January 24, 2007
DVDs, 1/24.DK Holm rounds up DVD specialists' thoughts on two significant releases; a few more items follow. The reviews of Robert Bresson's heralded if difficult masterpiece from 1967, Mouchette, widely cataloged as a companion piece to Au hasard Balthazar, are finally in, but first, a few takes on upstart DVD distributor Fantoma's The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume One. Kenneth Anger is, of course, the underground filmmaker who gradually rose to prominence after distribution of his 1947 short film Fireworks. But like many artists who emerged in the 1950s (Jack Kerouac comes to mind), he was rather misunderstood by superficial students of his oeuvre. Far from being a rebel against the corporate moviemaking machine, Anger was a child of Hollywood, born in Santa Monica, with a grandmother who worked in the studios and who himself appeared in William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) as an aspiring child actor. In 1958, he published the first version of Hollywood Babylon, a compendium of seamy gossip that exposed the grotesque underside of the dream factory. As an avant garde filmmaker, he was one of the first, if not the first, to explore gay themes openly, and he was a progenitor of the camp sensibility. That Anger had ambivalent feelings about Hollywood that far surpassed Parker Tyler's is probably a given, since Anger later became a disciple of Aleister Crowley and hobnobbed with satanist Anton LaVey and Manson-follower Bobby Beausoleil. Adding to his controversial standing, Anger is also, frankly, a self-mytholgizer and resume padder. Which doesn't lessen fascination for the films he actually did make. The Fantoma disc gathers together five films covering the years 1947 to 1954 (Fireworks, Puce Moment, Rabbit's Moon, Eaux d'artifice, and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome), all restored and complete with commentary tracks by Anger, in a box set that includes a 48-page book celebrating Anger. Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, digs into the disc with enthusiasm. Noting that as an "experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger used his camera to express his innermost feelings," and that his "first efforts are photographically crude but visually arresting; they communicate precise states of mind and conjure visuals that stick in the memory," while taken together his films "express a personal, symbolic inner world." Anger's "personal visions seem obsessed with the idea of transformation, a concept that links his fascinations with glamour, monsters and ambivalent primal creatures akin to the mythological 'elementals' of his later work." After in depth considerations of each film in the set, Erickson praises the transfers, which are "annotated with text explaining their various 'lives' in altered forms; some have been exhibited in shorter versions and synchronized with different soundtracks" - as well as Anger's "relaxed commentaries" in which he "speaks openly" but "doesn't indulge in gossip or tell tales out of school." Erickson concludes: "Experimental filmmakers can't be accused of doing what they do for the money. Anger's work has lived on in museum and film school showings; none of them ever received anything like an organized theatrical distribution." Fernando F Croce, writing at Slant, is somewhat less enthusiastic. Anger's career is "one of fragments, of esoteric sensation pieces surreptitiously made when not lost, unfinished, or figuratively as well as literally buried," and as it progressed, Anger slipped from meaningful personal expression to films that "explicitly linked film form (color, movement, rhythm) to the tools of occult intoxication, and his films became increasingly more of an excuse to soak in the voluptuousness of pure style." Croce finds the transfers "noticeably cleaned up from previous copies," though "the image occasionally has a slightly muted feel that goes against Anger's splurging style," and he has little patience for Anger's commentary track, which "drops interesting bits (the first midnight screening of Fireworks counted James Whale and Dr Alfred Kinsey among its guests), but it is overall barren, mostly descriptive along the standard 'This is milk poured on me in slow motion' lines." Still, Croce concludes that it is a "long-overdue presentation for the valuable fragments of Anger's outlaw poetry."
Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "With their veil of dirt and time removed, the Anger films no longer look as angrily marginal as they once did: these are extremely handsome films, designed and photographed with a discriminating eye.... [T]hey traffic in many of the same tattered movie myths that would later turn into the delirious camp of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1963) and Mike Kuchar's Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965)... [Anger] had the taste and the technical know-how to capture the hermetic world of silent film." Also, Criterion's new releases of Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Nathan Lee in the Voice: "Proto-pop genius, gay maverick, hardcore occultist, master of montage, and, through his pioneering use of unauthorized pop songs and intensity of vision, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, Kenneth Anger is a cornerstone of the American avant-garde and a gift that keeps on giving.... For all his emphasis on magic, myth, symbol, and rite, Anger is as material a filmmaker as Brakhage." More from André Salas at Filmmaker and Michael Atkinson at IFC News, where he also reviews the Robert Mitchum Signature Collection: "Mitchum knew how to be on film in a way that eludes most actors; his massive bulk, sleepy eyes and laconic voice disguised a quick, quiet intelligence that always seemed to surprise his co-stars."
Posted by dwhudson at January 24, 2007 7:59 AM