'Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome' is an Occultist's Fever Dream
By Lazarus Rise
Kenneth Anger’s filmography is interesting to describe in literary terms. He started making experimental films at 10 years old, obsessed with Hollywood pop culture and mysticism. Anger specializes in short, silent, surrealist films accompanied by orchestral/opera music. He was one of the first openly gay filmmakers whose films undisguisedly exposed audiences to homoeroticism and the occult, especially during a time when homosexual acts were deemed illegal in America. Anger shot his 1947 film Fireworks when he was 20 while his parents were away on vacation. It was the first time his efforts had begun to gain recognition, leading him to face pesky obscenity charges that were later dropped.
Anger was never a stranger to controversy. He was a follower of occultists Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey, with whom he became friends. In his mid-twenties, Anger grew disconnected from the California artistic scene and went to Italy to shoot another movie. When his mother died suddenly, he traveled back to deal with her last wishes and ended up connecting with his old scene, meeting new inspiring creatives. It wasn’t until a "Come As Your Madness'' themed Halloween party when Anger dressed up as the goddess Hecate that inspired him to create a personal chaotic favorite of mine, 1954’s Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome.
Pleasure Dome opens with a dreamy, classical score. We see a gathering of occultists preparing for a ritual. They adorn themselves with jewels, submerging themselves in a ritualistic preparedness by eating the jewels while applying their makeup. A couple of figures emerge, a ghostly red-headed androgynous being and another one in a colorful, grotesque, monster-like garment. They move around in strange and sudden movements. What starts as careful preparation for this séance slowly dissolves into haywire psychedelia –the best of the worst acid trips. A sea of bodies is seen congregating and dancing at a masquerade party for Lord Shiva.
Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome is a celebration and recreation of the Halloween party Anger attended, with many of his personal friends appearing in the movie as gods and goddesses. With Anger’s movies, one should recognize that he’s upfront with his aesthetic interpretations; there’s usually not too deep of a meaning other than being inspired by his friends and the sullen glamour of Hollywood, and he includes many counterculture figures of the 1950s through 1970s in his productions. He prides himself on eccentric, mystical aesthetics and dives into a personal interpretation of a radiant, blazing hell, even interjecting scenes from 1911’s L’Inferno. It’s a beautiful dream and nightmare, a clash of the living and dead to be burned in our minds and appreciated long afterward.
Anger is a favorite among cult film directors for his audacity during times when it could have gotten him arrested, maimed, or his works destroyed forever. Luckily many have survived to be enjoyed today, while others have been lost to time. I have linked the movie below for those that wish to experience it:
Lazarus Rise (he/him) is a writer, artist, performer, and creative from Shreveport, Louisiana who now resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado. To stay up-to-date with Lazarus, follow him on Facebook and Instagram @dungeoncowboy.