What's weirder? That Kenneth Anger's seminal avant-garde film Fireworks, with its satiny images of rape and butchery, was made in 1947, or that it still seems ahead of its time? The work showcased on the DVD collection The Films Of Kenneth Anger: Volume One startles with a vitality and luridness so forward, it's easy to forget that it's coming from half a century ago. Experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren and Luis Buñuel were around before (and obviously influenced) Anger, but films like Fireworks still feel frankly personal and uniquely expressive, freed from the buffers of taste and accessibility. According to the DVD's liner notes, Tennessee Williams once called Fireworks "the most exciting use of cinema I've seen." Even now, it's hard to argue with him.
The remaining four films on this set are historically important but less revelatory. (Anger's landmark '60s and '70s films, including Scorpio Rising, won't show up until volume two.) The 40-minute 1954 reverie Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome gives occult ritual an operatic cast, like an insider's perspective on how black magicians see themselves, and 1953's Eaux D'Artifice marries Vivaldi to luminescent water imagery, creating an elusively subtle mood. Aside from Fireworks, the highlights of the collection are two unfinished films that Anger later re-worked. In 1966, Anger took footage of an aging movie star that he'd filmed in 1949, added a folk-rock song by Jonathan Halper, and created Puce Moment, a creamy homage to fading Hollywood glamour; in 1971, he rediscovered some mime studies he'd shot in a French studio in 1950, added some classic doo-wop hits, and exhibited it as Rabbit's Moon.
Typical of Anger's films, Puce Moment and Rabbit's Moon focus on meticulous recreations of his dreams, but the addition of pop music connects them with the more commonly languorous feeling evoked by, for example, The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes For You." Even when Anger photographs blood gushing out of his nose in Fireworks, he's still celebrating sensuality. His films are a romantic ode to the connecting point between myth and reality, created with an effervescence that belies their shared opening credit: "a film by anger."
Key features: Commentaries by Anger on each film, providing a little historical context and a lot of symbol-decoding.