The title card of ‘Scorpio Rising’ is a slow reveal of this amazing studded jacket…there was never a film like this before, but there have been since!

Unless you’re a serious film buff, you probably haven’t seen the work of. Kenneth Anger (below), whose short films have profoundly impacted cinema, advertising, and pop culture. Since 1947, when he was 17, he has been experimenting with difficult and obscure subject matter, using his own milieu as his inspiration, and his cast.

Kenneth Anger in 1963

I first saw Scorpio Rising almost 30 years ago at the behest of my pal Madeleine Leskin, who went on to work at the Berlin Film Festival; she urged me into a late-night screening… I’ve never forgotten the disturbing/alluring quality of the film.

Scorpio at home, with all the icons of his, and our, era

You’ll see Anger’s visual influence on later movies like Easy Rider (1969), Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless (1981), George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) and Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets (1973). Specifically, his camera gazes adoringly at material objects, weighting them with an iconic, erotic power. Although never discussed as such, this camera work probably had it’s greatest impact on TV advertising! His films remain almost unknown to a broader audience, and ironically his book ‘Hollwood Babylon’ (1974), detailing the sordid underbelly of the movie industry, is his most famous work.

The fashion imagery was also explored by Karlheinz Weinberger’s photography

His movies are difficult, non-narrative, and certainly non-literal, almost dream-like (in fact the soundtrack of his ode to SoCal automotive culture, Kustom Kar Kommandos, is the Paris Sisters’ ‘Dream Lover’).

A 1950s poster put to good use in the film…

Scorpio Rising was completed in 1963, and its central character, Scorpio (Bruce Byron), is symbolic of the mythos of post-Wild One American Bikers. It’s hardly flattering, as he projects a homoerotic, sadomasochistic aura, snorting methamphetamines from a salt shaker, humiliating a man at a party, and defiling a church. Through jump shots to clips of other films (including The Wild One and a very bad black and white Jesus biopic), comic strips, and nazi imagery, Scorpio is alternately compared to Jesus, Hitler, and the Devil. Pop culture icons like James Dean and Lucky Strike cigarettes wallpaper the scenery.

The lighting owes much to Douglas Sirk, but the effect is all Kenneth Anger

It was considered obscene in the day, but now we’re all horribly jaded, and it merely seems shocking! Try to put yourself in the mindset of 1963 – Anger is a sly one and it’s difficult to tell if he’s celebrating Scorpio, or if he considers Scorpio a figment of a frightened citizenry’s imagination – everyone’s fantasy of what Bikers are Really Like. Using such imagery doesn’t constitute an endorsement!

Scorpio’s rituals challenge ‘normal’ society’s daily habits and cherished institutions

Scorpio Rising is 28 minutes long, and requires a bit of patience; its an avante-garde piece by a filmmaker who is way out on a limb. It still has the best ‘title sequence’ of any biker film, hands down. With its great period soundtrack (referencing the action of course), it’s really the very first Music Video, predating the genre by a full 15 years, although no Music Video was ever quite like this again…

Bruce Byron, the star of ‘Scorpio Rising’ on a promotional tour for the film in 1963

 

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