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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
Following the film's release, Kenneth Anger was arrested on obscenity charges. This ultimately went to the California Supreme Court which threw the case out, declaring the film to be a work of art. 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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Fireworks is powerful stuff, and, with the exception of a narrated prologue that explains what fireworks mean in poetic language (at least in the version that's currently online, there are others and they may not include this), is all done through the powerful visual motifs of dreams. Or, at the least, that's how Anger wants to present this vision of what happens when the ideal of MALE-ness is put into danger and promiscuity.
From seeing Scorpio Rising first, Anger's most well-known and semi-notorious film, I knew that this director knew how to shoot a shot of a man below the chest. Now, this doesn't mean to suggest nudity; he has his actors sometimes without a shirt or it unbuttoned (or in the 1964 film in some leather), and jeans being put on or taken off. But in its strange way he has a tastefulness to his erotica, the idea of the visual being the tease, the prolonged state of something that you KNOW is really sexual and provocative, but you're not seeing as much as you are.
This may be why he was arrested on obscenity charges when the film was first screened (where exactly I'm not sure, who knows where underground cinema could get screened in 1947), but it went to the Supreme Court and, in one of those early/landmark decisions, it was ruled as art. But it was the suggestion of sex, and certainly *male*, homo-erotic sex, and remember our friend context which is that in this decade homosexuality was thought to be a crime and/or psychological ailment that could be legitimately cured. So just in the manner of creating this film, whether out of a dream or not, it was a brave act on Anger's part.
The film is basically showing a guy waking up, seeing some (suggestive? likely?) photos that he tosses in the fireplace (though not yet lit), getting dressed, going through a door marked "GENTS", and then coming upon some sailors who... proceed to beat the hell out of him. This is all done in such a stylized manner that it reminded me of how Cocteau treated violence in Blood of a Poet: when blood comes out it feels otherworldly and yet very real in its way, like because it's not the blood we're used to seeing (yes it's graphic in how much comes out and in a sustained shot/angle), it has an effect that is uncanny.
The way music is used adds to the poetry of it all, how it evokes feelings of high drama and curiosity and intense violence - whether it's underscoring the man who is flexing his muscles in such a campy manner (not funny so much as exaggerated), and then when the group of sailors accost our main character (played by Anger himself, the one nitpick I'd have is he doesn't carry a lot of screen presence as an actor, even in, yes I know, a scenario that doesn't ask for naturalism) it takes on the feeling of being in a nightmare you can't escape.
How it ends takes on another feeling, but it's one I can't pinpoint yet. As far as a through-one may be tempted to say it's simply that he's still asleep by the end, but I'm not sure. The power of this whole 14 minute experience is to get into an intense psychological state, meditative even, about what it means to have the male gaze: it can be powerful, it can be imposing, it can be tough, and it can be beautiful, but all the while it can be dangerous as well. It's also worth noting that as this was 1947 this was before sailors and those in the navy were seen as something that could be mockable as 'that's gay' or something derogatory. This was just after WW2, don't forget, and the Navy sailors were among the heroes of the war. At the same time Anger's taking from an event - when sailors beat up a Mexicans on a famous day, I don't recall the name - so that adds to the provocation.
Fireworks may lack some of the visual sophistication in little parts of the cinematography (not overall as far as lighting and composition, more like things involving focus, which makes sense as he shot this over a weekend on extremely limited resources), but that doesn't matter to the full scope: this is a brave little package of a cinematic experience that works much like its title: an explosion and series of things to look at, and from afar it may appear delightful - but get too close and it'll burn your fingers off and make you disfigured.
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