American filmmaker Kenneth Anger was one of the most influential figures in the evolution of experimental cinema during the 20th century. Anger infused his works with a revolutionary spirit that transformed homoerotic surrealism into a bonafide cinematic spectacle. His works have inspired some of the greatest living filmmakers, ranging from Martin Scorsese to David Lynch.
One of his most celebrated achievements is his 1954 cult-classic Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, a rich short film that draws on occult symbolism to construct a masterful commentary on religion and faith in the modern world. Imbued with cosmic power, the film flows fluidly from one image to another as Anger subjects us to a transcendental experience.
The idea for the film came to Anger when he visited a Halloween party which sparked his imagination. While many of the symbols were inspired by Anger’s obsession with the teachings of English occultist Aleister Crowley, the term ‘Pleasure Dome’ is a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s acclaimed masterpiece Kubla Khan.
In a fascinating interview, Anger said: “I’ve always been intrigued by film, but I wanted to use it myself as an artist, more like a painter; the material rather than the narrative idea of film. My family had a 16 mm camera that was used primarily for holidays and vacations and most of the time it was just sitting there. 16 mm film was something that slightly affluent middle-class people had at that time to record their families, and I thought that artistic work could be done with a 16 mm.”
Adding, “There is a tradition of experimentation or avant-garde filmmaking that goes back to the 1920s. There were a few artists working with it in that way. Not only in France but a few people in the United States. I began by always thinking of the film as a tool of personal art rather than something commercial.”
Watch Kenneth Anger’s seminal 1954 cult-classic Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome in its entirety below.