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Kenneth Anger makes Scorpio Rising

Kenneth Anger's tribute to the motorcycle cult combines a homoerotic, fetishistic view of youth subculture with a contemporary pop soundtrack. The film begins with the bike-gang in their black leathers, fixing and polishing their machines. Adorned with rings and chains, they ride out to a Halloween party where guests perform erotic 'rites' wearing occult-inspired masks and biker-fetish fancy dress. Figures of occultism and magick are present throughout the film. Anger was a follower of the mystic Aleister Crowley (b.1875, d.1947), and during his career, from the time of Inauguration of the Pleasuredome in 1954-66, Anger has evoked elements of the mystical and occult in his work and regarded the projection of his films as spiritual, magical events.

Scorpio Rising uses a complex series of montage sequences which intensify towards the culmination of the film – a motorbike race, which ends in a seemingly random accident. The scenes are cut to an ironic soundtrack of contemporary songs such as Elvis' 'Devil in Disguise', The Safari's 'Wipe Out' and most notoriously 'Blue Velvet' which, in juxtaposition to the image, accompanies a scene where one biker suggestively unzips the blue jeans of a fellow biker. Anger's technique of cutting to popular music was later emulated by mainstream film-makers like Martin Scorsese (particularly evident in Mean Streets of 1973) and Quentin Tarantino.

Anger's film career began early in his life. As a child actor, encouraged by his grandmother who worked as a Wardrobe Mistress in Hollywood, Anger appeared in Max Reinhardt's film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) an event which he would later describe as 'the shining moment of my childhood' . However, he has maintained a love/hate relationship with Hollywood throughout his career: his book Hollywood Babylon (pub.1975 USA) gives a dark and sordid account of the history of the movie business.

Scorpio was not only a genuine underground hit, but also broke through to a wider mainstream counter-culture audience who were high on sexual revolution and youthful rebellion. Despite the Pop imagery Scorpio like Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome was an allegory of Anger's occult beliefs, expressed through the repeated use of mystical and esoteric symbols.

James Harding

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Stills from Scorpio Rising

Courtesy of Pip Chodorov
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