Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1963, USA)

In the annals of film history, there are probably few short films as influential as Kenneth Anger's short film Scorpio Rising. It is also probably Anger's best-known film. The film was a clear influence on several filmmakers. One can see its fingerprints on the early works of Martin Scorsese, who cited the film's use of music as an influence. Likewise, underground filmmakers like John Waters adopted a similar style, adopting a humorous use of classic pop songs. David Lynch is perhaps the most emblematic example of this influence, as his ironic use of pop music in the film Blue Velvet was directly inspired by Anger. Even "Blue Velvet" the song was used in Scorpio Rising. More recent filmmakers such as Nicholas Winding Refn have cited Anger and the film as an influence.

Unlike most experimental films, Scorpio is a very entertaining watch. Anger had befriended a bunch of Italian-American bikers in New York City, and they allowed him to film them. What we see in the film is largely how they lived at the time, giving an almost documentary quality to the film. The film's party sequence was a real party among the bikers (who hid their girlfriends behind Anger's camera). The lack of women onscreen - in Anger's words - made the whole scenario appear queerer than it was. The film's violent and dark finale, with a descent into Nazism, seems to presage both the Altamont riots of '69 and the Manson murders. It is remarkable how Anger was so attuned with the countercultural. One could argue that the whole aesthetic of the music video and the MTV generation owes a debt to Anger. It is hard to think of earlier examples of pop music used on film in the way that Anger used it. Scorpio Rising is a masterpiece.



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