and such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, John Waters, and David Lynch. His use of popular music in his films is even credited with helping spark the music video phenomenon.
While Anger Me opens with a brief homoerotically charged dream-like clip from one of Anger's films, one IMDB.com poster correctly wrote that Anger Me is not a documentary, but a 71-minute interview. Only two people speak in the film: Kenneth Anger and, very briefly, cinematographer Jonas Mekas, his sometime collaborator. Most of the film consists of an interview with Anger. Clips of his radical underground work are projected behind him while he sits and speaks in the foreground.
When seen for what it is, an unusually well-presented work of oral history, the film succeeds as an introduction to Anger's films and the unusual influence that inspires them. Anger, who describes himself as a film poet, is an auteur who says he is "too much of a maverick to work in the film industry". He recounts his associations with a host of famous twentieth century figures including D. W. Griffith, Anïas Nin, Jean Genet, Jean Cocteau, Alfred Kinsey, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mick Jagger, and other luminaries in a way that seems to promise a list of artistic influences, but is rendered gratuitous when he reveals that none of them significantly affected his filmmaking. Rather, he says, his primary inspiration is the work of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the English bisexual mystic and occultist, though Anger never met him. Anger reveals that he is so taken with Crowley's paganism that he is a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a religious organization devoted to Crowley's teachings.
In the interview, Anger discusses the history of his career including Fireworks (1947), a homoerotically charged dream-like film that effectively outed him and brought him to the attention of both censors and the avant-garde. The interview also includes Anger's take on Puce Moment (1949), a film he still sees as incomplete, as well Hollywood Babylon (1958), a lurid tell-all book about Hollywood scandals that was made into a film in 1972, and his films Scorpio Rising (1965), Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), My Demon Brother (1969), and Lucifer Rising (1972).
As an oral history, the film has one failing: Anger reveals little about his personal life except that he was the black sheep of his family because he did not pursue engineering as his father had. Crowley's reticence about his personal life contributes to the film's blandness and emotional sterility.
Glbtq contributor Mark Allen Svede writes that Anger is "One of America's first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner" and "occupies an important place in the history of experimental filmmaking. His role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate."
Anger Me fails to capture that historical and artistic significance or the emotional power of Anger's work, but is useful in educational settings that require an introduction to his opus.