Kenneth Anger was so far ahead of his time. He was the original “feeling sad n horny 2day :/” poster. But since he was born in the 1920s, he had to resort to making massively influential experimental films instead. It’s such a shame. Think of the tweets we missed out on.
In all seriousness, Scorpio Rising strikes me as much for its singular vision as it does for the filmmakers it would obviously go on to influence. Anger made a film about how much he wanted to fuck James Dean in 1963. The whole thing is as suffused with tragedy as it is with sexual desire. The leather fashion and particular rebellious attitude represented by Dean had gone out of style by then, and Dean himself was eight years dead. Anger posits the queer leather daddy style as a picking up of Dean’s torch, or perhaps picking up the pieces of a shattered movement.
The men featured in the film sweatily work on their motorcycles just as they work on themselves, on their clothes and appearances. They are consciously constructing their unique selves, and yet they’re still part of a like-minded (and like-dressed) collective. Anger’s conception of cis gay men in the early 60s is of a group of people desperately claiming the imagery of the past and charging headlong into the future. Queerness here is a subculture more than it’s an individual identity. It’s something to which you belong.
This makes Scorpio Rising a far cry from the widespread assimilationist politics of the 21st century. Mainstream queer culture for the past few decades has been all about wanting to be seen as “just like the rest of you.” The focus has been on equating queerness with being cishet for the sake of agitating for equal rights. This rankles for several reasons, chief among them the implication that queer people are socially acceptable because they’re the same as “normal” people, as if people who are different don’t deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. You shouldn’t need to convince the privileged that you’re the same as them to be afforded their rights and protections.
Anger shoots Scorpio Rising’s gay men with wild abandon, rapid cuts and shadows concealing and revealing their supposed debauchery. They are depicted as a true subculture, something apart from the mainstream cishet world. Anger doesn’t do this to otherize them; there is no negative connotation to his depiction at all. It seemed to me more celebratory, an affirmation of collective difference and in fact dissidence. The juxtaposition of religious imagery with the film’s men (men mounting their motorcycles against Christ astride a mule) is obviously a deliberate provocation, but it also seems a statement of purpose. Anger declares that we have always been here, and we will always be here, as much a part of human society as Christianity or any other religion. There’s a ritualistic quality, too, to the shots of the men fixing up their bikes and slowly getting dressed. Is queerness here its own religion? I won’t ascribe anything so didactic to Anger. Still, Scorpio Rising remains a fascinating work to dig into.