Tagged: Kenneth Anger

Remembering Agnès Varda, Considering Kenneth Anger

Show a film in the basement of a century-old library and the filmmaker dies.

This might resemble the premise of a horror movie, but it’s something that actually happened last Thursday after I screened Agnès Varda’s 1962 film, Cléo from 5 to 7 in class last week. The doyenne of the French New Wave passed away last Friday at the age of 90.

My History of Film class at Pratt Institute meets in the basement of the Pratt Brooklyn library. The library was built in 1896 and is a pretty exquisite building. It is one of the oldest buildings at the Clinton Hill campus, and it features Tiffany stained glass throughout the building. Another ornate feature is that the book spine labels in the stacks are handwritten in a pretty distinct yet clearly standard style.

The day after I screened Varda’s best known film I heard on KPCC’s The Frame radio program that Varda had passed away in Paris.

Vlcsnap 2019 04 08 00h15m15s606
Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 is an existentialist exploration in life and death.

When our class met this past Thursday, a student remarked that he had heard that Varda had died, and it struck him that he was familiar with her work due to our screening Cléo in class days earlier. The timing was eery for him and for me.

This past week’s class involved a survey of eight American experimental films, and sensitive to the timing of Varda’s death, I noticed that of the eight films, the filmmakers of seven had already died. These are the films and the filmmakers:

Manhatta1921Charles Sheeler
Paul Strand
Rose Hobart1936Joseph Cornell19031972
Meshes of the Afternoon1943Maya Deren19171961
A Movie1959Bruce Conner19332008
Wonder Ring1959Stan Brakhage19332003
Bridges Go Round1958Shirley Clarke19191997
T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G1968Paul Sharits19431993
Scorpio Rising1964Kenneth Anger1927

As you can see in this list, of the films I screened on Thursday, only Scorpio Rising‘s filmmaker Kenneth Anger remains alive today.

Symbols of death recur in Anger’s best known film, Scorpio Rising.

Being a superstitious fellow, I worried that we would somehow curse Kenneth Anger. He is far from a young man, aged 92 years old and as old as Scorpio Rising is, he actually completed his first film in 1947.

So far, forty-eight hours after our class, Anger appears to be alive, and I wish him many more years.

Puce Moment and Salome at Light Industry

If you’ll permit me to publish yet another post about Light Industry, please note that they will be screening two films on Tuesday, October 7. At the previous screening on September 30, the organizers announced that these would be the most “gay” films they have ever shown.

The first is Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment (1950), a camp celebration of Hollywood glamour that reminisces about the old silent era. In addition to being an absolutely beautiful and haunting parade of dresses featuring a stunning actress, Yvonne Marquis, it also offers glimpses of the Hollywood Hills. Though I never lived there or spent any significant time looking down on the Los Angeles basin, I am overcome with nostalgia every time I see it. I’m not sure whether that feeling comes from being an LA native or from watching a lifetime’s worth of Hollywood movies.

Yvonne Marquis in the Hollywood Hills in Kenneth Anger's Puce Moment

The film also has the only two known recordings of 1960s psychedelic folk musician Jonathan Halper. You can hear the two songs, “Leaving My Old Life Behind” and “I am a Hermit”, in recordings apparently ripped from the film’s soundtrack. Those songs speak to me now more than ever before.

And if that’s isn’t gay enough for you, they are also screening Alla Nazimova’s Salome (1922). This silent film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play has been appropriated as a canonical queer film. According to the program notes for the screening, Kenneth Anger proclaimed the film to be “Nancy-Prancy-Pansy-Piffle and just too queer for words.”

Puce Moment and Salome at Light Industry

  • Tuesday, October 7
  • 7:30 PM
  • 155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
  • $7.00
  • Tickets at Door