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INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME

One of the most striking films made by Kenneth Anger, a giant in underground moviemaking.  The narrative (such as it is) is largely incoherent, but INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME excels as a dreamlike evocation of magic and madness on a mythological plane. 

The Package 
     It seems downright inexplicable that an artist as unprolific as Kenneth Anger could possibly make the impression he has.  Yet his eight short films and two books (HOLLYWOOD BABYLON and its sequel) have had an undeniable impact on modern filmmaking, and popular culture in general.  “Scorpio Rising” is the most famous of Anger’s films (Martin Scorsese has always been frank about its influence on his moviemaking), but he’s made quite a few other impressive works, including his very first effort “Fireworks,” the beautiful “Faux D’Artifice,” and the notorious Aleister Crowley-inspired “Lucifer Rising.”
     Crowley was a prime influence on the 38-minute INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME (1954), although it actually takes its cues from several sources, including Greek mythology, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, Hieronymus Bosch, and a fabled Hollywood party called the “Come as Your Madness” ball that featured such luminaries as novelist Anais Nin, filmmaker Curtis Harrington, counter-culture icon Cameron, and Anger himself. 
     The parties’ guests were asked back for the film, all wearing the costumes they did at the ball.  Filming was held at the home of the famous Hollywood recluse Samson de Brier, who played several roles in INAUGURATION (including that of the “Great Beast”) and whose closets and drawers provided Anger with all sorts of neat props for use in the filming. 

The Story 
     Lord Shiva, the magician, awakens fondling a bunch of jewels.  He rises from his bed, devours a bejeweled necklace, and opens an orange door into another realm.  There he meets several mythological figures, including the goddess Isis; the red-headed Scarlet Woman; the Great God Pan; the Moon goddess Astarte, whose head is encased in a bird cage; and the Great Beast, a.k.a. Satan, who keeps a watchful eye over them all.
     The pasty Cesare the Somnambulist is summoned.  He passes through a spectral doorway into the “caves of the unconscious,” where Hecate, goddess of the infernal regions--who wears a lacey outfit that covers her entire body to the point that only a single eye is visible--gives him the “wine of ecstasy.”  Cesare takes the wine back to Lord Shiva and his immortal guests, and all get good and soused--but in the melee Lord Shiva poisons Pan’s drink, causing him to fall prey to debilitating hallucinations.  Not that the rest of the crowd is doing much better, as the evil Goddess Kali shows up to turn the proceedings into a nightmarish bacchanal, with violence and insanity overtaking the gathering. 

The Direction 
     Keep in mind that the above plot summary is only an interpretation based on notes by Anger and Anais Nin, and my own limited grasp of the proceedings.  Anyone claiming to “understand” this film is almost certainly lying, as its inspirations come from so many varied sources.  You’ll have a difficult time explaining why, for instance, the somnambulist from THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (played by Curtis Harrington) is canoodling with a bunch of Greek gods and goddesses, or why Astarte (Anais Nin) appears with a birdcage over her head (the real answers are that those were the guises Harrington and Nin appeared in at the party that got the film rolling).
     But then, the fact that Anger (as in all his films) shot and exhibited INAUGURATION without dialogue, narration or intertitles suggests he wasn’t interested in explanations.  What does appear to have consumed him was the visual design of the film.  It features Anger’s boldest, most daring use of color, making INAUGURATION, by extension, one of the most stunningly visualized films ever.
     Fast cutting is a constant.  So too are superimpositions and clips from other films (including the 1912 DANTE’S INFERNO and Anger’s own “Puce Moment”), which are more often than not overlaid, resulting in a hypnotic clashing of textures.  The dark-hued music by Janacek is also superbly utilized; note the way it grows increasingly noisy and unhinged, and so perfectly compliments the visuals.
     The film in the end may not make a whole lot of sense, but Anger succeeds in imparting an arresting atmosphere of decadence and invocation where delirium holds sway and “reality” is left far, far behind.
 

Vital Statistics 

INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME
Fantoma 

Director/Screenwriter/Cinematographer/Editor: Kenneth Anger
Cast: Samson De Brier, Cameron, Kathryn Kadell, Renata Loome, Anais Nin, Kenneth Anger, Peter Loome, Paul Mathison, Curtis Harrington, Joan Whitney
 


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