A wordless film, save for a voice-over introducing us to the imagery of dreams. A shirtless young man dreams of awakening to finds photographs of a muscular sailor carrying him in his arms. He goes to a bar where the sailor from his dream displays his muscular upper torso. A gang of sailors, swinging chains, enters menacingly. He watches, smoking. They surround him and an assault begins. Surreal touches accent the dream-like qualities. A phallic firework, a flaming Christmas tree, and the burning photographs provide climax and closure as the young man, back in bed, is beside the sailor. Written by
The original negative and Kenneth Anger's subsequent hand-tinted prints were lost. The current extant version is constructed from early 16mm prints and was painstakingly restored by UCLA. See more »
[voice over narration]
In Fireworks, I released all the explosive pyrotechnics of a dream. Inflammable desires dampened by day under the cold water of consciousness are ignited that night by the libertarian matches of sleep, and burst forth in showers of shimmering incandescence. These imaginary displays provide a temporary relief.
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A young man with a restless libido steps out of a fantasy world into real-life encounters that are both mercilessly brutal and profoundly liberating. Not for film school students to pick apart in class; they'll never understand it that way. This is a shudderingly intimate film that can only be grasped on an instinctual, visceral level. It is essential to be more than a mere voyeur, to empathize with the film's protagonist (a young Anger himself), and enter with him into his very personal homosexual twilight-world of fantasy. An unflinching and daringly honest examination of Anger's own take on the homoerotic myth associated with sailors, which is both surrealistic a la Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou, and exquisitely ethereal, evoking one of Anger's early cinematic heroes, Jean Cocteau (compare this film to the far more subliminal Blood of a Poet for fascinating parallels). It also owes more than a passing nod in the direction of the great Jean Genet. YES it poetically glorifies homosexual violence; it does this in a way which is far less graphic than contemporary films, and if anyone is offended by this "violence" I might venture to suggest that their reaction has more to do with their discomfort with their own darker sexual fantasies, as this film has the power to touch, even open, this very private, very special place in the viewer's soul. It also surprises me, how frequently the humorous elements of the film seem to escape many reviewers.
As the film is now over 50 years old, it does help to recall its historical context: when it was made, almost all gays and lesbians led fiercely closeted lives, and cowered in terror of "entrapment" (a common device employed by police to bust human beings for the "crime" of same-sex acts). For such a film to explode out of this repressive social context makes it "fireworks" indeed! And it is easy to see why the intelligentsia of the day rightly wanted to lionize the young Anger for this astonishing manifesto that comprises his official cinematic debut. Apparently a powerful scene was later edited out, depicting Anger being humiliated by his tormentors on the floor of the urinal. I wish this scene was still intact; nonetheless, even as it stands, this is one of the most powerful, beautiful, knowing films ever made about fantasy, violence, and eroticism. Amazingly, virtually every film subsequently made by Anger sustains this unique power. Kenneth Anger is truly one of the greatest American artists and filmmakers. Sadly the public focus on his Hollywood Babylon books, his controversial beliefs and life have dwarfed appreciation of his monolithic power as a filmmaker. He has influenced scores of successors and it's time to give this great artist his due.
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