When Anthony Buchanan talks experimental film, he beams like a 12-year-old baseball nerd trading cards. He knows all the filmmakers, their stats, their quirky histories, their visions, why one guy jiggled his camera and another guy scratched on film instead. And Buchanan knows the gossip: Who slept with whom, who hated whom, who got what academic job or choice screening, when and at whose expense.
Buchanan’s zeal makes him a perfect guide through the oft-besmirched field of avant-garde film. But tonight, when Buchanan hosts the world premiere of his new movie, he will not be taking audiences on a gentle ride into the genre he adores. Nope. He will be whipping the crowd, instead.
His 80 minute film – eight times longer than most in the experimental genre – I Will Be Called Lucifer is a mess. And it should be. In it, Buchanan pulverizes the history of the avant-garde classic Lucifer Rising – a movie whose legendary, cursed production nearly buried filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s career. Buchanan also pulverizes the documentary genre, film history, myth and the audience too.
See, Anger is Buchanan’s Beatrice a la The Divine Comedy, a guide through the inferno of creativity untamed. Anger drags Buchanan who in turn drags viewers onto a sinew-ripping flight backwards and forwards through history, myth and popular culture.
While unknown to most moviegoers, Anger is one of those directors experimental-film geeks know well. He made his first openly gay film at 20, in 1947, called Fireworks. It’s a sexy, morbid short starring a youthful Anger who dreams about Navy men flirting with him and then beating him up. Fireworks is a bold move for a young man growing up in era when being gay was considered a mental defect at best and more likely a good reason to be bashed. When Anger finally showed his movie to the public, audiences took it as porn, and it earned the young director obscenity charges. From the beginning, he was viewed as a pervert.
And exploring gay identity was just the gateway into a wider world of debauchery. Over the years, Anger threw himself headfirst into the occult, studying the teachings of Aleister Crowley. Anger made movies that praised biker gangs, hippies and Satanic rituals – all with a hefty dose of pop music. His films were wild and they were influential. Look to Martin Scorsese, David Lynch or Todd Haynes – all tutored in the glow of Anger.
Oh, and of course, Anthony Buchanan was tutored by Anger too.
Buchanan stole most of the images in I Will Be Called Lucifer from avant-garde and Hollywood films. The found footage slams together, cut after cut, blasting the screen like machine-gun fire. Some pictures are scratched or painted on. Others play straight. Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin songs, crassly acted voice-overs, self-centered rants and a film-studies lecture make up most of the soundtrack. At times, the movie looks like a music video – a genre Anger was credited with forging. At other times, it feels like a PBS Ken Burns’ documentary on speed – lots of speed.
And while Buchanan strains to tether I Will Be Called Lucifer to the history of Lucifer Rising, he fails to be an obedient documentary filmmaker. The rope breaks. He hurls viewers through the history of Hollywood cinema, ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture, and the triumphs and perils of Lucifer (the angel of light and therefore the archangel of the movies, says Anger), the femme fatal, Azazel, Lilith and other mythic figures prized by Satanists and their ilk. Among the images racing by are tidbits about Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Charles Manson and Dennis Hopper.
On the surface, I Will be Called Lucifer seems like a heavy-metal screed reveling in teen angst, wannabe wizardry, alchemy, sexual frustration and star worship – traits Anger’s films possessed, too. But Buchanan’s movie is more; it is also film theory in action. It is an homage to Anger, to creative rebels and to the great poets of Hollywood. It’s a love letter from a younger filmmaker to a mentor, written in the elder’s language but pushing the master’s style further, maybe too far. And I Will Be Called Lucifer is a joy – albeit a masochistic one – to watch.
The movie plays tonight, at 6 p.m., at the Boulder Public Library, 1101 Arapahoe Avenue. For more information, go to the event’s Facebook page.