There’s restaurant in the Dundee hotel Kenneth Anger’s staying in called Alchemy. For a man whose short films such as Lucifer Rising and Invocation Of My Demon Brother took a peek into the dark side of 1960s psychedelia, and whose work was heavily influenced by the sexual magic propagated by arch necromancer and occultist Aleister Crowley, the irony isn’t lost on him. This is the man, after all, who cast Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg in the twelve minute Invocation… which also featured an improvised synthesiser score by Jagger, a year before Anger’s friend Donald Cammell cast all three in his film, Performance. Anger too was a major influence on Mick Jagger’s lyrics for Sympathy For The Devil.
Almost forty years on from such heady days, Anger is in Dundee to introduce a screening of some of his more iconic films as part of Dundee Contemporary Arts Altered States Of Paint exhibition. It’s a show which could be regarded as something of a coming home for Anger, as its five artists in varying degrees take on 1960s counter-cultural iconography and reinvent it in their own image. Jutta Koether’s work, which in one piece spells out the letter K in painted studs that recall the leather boys of Anger’s homo-erotic 1963 biker movie, Scorpio Rising, seems particularly in thrall.
While tonight’s screenings of Lucifer Rising, Invocation… and two other works is cause enough for conversation, Anger would much rather talk about his more recent work, some of which is being added to tonight’s programme. One of these is a preview version of Ich Will!, a collage of archival footage of the Hitler Youth movement, which will premiere at the Imperial War Museum on October 31st. This is a particularly pertinent date for Anger, who announced in 2007 that he was dying of prostate cancer, and predicted his own death on that date. As far as the film is concerned, however, it’s the fact that it’s All Soul’s Day that matters.
“Ich Will! is a love poem,” says Anger, reclining outside the DCA in a rare burst of Dundee Sun. “Because I had a cousin who was in the Hitler Youth, and we corresponded right up until 1941. So there’s an emotional thing about the film. Boys at that age enjoy each other’s company in that way, but these innocent ideas were perverted by political ideas.”
The film has already been turned down by the London Film Festival, who saw it as too politically controversial.
“But it isn’t,” Anger insists. “It’s objective, and has no axe to grind. But the Hitler Youth has a direct connection with Baden-Powell and the Boy Scouts. They inspired the Hitler Youth, who added a political twist.”
Anger began making 16mm films aged nine, though his earliest surviving work is 1947’s Fireworks, an erotic dreamscape involving sailors on shore-leave. This and the films that followed tapped into areas of pop cultural tribalism which was picked up particularly by a post-punk avant-garde. Bands such as electronic pioneers Cabaret Voltaire, themselves experimenting with film, projected Scorpio Rising and others as back-drops during live shows. As effective as this was, it missed out on Anger’s own soundtracks of seminal rock and roll hits.
“I use pop music as a kind of commentary,” Anger says, “hopefully ironically or funny. I hope people realise I have a sense of humour. I got the rights to use Devil In Disguise by Elvis Presley for Scorpio Rising for $8,000. I couldn’t do that today. But in a sense I’m a pop artist, because I take things from contemporary culture. The Sex Pistols asked if they could buy some prints, so it goes on.”
Jagger, Faithfull and others were already pop royalty by the time they worked with Anger, who originally cast Jagger as Lucifer.
“For years I tried to find the right actor to play the fallen angel,” Anger remembers. “First Mick said yes, then he said no, then he started wearing an ostentatious cross, then he married Bianca. He said he was getting married on the Riviera and did I want to come. I said, I’ll wait for the divorce, and I had to wait five years. Then Mick took my idea for Sympathy For The Devil, which I don’t mind about at all. These things bounce around like echo chambers. I’ve been making films for more than half a century, and it isn’t like I’ve been forgotten and rediscovered. I’m making films that are the equivalent of poetry. I picked that up off Jean Cocteau who I was lucky enough to visit when I was young. I don’t make documentaries. I make intense poems. Love poems.”
A Selection of Short films By Kenneth Anger, tonight, 6pm. Altered States Of Paint continues until September 7th. Both at Dundee Contemporary Arts
The Herald, August 19th 2008