‘Vice’ Interviews Kenneth Anger, Asks All the Wrong Questions

Kenneth Anger. (Courtesy Getty Images)

We were excited to read the interview on the Vice website with reclusive experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who is now 85, mostly because the filmmaker—beloved for his visually stunning, surreal, homoerotic creations—is known for his interest in the occult, an interest which is manifested in films like his 1954 masterpiece Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, which explores Thelema, Aleister Crowley’s occult philosophy.

Hoping to get some insight into his occult practice, we get instead, a desultory exploration of celebrity in Los Angeles, a subject on which the filmmaker made himself a de facto expert when he penned the gossipy book Hollywood Babylon. It isn’t until the interview is nearly halfway over that the interview stumbles into occult territory when Mr. Anger is asked about the nature of his friendship with sexologist Alfred Kinsey:

When Kinsey came to visit Europe and Italy for the first time, I had done intense research on the villa of Aleister Crowley because he had this 18th-century farmhouse, which he called the Abbey of Thelema. He was inspired by Gauguin and painted all of the walls with murals, but they were explicitly erotic in a humorous way and so he was kicked out of Italy. It was the first days of Mussolini, who didn’t like the English anyway. It was an excuse to kick him out, and Crowley’s paintings were covered with whitewash. I spent a summer scraping off the whitewash and photographing [the murals]. That was an interesting archaeology.

Though we thought the interview might take off in this new direction of occultists-in-the-Mediterranean, it’s neatly directed back into an abstract discussion of censorship, scandal and the legality of homosexuality. It isn’t until the very end that we get back to the occult. But basically, all we learn is that “[in LA] there has never been a massive devotion to Satanism or things like that,” that Scientologists are “quite litigious” and that Mr. Anger doesn’t don’t like to “tangle” with them, but he’s heard that John Travolta and Tom Cruise have gotten into it.

It seems that Mr. Anger wasn’t the most forthcoming in his answers. When asked what drew him to Aleister Crowley, Mr. Anger responds, “He is a fascinating character,” and dovetails that into a non-sequitur about the kind of film he might be tempted to make, but, it seems, probably won’t. Then, asking Mr. Anger to distinguish between disciples of Thelema and Scientology, Mr. Anger gives a basic 101 on Thelema and then reveals that Scientology is business-like and ends on a friendly note with, “Can we wind it up?”