Film maker: Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger is an independent film maker. His projects appear abstract and are targeted at a niche audience, as he believes the cinema is ‘evil’ and is more interested in creating projects based on magic, ceremonies and spiritual activity. (http://www.kennethanger.org/).

I find the work of Anger very experimental and engaging, he has never made a feature film; however he would not be the influential fim maker that he is if he did, his work is avant-garde, and unique. Anger was also a writer, a very controversial one at that, writing books: ‘Hollywood Babylon’ which were best selling books and helped him to fund his future projects. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/mar/10/kenneth-anger-interview).

One of Anger’s most influential film for me is ‘Lucifer Rising’ produced in 1981. The film has an almost hallucinogenic feel to it. The film appears ambiguous in its messages and meanings, allowing its viewers to be able to reflect back on the film, and decode it.

I was curious to find out more about this film, and did much research into the meanings and symbolism. I found out that the majority of this film only makes sense to Anger himself:
Anger (about Chris Jagger – actor in the film): “he was supposed to play the high priest in my film, but he proved to be too difficult… I had to send him home because he kept asking ‘What does it mean?’ Everything had to mean something to him in his logical mind, and I told him it doesn’t matter what it means, that it matters to me, not to you… If I really wanted to continue with him, I could have made up some story… but the whole thing, the meaning is too complex and deep. Or simple, if you’re an initiate; it’s almost like a childish fairytale…”
This quote comes from the DVD commentary and I found it at http://366weirdmovies.com/102-lucifer-rising-1981/ a very useful site if you are interested in looking deeper into the meaning of the film.

The film began fairly methodically, shots of Egypt, sea-scapes, volcanos leading to what seemed to be an Egyptian goddess and a man carrying out a ritual, it then became very fragmented, and delved a lot deeper becoming more and more perplex when it finally ended with flying saucers which appeared above the ancient statues. This was very interesting as the Egyptians are heavily linked with flying saucers, as the ancient Egyptians are known to have drawn them coming to earth in 2,600 BC bringing a controversial aspect to the film.

The ideas that Anger brings forth are individualistic, they vary from the norm and defy typical conventions. He is a controversial film maker, whose view on the world is most distinct and interesting, and I plan to continue following his projects, delving deeper into his world and learning about his unique style.

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Four week project Process/Development

We were assigned a four week, group based project – in which we are simply to come up with a foundation for a film and build upon it as a group to produce a final, five minute production.

As there is no set narrative or base for the film we had a very broad range of possibilities for our short film. In deciding what to produce we looked at successful short films, and personally preferred films. I am a big fan of the short film ‘Lovefield’ directed by Mathieu Ratthe, as was another member of the group. The use of synecdoche in the film intrigued us; we thought the idea of manipulating the generic codes and conventions of a particular genre, and then incorporating a denouement at the end to shock and engage the audience. ‘Lovefield’ achieve this by utilising typical horror conventions – the establishing shot consists of a high-angled, panning shot of an isolated, secluded field. It then cuts to a shot of a black crow, signifying a sinister ambience, and is a common way of foreshadowing death or danger. The film consistently uses horror conventions, through diegetic sounds of the crow, a woman screaming out in pain and non-diegetic music, building tension. The screams from the woman – whose face we do not see signify mystery, and utilises Barthes hermeneutic code (to shock the audience later). Object codes, such as the blood-covered knife also accentuate the theme of danger and lead the audience to presume that this woman is dead or seriously injured. The film carries on using this technique until the camera pans to the woman holding a baby and smiling, which is where the audience realises that the male “antagonist” was actually a protagonist.

This is a brilliant technique in engaging and shocking an audience, and we began pitching short ideas based on this technique. We thought about using a female character, and presenting her in a vulnerable state – such as drunk, on her own by a nightclub. We thought she may have been dropped off by her father, and planned to meet back in the same place later than night for her to be picked up; however when she gets into the car at the end we see that despite her getting in a similar car, shadows and lighting would eventually reveal him to be a stranger – we would then decide whether he was a good Samaritan, who would look after her, or attack her.

We then decided to move from this slightly, the idea of a good Samaritan appealed to us and a religious figure seemed perfect, we discussed using a priest, and a young, vulnerable female searching for comfort and solace in the church– she may have lost somebody close to her and be in the grieving process or look as though she had been out with her friends, and lost them or ended up alone – possibly having endured some unwanted, slightly rough male attention. We decided we could show the priest reaching out to this girl, comforting her, the girl would then leave and get attacked on her journey home, in the last few seconds we would reveal that her attacker was in fact the priest.

Synopsis 97 – short film screening

On the 24th of October I ventured down to Coventry Artspace for an evening of short film screenings, an incredibly interesting experience where I was shown a diverse range of rarely screened avant-garde films from the past 50 years chosen by a local video artist and documentary maker, Alan Van Wijgerden:

“who over the last 3 decades has methodically recorded the political transformation in Coventry.”
as stated: 2012 -http://www.coventry-artspace.co.uk/events.html

Alan was able to give us a brief background and short analysis of many of the films, including what equipment the film was shot on whether it was super eight or 16mm and explained the significance of how a film is shot.

The films screened consisted of:

Lucifer Rising by Kenneth Anger, 1981: This was a highly experimental film, it left me completely confounded. The film is very visually pleasing, interesting and incredibly engaging – even though watching it for the first time I was not totally aware of what it was I was watching, I couldn’t look away. The colour codes were most enticing, predominantly focusing on the use of warm colours – oranges, reds etc reflecting the opening scene with the volcano – signifying of the elements, as well as passion, and danger, for example a male character throws a spear, penetrating a woman in a distant forest – the use of red/orange robes are using, a close up of his face lit up with red lighting and thick blood covering his body and face. I was curious to find out more about this film, and did much research into the meanings and symbolism. I found out that the majority of this film only makes sense to Anger himself:
Anger (about Chris Jagger – actor in the film): “he was supposed to play the high priest in my film, but he proved to be too difficult… I had to send him home because he kept asking ‘What does it mean?’ Everything had to mean something to him in his logical mind, and I told him it doesn’t matter what it means, that it matters to me, not to you… If I really wanted to continue with him, I could have made up some story… but the whole thing, the meaning is too complex and deep. Or simple, if you’re an initiate; it’s almost like a childish fairytale…”
This quote comes from the DVD commentary and I found it at http://366weirdmovies.com/102-lucifer-rising-1981/ a very useful site if you are interested in looking deeper into the meaning of the film.

The film began fairly methodically, shots of Egypt, sea-scapes, volcanos leading to what seemed to be an Egyptian goddess and a man carrying out a ritual, it then became very fragmented, and delved a lot deeper becoming more and more perplex when it finally ended with flying saucers which appeared above the ancient statues. This was very interesting as the Egyptians are heavily linked with flying saucers, as the ancient Egyptians are known to have drawn them coming to earth in 2,600 BC bringing a controversial aspect to the film.

Une Robe D’été, François Ozon, 1996: This was a French comedy film focusing on an eighteen year old boy, on holiday with his male lover. Luc meets a woman on the beach who bluntly asks for sex, to which Luc agrees. The film was comical, as well as shocking at times, the curiosity of why it is that this homosexual male decides to sleep with a woman he does not know – possibly out of his own curiosity, or lust, or just because he could. It was a very entertaining, light film which was easy to watch, and one of the shorter films at just 15 minutes. The film was very bright, reflecting the upbeat, positive atmosphere and i would recommend a watch.

William Raban, Thames Barrier, 1977: This was a very interesting film, defying the conventions of narrative completely, Todorov’s narrative theory becomes redundant for a film of this type. It included three cameras shooting on 16mm film, using split screen the majority of the shots were static shots of the Thames, sped up to cover a few days. Though the shots were interesting – I was not engaged for the full running length, and found myself losing interest near the end.

Klipperty Klopp, Andrew Kotting, 1984: This was another bizarre film shot on super eight. It follows a man, a man who takes his horse everywhere. The voice over acquires a very strong commoners cockney accent, typical of the punk-era (though this is post-punk). The voice over narrates over the black and white film, repeating much of what he says, describing a man – who he used to know, and what he remembers of him. The film follows a man who runs constantly, in a perfect figure of eight in a dreary looking field. The film is bewildering, and slightly manic. It does not completely make sense to me, but it doesn’t have to for it to work. It’s very enticing, though the footage is grainy, over exposed at times and fairly difficult to see on occasion. It uses non diegetic sound, in the form of orchestral pieces, adding to the ambience be it positive or negative – reflecting the mood perfectly.

Amelia and the Angel, Ken Russell, 1958: The oldest of the five films, it follows a nine year old girl who is part of a school play and has a dancing scene in which all girls wear angel wings. Young Amelia takes her wings home to show her mother (despite the fact the show is the same night) only for her brother to steal and break the wings. The story follows Amelia’s attempt in finding some new Angel wings in the city of London.

It is interesting to note that director Ken Russel had recently converted to Catholicism before making this film, which lead the narrative and becomes obvious through the plot as well as the codes and conventions. The film follows typical childhood thought processes – Amelia steals the angel wings to show her mother, despite the fact she would see them on stage that night. Also, when Amelia is climbing the stairs she sees a dress flying towards her – presuming it’s moving on its own, as does the audience through the clever use of the point of view shot, to find out a man is carrying it. These small events remind us of the sweet naivete of childhood, the simplistic degree to it, and how we put ourselves in problematic situations. Another thing I found interesting was that it was emphasised that there were “no more angel wings this side of heaven” – which seems true through the majority of the film, until the end where the painter climbs up a high ladder, with a background which consisted of painted on clouds – giving the impression that the man climbs up into heaven to retrieve the wings, accentuating Russell’s religious connotations and themes. I empathised well with the character, and found the film as light entertainment with comedic aspects. The film was black and white, with no diegetic sound – just non diegetic music in the background and an occasional voice over creating a story-like setting.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film night, the five films were bizarre, different and incredibly unique, well worth a watch!

‘X Marks the Spot’ – One Minute Showreel

Initially, I was struggling to think of an idea for my one minute showreel, with such a short length of time to fit in a narrative I began to over complicate my narrative. Soon enough I managed to think of a simple, and effective plot. It falls into the genre of romance, though this only becomes clear in the last five seconds or so. I used a sony Z5 camera to film this, and used the camera to focus/blur and change aperture levels – especially for the footage being shot outdoors as it was a very bright day, throwing off the white balance and exposure.

I was lucky to have bright, clear weather as I was able to creat a positive, light ambience and mise-en-scene. I attempted to add a variety of camera shots, angles and positioning in my short film, including close ups, tracking shots, zooms, blur to focus transitions and changing aperture levels.

I enjoyed working with the sony Z5, and feel there is still a lot to learn before I master it, and start producing films which look professional, but for a first attempt, I’m pleased with the results.