Kenneth Anger was an author and filmmaker whose experimental short films and books recounting salacious Hollywood rumors proved both infamous and influential.
Kenneth Anger’s legacy
Born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer, Anger’s underground short films helped push the boundaries of what films could be, often during periods when censorship was rife in Hollywood. He made a series of black and white silent films in the 1940s, when he was still in his teens, but it was 1947’s “Fireworks” that first brought him attention. The film is credited as the first in the United States to openly explore themes of homosexuality. Ten years after it was made, it was at the center of a debate over obscenity. Though the movie contains no nudity, Raymond Rohauer of the Coronet Theatre was brought up on obscenity charges for possessing it. The case went to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in Rohauer’s favor, making it a landmark ruling regarding freedom of speech.
Anger’s 1963 short film, “Scorpio Rising,” dealt with biker subculture and homosexuality, and it became a subject of controversy when the American Nazi party protested the movie and sued him for defamation. A theater manager in Los Angeles was arrested and charged with obscenity for screening it, with prosecutor Warren Wolfe specifically citing its homosexual content. As with “Fireworks,” the courts also ruled against the obscenity charges. The film would go on to be an influence on Martin Scorsese, who found its use of modern music to be groundbreaking.
Anger would also pen the book “Hollywood Babylon,” a salacious recounting of rumors and scandals from the early years of Hollywood. It was almost immediately banned and was unavailable for nearly a decade. Though the book is filled with unverified and often debunked claims, it proved to be a major influence on the celebrity rumor culture that still thrives today.
“Making a movie is casting a spell.”— Present Pasts, vol. 7, no. 1 (2016)
Tributes to Kenneth Anger
Full obituary: The New York Times