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Kenneth AngerPhoto by Estate of Edmund Teske/Getty Images

Underground filmmaker and occultist Kenneth Anger has died

The controversial Lucifer Rising filmmaker, whose work explored esoteric religion and the dark side of Hollywood, was 96

The cult filmmaker, artist, author, and occultist Kenneth Anger has died at the age of 96. “Kenneth was a trailblazer,” reads an announcement of his passing from Sprüth Magers gallery. “His cinematic genius and influence will live on and continue to transform all those who encounter his films, words and vision.” 

Growing up in Los Angeles amid Hollywood’s golden age, Anger established himself as an enfant terrible of underground filmmaking with early works including 1947’s Fireworks, a homoerotic experimental film exploring sadomasochism, and starring himself in his parents’ home in Beverly Hills. “I chose to be an outsider – an observer, looking in,” he once told Dazed of his fierce independence. “I was always fascinated with the underside of Hollywood.”

In the 1950s and 60s – after a stint in Europe, where he was inspired by the cinematic avant garde – the filmmaker’s occult obsessions shone through in films such as Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969), and Lucifer Rising (1972). As part of his ritualistic anthology the “Magic Lantern Cycle”, these films would converge with his interest in the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley, and his esoteric religion Thelema.

In 1959, Anger also published the book Hollywood Babylon, which detailed the alleged scandals of the industry’s rich and famous in the first half of the 1900s. Banned shortly after it was published in the US in the mid-60s, the gossip book has been dismissed as “essentially a work of fiction”, with Anger himself allegedly stating that his research methods involved “mental telepathy, mostly”. Nevertheless, a follow-up – Hollywood Babylon II – was published in 1984, following his retirement from filmmaking.

Anger would return to filmmaking in the 2000s, producing several shorts. Many more of his films remain unrealised, due to lack of funds, with experts and academics also noting his influence on later filmmakers including David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and John Waters.

“Through his kaleidoscopic films, which combine sumptuous visuals, popular music soundtracks, and a focus on queer themes and narratives, Anger laid the groundwork for the avant-garde art scenes of the later twentieth century,” adds Sprüth Magers, “as well as for the visual languages of contemporary queer and youth culture.”

Details of Anger’s death were not immediately shared.