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Ever sit there looking at a Michael Bay movie, or a Martin Scorsese movie, or a Portishead video, or a CK1 commercial, and think, "So where did this come from, anyway?" The answer is Kenneth Anger's remarkable 1964 short film, the barbaric birth yawp of modern (and postmodern) cinema as we know it. Ostensibly a fetishistic self-generated porn reel, made, as Genet wrote his fiction, for the maker's masturbatory pleasure, SCORPIO RISING pulls together unlicensed pop songs with obsessive images of hunky guys, leather, chrome, comic strips, and death, to create a code for the programming of music, picture, and unspoken content that would go on to inform everything you see from Nicolas Roeg to VH-1. God knows where poor Anger is rubbing two nickels together, but tonight, say a prayer of thanks for the guy who made all your culture, the good, the bad and the ugly, possible.
Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising", set to the tune of thirteen 1960's pop songs, ranks as one of the best films ever shot in the experimental genres, which to some people might translate as the best pile of dog poop ever made, but in terms of visual imagery, context, and use of music, it ranks up there as one of the most important films of the 60's. Kenneth Anger's trademarks (outsider as protagonist, homosexual iconography, pop culture looked at in a different light) are at their most poignant here with most memorable scenes set to 'Blue Velvet", "I Will Follow Him", and "Wipe Out". Also classic is the use of clips from Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings" of Jesus and his disciples walking superimposed between shots of gay bikers. A classic piece of Americana.
Homoerotic bikers, nazism, suicide, 50's/60's pop songs, Jesus, pulp
cartoons, mustard, and quite a bit of leather, i.e. everything I look for in
a movie. This had me questioning "This Kenneth Anger guy achieved
notoriety?" at the first 3 minutes, but by the end, the whole thing gained a
certain rhythm and I began to understand what it was trying to do. This is
for fans of experimental underground/midnight cinema, anyone else I would
recommend staying far away.
As for the guy below who claims this inspired Martin Scorsese, Calvin Klein commercials and Michael Bay...Okay, Martin Scorsese, yes, to an extent. Calvin Klein commercials...maybe. Michael Bay? What? If the comment was sarcasm, than I accept you as an evil genius, otherwise you might belong in an asylum. Although I guess you could argue his last two movies are far more depraved than Scorpio Rising.
What is significant about this text is that Anger got many of the shots from the initiation rites of American biker gangs. As such, the butch ruggedness of these ostensibly "straight" men is conflated with the none-too-subtle homoeroticism of their rites--which leads the viewer to question the rigid dichotomies of "straight" and "gay" that dominate North American social discourse.
Also of significance is the extent to which, by appropriating "butch markers" such as leather and motorcycles, the homoeroticism undermines the stereotypicality of the "nelly" homosexual male.
Not a terribly accessible text, but it becomes pregnant with significance for the viewer who does a little background reading first.
I saw this movie in a community college film study class filled with dopey surfers, jocks, and hicks. Our professor was from a more cultured area and decided we needed to experience experimental, underground film-work that helped shape the way we view films today. The lights went out. The projector went on. We were brutally raped by images that we'd never seen before, only heard about. Many of the students were offended by it and didn't return to the class. The few of us who stuck around afterward learned about Kenneth Anger, what he was trying to say and the way he used film as a tool of expression rather than a story telling medium. This movie I will never forget as it reached out and smacked the viewer in the face and still does even by today's standards.
When Jonas Mekas, Alfred Leslie, etc sat down to compose the mainfesto of
"The New American Cinema" in 1961, the amount of films made under this
artistic statement doubled. Out of this period, we see the creation of some
of the greatest underground films the world has seen. Taylor Meed's The
Flower Thief, Bruce Conner's A Movie and Report, and most importantly
Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising.
Scorpio Rising's devices are fundementally simple-didactic montage, ironic sountracks, and archival footage. What seperates SR from the realm of mediocre is its deep underooted message of sexual perversion, S&M, and the cruelty of sexuality to a point of Nazist ideology. Scenes such as young man with a smile on his face being "raped" by leather clad bikers is a point of sadio-estasy. To say that SR is not a 22 min. perversion is to ignore its fundemental principles and the principles of its filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Anger has emerged himselfin both the terror of the haunte monde of Hollywood in the 30's (hence the birth of his hugely read Hollywood Babylon- a study as perverse as SR) and the drug and sexually illusioned world of the 50's/60's lower bohemia.
Scorpio Rising is a film of a generation. As Allen Ginsberg put it: "a generation starved on madness". It's signifigance ranks up there with Keroauc, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Anger's film is a portrait of a world so far from our 90's train of thought- yet so strikingly fimiliar.
During the early 80's I attended many screenings where Anger was
present to introduce "Scorpio Rising." The clips of Jesus are not from
"King of Kings" as one viewer wrote,but according to Anger, the clips
are from a religious instruction film that he received by mistake one
day while he was editing the film. He took it as sign to use some clips
in the film. This is a great work of art and one of the best and most
influential underground films ever created. It's influence on the
modern music video and other aspects of popular culture cannot be
dismissed. I urge everyone to get the 2 volume DVD set that's out now.
Check out Anger's other films among them "Puce Moment," "Rabbit's
Moon," and "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome."
"It's my happening and it freaks me out!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is from the second DVD of a set called "The Films of Kenneth
Anger"--a collection of avant garde films by this odd film maker. I
found the first disk to be more satisfying--the second has a lot about
Aleister Crowley and Satanism that I found a bit dreary.
The synopsis listed on IMDb is incorrect. I watched this film and listened to Kenneth Anger's commentary and the bikers are NOT meant to be gay Nazis. While they might appear to be homosexuals to some, Anger explains that you don't see their girlfriends who are off camera because the bikers didn't want them in the film. And, incidentally, the Nazi imagery and paraphernalia that appears later in the film was the property of the film maker---not the bikers. And, incidentally, Anger did not say he was making a film about gays or Nazis--the swastikas were there more for a sense of alienation and contempt for social norms.
The film follows a biker nicknamed 'Scorpio' as he does some of his normal routine (such as getting dressed and hanging out with his cats--the feline type). In addition, the biker and his friends put on a show for Anger--dancing about and acting up in a soon to be demolished church. Afterwords, you see scenes from a motorcycle race in which a guy is killed right in front of the camera (he breaks his neck). Anger chose to keep the footage as well as a closeup of the dead man's face as a shocking ending to the film.
While the film has a lot of artsy touches, this is a mostly documentary style film set to 60s biker music and with no dialog. It's not high art or something that the average person would enjoy, but it's moderately enjoyable and well filmed.
As another reviewer stated, this is as revolutionary a film as
"Breathless". While there was certainly innovation in the 60s
mainstream cinema, a lot of groundbreaking went ignored. Some of the
most important and innovative films of the time were made in the
underground. Films such as "The World's Greatest Sinner", "Scorpio
Rising", and "Flaming Creatures" presented images that Hollywood
wouldn't dare show for many years, used filming techniques that were
inaccessible yet innovative and made the most of the film medium, and
touched upon themes that would still cause controversy even today.
Warhol's films of the same period were also innovative, yet are
incredibly boring and worthless as films themselves. "Scorpio Rising"
employs many original film-making practices and is captivating for the
film's brief duration. The latter can not be said for Warhol's films.
If the film was full-length, it would become dull and repetitive.
However, Anger is a filmmaker of intelligence, and manages to say all
he wants to in little over a half-hour.
One of the most creative and new ideas the film had was to use pop music (unauthorized of course) for ironic moments. Through out the film, the images are visceral and assaulting on the senses, with brill-building pop tunes in the background. For instance, "Blue Velvet" is used to show a homo-erotic shot of a biker wearing blue velvet. Another interesting aspect of the film is the constant homo-eroticism. Anger questions the camaraderie of the bikers. They are shown engaging in activities that question their sexuality. The party scene is the biggest example of all this.
The budget of this film is non-existent, and with a few examples of background sound, there is no dialog. All Anger needs to convey his point is the images. The film stock is grainy, but it all adds to the underground atmosphere of the film. Also, he takes footage from "The Wild One" and a cheap religious film. The incorporation of the Jesus walking with his disciples footage with the bikers going to the party had me on the floor. Quite frankly, it was one of the most amazing sequences I had ever seen in a film. Also, the use of Nazi imagery was quite shocking yet like all other elements of the film it managed to blend in. The film accumulates with what seems to be a race and a subsequent suicide of a biker, all set to "Wipe Out".
Film is an art form, and you don't need resources to create an amazing film. This short proves that point. Despite all the experimentation, the film is accessible, and is a recommended started point to anyone interested in 60s underground cinema. It should be as much a mainstay for college film courses as for midnight movie showings. The cult following this short has gained proves that fact. It is one of the greatest cult classics and experimental films of all time. For sheer vision, it's hard to beat this. Due to the unauthorized use of popular music, it is commercially unavailable. However, bootlegs do lurk around, and see it if you are ever presented with the opportunity. It is the greatest short film I've seen, and is highly recommended. I can't say enough good things about the film, so I'll just leave you with this - see it. (10/10)
I know I'm not the first person to point this out, but I'm fairly
certain without this uncanny, sort of experimental short film (I say
'sort of' since it's experimental mostly in it having a lack of a clear
story and definable characters, but more on that just a moment), we
wouldn't have Martin Scorsese. It may seem obvious to some, but it's
confirmed when reading the book of interviews he did with Richard
Schickel several years ago, when he recalled seeing the film when it
was first released - in an underground format, as it was that kind of
picture, on someone's rooftop or in a basement or other - and that it
really made an impact that he couldn't articulate.
Seeing this today it's somewhat easy to see why: the rock and roll music, the emphasis on montage that cuts in flow and sync with the image, and how the image of a man is based on how he looks (we see in Mean Streets and Taxi Driver how a man looks will define him, both in clothes and in style, i.e. Travis Bickle or, on the comedic side, the awkardness of Pupkin). There may have been some influence on Lynch too, if only through the 'Blue Velvet' song, though somehow, someway, I think Anger comes away with using the song in a more iconic way: a soothing tale of a woman putting on and being beautiful in a dress juxtaposed with a man putting on his jeans and jacket and being in front of the camera like 'yeah, what?' It's probably in a mocking tone that Kenneth Anger shows his figures in biker garb, and yet it's hard to tell exactly what the intention is. This is not a bad thing; the way it's presented different people will take away different aspects. If it is satirizing the culture of rebellion it's that it's like, 'well, this guy thinks he's tough and manly and yet wait until that erect genitalia comes out' (and if you look close enough it's not hard to miss, no pun intended).
The majority of this film is really about its style, if that makes sense. The first 16/17 minutes is simply seeing set up. We don't know what for since there are no characters and there's no dialog: the soundtrack is made up of songs (really great ones by Elvis and Ray Charles and Martha and the Vandellas and the Crystals and so on) and sometimes the sound of motorcycles revving up. So it's all about ritual - how to put together the bicycle, how a little kid (who is only there briefly) plays with his toys, and how the men put on their jackets and rings and stand in front of the camera like any moment they might just start masturbating to their own image. As if by some happenstance as well (according to Anger this was a coincidence by some miracle) The Wild One is on TV, which lends this to being akin to Godard's Breathless as far as figures trying to attain their ideal images.
Only this isn't Brando; these bikers are, I think gay Nazis(?) It's hard to tell exactly, but then the substance in this case *is* the style. I'm still pondering over what the religious symbolism means as well, as Anger cuts in shots from some other black and white film showing Jesus (I think it's him, he had the beard and all). Is this meant to be mocking as well, as if to say 'well, you think YOU got a crew?' This was lost on me as I was watching it, but it's fine to think about it later on too.
The whole experience of Scorpio Rising is just one of total fascination. There's nothing as far as there being a concrete story - maybe there is one and I just missed it - but as far as simply showing us things, it's an excellent example of how to marry image and music. Without the songs this wouldn't really be all that much, just a lot of well-shot but randomly and at times very wildly cut together images of male perversity and hedonism (and sometimes just showing us shots of bikers riding around is simple). But you get the sense that in a weird way this is almost like a documentary of how men who go into the world of dangerous rebellion see themselves, and to go one further how if you do happen to be a gay nazi motorcycle man who gets in leather and rides around and does things with other men... well, do these guys even exist? Probably, or probably not.
For Kenneth Anger there's some satire to mine in the ritual of getting ready, the image of over-hyper-WTF-masculinity, and how far the world of Marlon Brando and his "What are you rebelling against" "Whaddaya got?" can go. It's sophisticated and daring and campy and deranged, and it feels still fresh today in its craft that it almost doesn't feel like it's from 1964, rather that it's from the 1990's and it's looking back at that period - it's post-modern to the core.
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