Scorpio Rising

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Kenneth Anger’s intentions in film were not concerned with narrative or reflective technique.  Kenneth Anger saw filmmaking as the manipulation of light, Lucifer’s source of power, and believed that the product of this manipulation must speak in some regard to the teachings and practices of Aleister Crowley. Unlike narrative films, the structure of sequences in Anger’s work is entirely dependent upon color, form, motion and associations beyond time-based constructs.  All of Anger’s films use this montage technique exclusively, setting them on par with something more like fine art as Sergei Eisenstein intended film to be; something more formal than entertaining. The more crucial aspect of Anger’s films within the technical realm lie in the association he makes between images.

In Kenneth Anger’s most influential film, Scorpio Rising (1963), image association functions on multiple levels.  On one level there is the color of his forms (red, black, and white, with hues in-between).  For Anger and his fellow occultists, these are the colors of Isis, for the popular audience, they invoke sexuality and death. On another level the iconography depicting these colors is both representative of the collapsing pop culture (James Dean, Marlon Brando, Bible films, Comic Books) as they are crucial to illuminating the character of Scorpio, the sadistic Satan worshiping biker. 

Kenneth Anger was fascinated with America’s cultural decay. In Scorpio Rising Anger uses a soundtrack of contemporary pop songs by The Ronnettes, Bobb B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and assorted others. To best illustrate Anger’s technique, the use of Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet will do. The song, like all the others, fits as an ironic narrator to the action in the film. In this case, Blue Velvet plays while Scorpio adorns his black leather uniform. 

When Scorpio Rising came out Anger was met with an entirely new kind of fame, particularly for an underground filmmaker. Like Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), Anger’s Scorpio Rising was confiscated and ban from screening in New York City on grounds of depicting scenes of graphic homo-erotica. This event catapulted Kenneth Anger to an outlaw status and attracted many new followers out side of his niche in American “underground” cinema. Artists like Jean Genet, Martin Scorsese, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, and Dennis Hopper all cited him as a major influence; likewise many were quick to assimilate him into their social circles.