Within months of Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising being seized on the grounds of public obscenity in Los Angeles, Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures led to the arrests of Ken Jacobs, Jonas Mekas and Florence Karpf in New York. This double-bill pairs the cinematic causes célèbres with their cross-coast counterpart.
Flaming Creatures: Jonas Mekas, along with Ken and Flo Jacobs, was arrested for screening Flaming Creatures in 1964, and the obscenity case that followed would become a central episode of the New American Cinema.
The film's images, idiosyncratically frames and etherealised by the outdated stock they were shot on, feature the extravagantly costumed voluptuaries of the title as they dance, preen, and, most strikingly, take part in a pansexual mock orgy. ‘Flaming Creatures is that rare modern work of art: it is about joy and innocence,' wrote Susan Sontag. 'To be sure, this joyousness, this innocence is composed out of themes which are—by ordinary standards - perverse, decadent, at the least highly theatrical and artificial. But this, I think, is precisely how the film comes by its beauty and its modernity.’
Scorpio Rising: A fetishistic opera of sex and death from a high priest of queer experimental cinema, Anger’s parodic yet empathetic recasting of popular consumer culture sees rival biker gangs evoke the bygone spirit of the mythic American cowboy.
Themes central to the film include the occult, biker subculture, homosexuality, Catholicism, and Nazism; the film also explores the worship of rebel icons of the era, namely James Dean and Marlon Brando (referred to by Anger as Byron’s ‘heroes’). Like many of Anger's films, the film does not contain any dialogue; instead it features a prominent soundtrack consisting of 1960s pop, including songs by Ricky Nelson, The Angels, The Crystals, Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley, and Ray Charles.
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