American director Kenneth Anger, figure of underground cinema and sulphurous poet, is dead

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By John

Do mages and alchemists ever really die? The question arises with regard to the American director Kenneth Anger, tutelary figure of underground cinema and queer aesthetics, occultist poet and sumptuous artificer of kaleidoscopic spells for the big screen, who died on May 11 at the 96 years old. The artist, who made a hoax of his own death by publishing his death certificate in the Village Voice in October 1967, and of his life a permanent invention, will he let death punctuate his story in his place? Nothing is less sure.

Kenneth Anger bequeaths to American cinema a work of short films, essential in that it explores the reverse side of Hollywood imagery. His films are like strange ceremonies on the borders of dream and psychotropic illusion, where iconic and eroticized silhouettes, invoking dark forces, wander through jungles of ornamental fetishes, cabalistic signs and sparkling colors. Their oneirism and plastic splendor had a determining influence on filmmakers as varied as David Lynch, Dennis Hopper, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer was born on February 3, 1927 in Santa Monica, California. The youngest of the family, he found refuge with his grandmother who, during the Great Depression, often took him to the cinema and lived with another woman his age, Diggy, who had been a costume designer in Hollywood. Diggy likes to tell him the rumors circulating about the world of cinema and celebrities. Anger thus develops an obsession for stars and their hidden face, dubious funds of miscellaneous facts, scandals and deviations which will constitute under his pen the material of two books that have become cults, Hollywood Babylon I & II (1959 and 1986).

Interest in the occult

Thanks to Diggy’s interpersonal skills, Kenneth plays, at the age of 8, the role of the Changeling Prince in the fairy A Midsummer Night’s dream (1935), by William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt. He appears there in oriental costume and will say that he was amazed by the rich fantasy decor, all in cardboard, which unfolded around him. From this original scene, he will recover all the less because he will not become a child star, as he and his mother had once cherished the hope.

From then on, Hollywood takes on for him the aura of a citadel both close and inaccessible, a factory of phantasmagoria that makes his imagination run wild. Another source of fascination, that which he feels for The Wizard of Oz, by Lyman Frank Baum, and its sequels, a cycle of children’s novels which, crippled with symbols and double-meaning motifs, also have a cryptic character. These two worlds will continue to be reflected in his work as though through an inverted mirror.