Thursday, December 8, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story

Rex Reed once remarked in his review of the film “Out of Africa” that the cinematography was so beautiful that every frame was a picture suitable for framing. The same thing, in my opinion, could be said of Kenneth Anger’s films. Unfortunately, at his show “Icons” currently exhibiting at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) you don’t get huge printed stills from his films, but rather a few screens erected in a dark room playing his films on a loop.

Kenneth Anger's films have influenced a wide range of directors from Terry Gilliam to David Lynch to Tim Burton, and artists that have appeared in his films include Anais Nin, Donald Cammell, Marianne Faithfull, Anton LaVey, and Manson Family killer Bobby Beausoleil. Titles to some of his films are "Kustom Kar Kommandos", "Invocation of My Demon Brother", "Rabbit Moon" and "Scorpio Rising".

I thought the installation somewhat deadened the impact of a great artist who pioneered images that amalgamated fetishism with male sexuality and threw in the dark arts (read “occult”) for good measure. Let me just repeat, a bunch of cool blown-up stills from his movies would have made a much better show.

Anger made a very rare public appearance on November 19th playing theremin in a two-man performance group called Technicolor Skull. I missed it, as usual, but I heard it was very visual and very DTLA. The room adjoining it was dedicated to his legendary book “Hollywood Babylon”, displaying movie stills, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia showcasing early Hollywood movie stars and their various vices and deaths.

I hope the next time Kenneth Anger exhibits his work it’s done in a more satisfying format. If you really want to experience Anger at his fullest, invest in the two DVD compilations, “The Films of Kenneth Anger, vols. 1 and 2”. Both volumes have great commentary from the master himself and provide a much more exciting audio than the dreary doo-wop and syrupy orchestral tracks dedicated to those films.


Far more satisfying down the hall was Weegee’s “Naked Hollywood” show. This exhibit was significant in being the very first exhibition of Weegee’s photography in a major museum. Weegee, if you don’t know by now, was a crime photographer named Arthur Fellig who could usually be counted on to be the first guy on the crime scene to take snapshots.

Crime reporting lost its glamour for him so he turned to Hollywood, shooting intense pictures of stars and their manic fans. He even pioneered the tabloid photographer strategy of shooting movie stars blowing their cool in public, i.e., Dean Martin jamming food in his face, Jackie Gleason writing down horse track faves on a pad, and Shelley Winters putting the “fug” in fugly.

Weegee had quite an ego for a reporter, titling himself “Weegee The Famous”, even rubber-stamping this weird handle on the back of his photos. He was a bit of a Rodney Bingenheimer-type, too, posing for photos with a newly married Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, a ravishing Leslie Caron, and many more.

The best part of the exhibit, however, was an ultra-cool documentary of Weegee pounding the pavement, Hollywood Boulevard, to be exact, looking for “interesting” people to shoot. He seemed to great delight in hounding some old coot with long, white hair and an even longer beard - a “hermit” by his description. The thing that killed me was his way of prepping a shot. He spit on the lens and then shook his camera like an unruly child, which may ne the first time in photography that abusing your gear guarantees a great shot. And yes, he still used flash in broad daylight which is also pretty weird. So that was the show: Kenneth Anger and Weegee, a billing that could have been curated by James Ellroy.


Busy Gal said...

I love the images. Weegee sounds pretty cool. I need to find out more about him. Great blog please write another story!

Prof. Grewbeard said...

Anger & Weegee, quite a combo, yet somehow, it all fits together...

Andy 7 said...

It was an inspired show, most definitely.