In a rare public appearance, legendary avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger will be in Ann Arbor Saturday night for a tribute to his work, capping off the 48th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival.
“An Evening with Kenneth Anger”
Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
At Michigan Theater
Tickets from $7
The event, funded through a grant given to the festival by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, will begin with a selection of Anger’s short films — “Fireworks” (1947), “Rabbit’s Moon” (1963) and two of his most famous works in “Scorpio Rising” (1963) and “Kustom Kar Kommandos” (1968). After the film showcase, Anger will be present for a conversation with New York film critic Dennis Lim and a Q&A with the audience.
To put the significance of this appearance into context, Kenneth Anger at an avant-garde film festival is like George Lucas making an appearance at a “Star Wars” convention. Local academics and experimental film enthusiasts are probably as giddy as “Star Wars” fanboys were as they waited to see “The Phantom Menace” for the first time.
Anger’s career began in the 1940s, first gaining notice for his short film “Fireworks.”
“(‘Fireworks’) is a remarkable iteration of the so-called ‘trance films’ of avant-garde filmmaking practices, which often focus on a dreaming figure,” said Christopher Hanson, a visiting lecturer in Screen Arts and Cultures. “Even for such an early film, ‘Fireworks’ demonstrated a remarkable mastery of film language.”
“Anger’s cinematic vocabulary continued to develop technically and lyrically throughout his career, with ‘Scorpio Rising’ becoming one of his most famous films and a sensation on the underground film circuit and a beautiful document of the counterculture of the ’60s,” Hanson added.
“Scorpio Rising” was an important step in American counterculture, utilizing a popular soundtrack and exploring the biker subculture years before “Easy Rider” (1969) did the same and began the New Hollywood movement.
While Anger was undoubtedly significant in the ’60s and ’70s, he has continues making films to this day, and his films are studied extensively in classrooms across the country.
“(Anger) operates in a unique space in the U.S., as both his films and written work directly engage with the relationship between Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking practices,” Hanson said.
This bridge between Hollywood and experimental films has also been proven by Kenneth Anger’s strong influence on several notable contemporary Hollywood directors, including Gus Van Sant, Martin Scorcese and David Lynch. In one such illustration, “Scorpio Rising” features a montage of a bikers putting on their biker clothes — black tank top, leather jacket and aviators — hauntingly set to Bobby Vinton’s song “Blue Velvet,” a juxtaposition Lynch would later emulate in his 1986 film “Blue Velvet.”
While Anger’s films would certainly be interesting to watch under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs — see his 1954 film “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” in particular — they all have deep, underlying themes, especially that of homoeroticism.
“To me, Anger’s work is particularly lyrical in his explorations of sexuality and identity,” Hanson said. “His films often unveil subcultures within the counterculture in a brilliantly layered and compositionally complex visual fashion, while at the same time are equally rich with symbolic and poetic beauty.”
In the world of avant-garde film, Kenneth Anger is a rock star. He’s the highly anticipated highlight for the remainder of the Ann Arbor Film Festival and will be present for you to gaze upon his legacy, whether you worship his work or just want to experience the craft of a genius.