The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 1(Fantoma, 1.23.2007)
The most aptly-named filmmaker in history finally slips into the digital age in this impressive collection of his first five films, covering the first ten or so years of his career and containing about half of his "magick lantern cycle" of experimental shorts. Fans of Kenneth Anger will no doubt find a mass of great things in this set, which has been on Fantoma's "coming soon" plate since the beginning of the millenium. The long wait is worth it, as two of the films -- Anger's debut Fireworks and his deliriously romantic Rabbit's Moon -- have received recent restorations.
If you haven't yet seen any of Anger's films, this is a great start and you can instantly recognize his influence on film editing and the use of music in films since the late forties. Martin Scorsese has cited the influence of Kenneth Anger numerous times and he contributes a brief note to the booklet that is included as a bonus in the set.
Fireworks actually contains a spoken introduction by Anger, not previously issued on video (the Mystic Fire VHS tapes didn't have it) and also previously unseen opening and end titles. The restoration is fantastic, capturing the high contrast grain of Anger's 16mm black-and-white images perfectly. The sound quality on this and all the films on the disc is amazing, which is essential considering the importance of music in Anger's work.
Puce Moment, the second film Anger worked on (though it didn't reach the "finished" form included here until the late sixties), is included and the DVD reproduces Anger's gorgeous color scheme amazingly well. The psychedelic soundtrack -- this element that was added in the late sixties -- sounds great and you'll want to crank the volume up on your tv as you watch this one.
However, Rabbit's Moon is the real revelation of the disc. The aforementioned VHS tapes contained Anger's 7-minute distillation of this 16-minute version. Whereas the action in the 7-minute version is sped up and cartoonish, the movements here are slow and dreamlike and there are a few minutes of scenes that aren't in the 7-minute version at all (the ending here is completely different), as well as bits of animation that evoke the main character's fantasy view of the moon. My only qualm is that the doo-wop songs that make up the soundtrack to this version don't have the same organic blend with the visuals that A Raincoat's "It Came In The Night" had in the shorter version. Hopefully, that version gets included in Volume 2 when Fantoma releases it.
Eaux D'Artifice, Anger's only film in the National Film Registry, also looks great here. In particular, the shots of the water witch opening her golden fan -- painted by hand in the original 16mm -- are quite striking. You can actually see changes in the fan's reflective surface and the effect is just as impressive here as it was on the big screen.
Anger's occult pageant Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome closes out the set. At 38 minutes, this is the longest of Anger's works and the one for which the most versions exist. The version here is the same as the one on VHS, only better looking and sounding.
Anger provides commentaries for each film and, though they have long stretches of silence, the commentaries are informative. Even when Anger is simply telling us what's onscreen, it helps since he's dealing with some pretty obscure symbolism for those who aren't deeply versed in the occult.
Additional features include restoration demonstrations for all the films, outtakes from Rabbit's Moon (that show glimpses of Anger at work on the film), and a very well-prepared, bound paperback that includes storyboards and essays. If you're even the slightest bit interested in the development of music in film, you have to examine Anger's films and this DVD is one hell of a place to start. -- Christopher Hyatt