What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

The films of Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger looms large in the American avant-garde film pantheon, and not just because his aesthetic obsessions have influenced auteurs from David Lynch to Gus Van Sant to Matthew Barney—to say nothing of every music-video director ever born. As this second DVD volume of his shorts reveals, it’s Anger’s ability to jerk even the most fearless moviegoer’s chain that remains unparalleled.

The set comprises his most famous works, including the raw, dark S&M biker epic Scorpio Rising (1964) and the more baroque, comparatively dreamy Lucifer Rising (1972 and 1981, featuring a very young Marianne Faithfull and a prog-rock score by Manson Family hatchet-man Bobby BeauSoleil). There’s also a brief 1979 cut of Rabbit’s Moon with a jarring novelty-pop soundtrack (the longer original version appears on volume one), and the uproariously tender Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), a three-minute distillation of Scorpio’s hyper-phallic techno fetishism that plays like Two-Lane Blacktop as gay porn, if that’s not redundant.

The standout piece here, though, is 1969’s Invocation of My Demon Brother, “an attack on the sensorium,” as Anger aptly put it, mixing superimposed psychedelic imagery, Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, crypto-Catholic rituals and admirably annoying Moog noodling by Mick Jagger to invoke something deeply disturbing, if not actually demonic. Whereas Lucifer’s occult symbolism flirts with Jodorowsky-style navel-gazing, Demon’s visual barrage of show-biz magick—its vision of hell looks suspiciously like a Vegas revue—slyly deconstructs all signifiers, even to suggest that Christianity is culturally sanctioned witchcraft.

The octogenarian Anger provides informative if sometimes mundane commentary for each film, and San Francisco-based distributor Fantoma Films duly highlights its restorations. But Anger’s movies would resonate in even the shabbiest of prints: Essential, inimitable, more infecting than infectious, they still have the capacity to shock and delight a half-century later.