Anger’s keen perfectionism led him to assume all the usual filmmaking roles himself from the very beginning: In an unusual synthesis he handles all of the camera work, set design, costume design, film development and editing and acts as director, producer and actor in one. Even his earliest productions show the themes and artistic strategies that define his oeuvre. His experimental montage technique eschews spoken dialogue. Though possessed of certain narrative traits, its real power lies in a specific kind of suggestion. Anger’s first work, the 14-minute Fireworks (1947), was so provocative that the young artist was hauled to court on obscenity charges. Subject matter in the short film includes homosexual cruising, sailor fetish, sexual violence and gore. Its black-and-white images appear governed by an archetypal dream logic: phallic fireworks explode, the protagonist’s guts are crudely cut open to reveal a compass in his viscera and a sailor walks through a shot with Christmas tree on his head. His 38-minute Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) sees this dream logic tip completely into a surreal Technicolor color frenzy. The result is a sexually charged, orgiastic mixture of myth and ecstasy somewhere between period film set, opera stage, Kabuki theater and nightclub.
Later films including Scorpio Rising (1963), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Lucifer Rising (1972–80) develop this exuberant visual language further and also involve an expansion of their film-technique repertoire. Cine-sculptural strategies including double exposure or physical manipulation of the celluloid, the striking contrast of superficial pop music and disturbing images, the integration of found documentary footage and the use of subliminally-charged religious and mythological symbols enhance the films’ completely hypnotic effect. Influenced by the theories of the British writer Aleister Crowley, these works are also distinguished by a clear affinity for the occult and the enactment of an explicitly “perverse” imagination. Images of motorcycle gangs, orgies of violence, Egyptian deities, archetypal volcanic and desert landscapes and satanic rituals produce highly atmospheric, psychedelic psychodramas rife with breaches of taboo, sexual neuroses and voyeuristic fantasies.
Anger also is the author of Hollywood Babylon (1959), a book that anticipates the highs and lows of celebrity journalism. Mainstream Hollywood cinema is both the matrix of Anger’s work and its antipode. The visual lexicon of his films refers again and again to its dominant images while simultaneously subverting them in a radical way. At the heart of his practice is the fundamental, mind-expanding power of the film medium, a power absent in the genres of mainstream cinema practices. Anger considers cinematographic projection a psychosocial ritual capable of unleashing physical and emotional energies. The artist sees film as nothing less than a spiritual medium, a conveyer of spectacular alchemy that transforms the viewer.