Kenneth Anger, Avant-Garde Director of Short Films ‘Scorpio Rising’ and ‘Fireworks,’ Dies at 96

Kenneth Anger, the experimental filmmaker, actor and author who directed nearly 40 short films, including the homoerotic “Fireworks” and “Scorpio Rising,” has died, according to the Sprüeth Magers art gallery. He was 96.

“It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of visionary filmmaker, artist and author Kenneth Anger (1927–2023),” the gallery, which exhibited Anger’s work, wrote. “Kenneth was a trailblazer. His cinematic genius and influence will live on and continue to transform all those who encounter his films, words and vision.”

From his first homemade film in 1937 to his final effort, the 2.5-minute film “Missoni” in 2010, he exclusively made short films of various length, from 90 seconds to 45 minutes. His works fused homoeroticism, surrealism and the occult, and he followed the Thelema religion of Aleister Crowley, whose imagery was featured prominently in Anger’s later works.

Anger was considered one of the first openly gay filmmakers at a time when same-sex acts were criminalized in much of the United States. His identity and the themes of his films made him the target of censorship and pushed his experimental exhibitions underground.

As a young man, his first film to gain recognition was “Fireworks” in 1947 — because he was tried on obscenity charges, though he was acquitted by the California Supreme Court, which ruled that his works were art and not pornography. That gained the attention of famed sexologist Alfred Kinsey, with whom Anger struck up a lifelong friendship and working relationship after the researcher bought the first copy of the film.

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