Kenneth Anger, Avant-Garde Cinema Icon, Passes Away at 96
American avant-garde cinema and moving image art have lost a monumental figure as Kenneth Anger passed away on 11th May in Yucca Valley, California, where he was living in an assisted-living facility at the age of 96. Anger’s death was confirmed by Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers, the gallerists who have been representing him since 2009.
Anger, born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer in Santa Monica, California, in 1927, belonged to a middle-class Presbyterian family. Although he claimed that he had acted in a 1935 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his first confirmed experience with filmmaking came in 1937. He was ten when he made his very first short film, “Ferdinand the Bull,” on a roll of 16mm film left over from a family vacation. Throughout his adolescence, Kenneth continued making films, often inspired by classical mythology and science fiction serials, quickly developing a knack for formal and conceptual experimentation. “I call them cine-poems,” he once said of his work in an interview with Dazed in 2011. “They are not narrative films but rather, stories told in pictures.”
Anger became best known for his transgressive cinematic works, including “Fireworks” (1947), which was one of the earliest examples of explicitly queer experimental cinema. In 1959, this film became the subject of an obscenity trial that went all the way to the Los Angeles County Supreme Court, where it helped loosen restrictions on so-called “obscene” content in the arts. After “Fireworks,” Kenneth continued pushing the aesthetic and political boundaries of good taste, embarked on a number of creative projects, including his infamous 1959 novel “Hollywood Babylon,” detailing sordid half-truths about the lives and deaths of various Tinseltown celebrities. In 1963, he released perhaps his most famous film, “Scorpio Rising,” a lysergic mix of leather, religion, and authoritarian violence whose intentionally blasphemous content tracked with Anger’s interest in the occult teachings of Aleister Crowley and the Satanist Anton LaVey.
Over the next decade, Anger extended his pursuit of these occultist visions, culminating in “Lucifer Rising” (1972). After the film’s release, Anger did not produce another film for almost 30 years.
During this hiatus, Anger’s unique brand of pop-flecked transgression blossomed into something unlikely – a genuine artistic mainstay. Hollywood auteurs such as David Lynch and Martin Scorsese have cited Anger as an influence, and his propulsive soundtracks and editing have even been credited with foreshadowing (and possibly shaping) music video aesthetics. While Anger may have stayed firmly on the side of transgression, his artistic influence has spread to many corners of the visual mainstream, perhaps a fitting legacy for a persistent pusher of boundaries.
“Kenneth was a trailblazer,” Sprüth and Magers said in a statement. “His cinematic genius and influence will live on and continue to transform all those who encounter his films, words, and vision.”