Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, 1947, USA)

Fireworks, while not Kenneth Anger's first film, is largely considered his debut. Made in 1947 in his parents' Beverly Hills home, the film was inspired by the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. Anger was 20 years old at the time, and it is hard to imagine that such a young man was able to conceive of what was the first gay narrative film ever. The origins of the film are murky. While Anger has claimed he brought on real sailors into the film, others have claimed that these sailors were actors. There is also a story that Anger convinced some classmates at UCLA to steal some Navy film stock for him to use.

Whatever the origins of the film, Fireworks seems to be a film without precedent. Jean Cocteau is perhaps the main inspiration here, but Anger's vision is more inflected by Crowley, but also American symbols. The film centers around American images - the navy, the family Christmas tree, the 4th of July. Anger himself plays the main character in the film - the "Dreamer". Over 14 minutes, he encounters sailors who at first seem seductive but ultimately seeks to destroy him. This culminates in two of the film's - and experimental cinema's - most distinct moments. The image of Anger wearing the family Christmas tree as a headdress, and the famous "firework" scene caused the film to be charged with obscenity.

The film, like most of Anger's, has a long and storied release history. Apparently, the first copy of the film was sold to sexologist Alfred Kinsey. Tennessee Williams saw the film at one point and was a fan. The film was originally distributed by the New York-based film society Cinema 16, which was known for showcasing many legends of the experimental film world including Maya Deren. 



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