Kenneth Anger

HIS NAME WAS KENNETH ANGER, or Kenneth Anglemyer as his parents liked to call him. A few days before opening night at The Movie, this polite, mild-mannered guy knocks on our door and tells us he’s the filmmaker come up from LA to help with the advance publicity for his film, Scorpio Rising.  Since he had not yet found a hotel, JoAnne invited him to spend the night on our vacant second floor over the theatre. Kenneth moved in and remained for a year, during which we learned many a strange and unusual thing.

One day our angry young filmmaker-guest introduced us to Freewheeling Frank, all decked-out in motorcycle garb. Frank was a biker and the Hell’s Angels’ poet-laureate. He and Ken wanted a special screening for the Angels.

Here was a stunt neither JoAnne nor I would ever have thought of, but there being no business like show business, a few days later found us with a street full of motorcycles surrounding the theatre, many of which were illegally parked. How do you tell the Hell’s Angels to move their Harleys?

When projecting films for an audience, oftentimes I would spend time in the auditorium with the audience, to gauge their response. That afternoon I was concerned about the possibility of a violent response to Ken’s homosexual motorcycle movie. Free Wheeling Frank said not to worry, the Angels were cool. When assorted muscle-bound gay bikers dressed in tight black leather appeared on the screen–with their immaculate, glistening bikes–sometimes the Angels cheered and sometimes the Angels booed. Their responses made no sense to me. Their boos didn’t seem to be out of hostility, only ridicule, sometimes punctuated with ooohs and with aaaws. And an occasional cheer. JoAnne and I were confused about all this. Fortunately, when the lights went up at the end of the screening, everybody seemed happy, boding well for the upcoming opening. Later-on that afternoon, Freewheeling Frank explained that it wasn’t the guys and their outfits the Angels were booing and cheering — it was the bikes!

One week later brought us opening night with bail money in the refrigerator and a line down the block. Scorpio Rising received good reviews and played to packed houses for several months, during which Ken became part of our family. To our great dismay, however, there came nary a peep from the cops. Our year with Ken was an eye-opener.

One day I came downstairs to get the morning newspaper. Ken saw me coming and grabbed it before I could get there. Before handing it over, he told me he was leaving, and that we would never see him again. I glanced at the headline of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“DOCTOR TORTURE CHAMBER FOUND ON PENINSULA”

Or something like that. Prominently displayed on the front page, beneath the name “Kenneth Anger,” was “1032  Kearny Street,” the address of The Movie. Ken headed upstairs to pack. I brought the paper up to JoAnne, and together we read the bizarre story.

The cops had uncovered a “torture chamber” down on the San Francisco Peninsula, where someone appeared to have been murdered. But they couldn’t find the corpus delecti, the body. Rather than try to explain it all, I am going to quote Judge P. J. Shoemaker, who wrote in People v. Samuels (1967) 250 CA2d 501 the following:

“Defendant Samuels, an opthalmologist, [sic] testified that he recognized the symptoms of sadomasochism in himself and his primary concern became to control and release his sadomasochistic urges in ways which were harmless. Through his hobby of photography he participated in the production of several films on the east coast. Three of these depicted bound individuals being whipped. Defendant wielded the whip in two of the films and acted as the cameraman, producer and the director for the third film. He testified that the apparent force of the whipping was “faked” and that the cosmetics were used to supply the marks of the apparent beating. Defendant produced one of these films at the trial.

In early September 1964, defendant met Kenneth Anger in San Francisco. Anger was a self-employed film director who had made such films as “Fireworks” and “Scorpio Rising.” He had also been a close friend of Dr. Kinsey from the institute by that name, had been a buyer for the institute for seven years, and had an authorization to send material through the mails.

On the night of their initial meeting, Anger introduced himself to defendant and inquired whether defendant had seen “Scorpio Rising.” Defendant replied that he had not. Defendant had seen “Fireworks,” however, and considered it the most sadomasochistic film he had ever seen. He told Anger that he himself had made two or three rolls of film dealing with sadomasochist activity and was interested in having them developed. Anger volunteered to have the films developed and also told defendant that he believed that the Kinsey Institute would be very interested in examining the footage and might want the films for their collection, since they were then studying the subject of sadomasochism . . .

Anger deposited the films at Schafer’s Camera Store in San Francisco [and] subsequently returned to the camera shop and was told that only one of the films had thus far been developed and returned to the shop. He paid the developing fee and picked up the film.

The other roll of film had been sent by the camera shop to the Eastman Kodak Company in Palo Alto for processing. The company contacted the Palo Alto Police Department and projected the film for certain peace officers and prosecuting attorneys, who confiscated the film.

A dummy role of film was left at Schafer’s Camera Store. On November 20, Anger picked up this film and was apprehended by the police of San Francisco. . . Later that day, the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office obtained a warrant authorizing a search of defendant’s home for whips and other instruments of torture. . . the officers then entered the house and observed that the living room was in semi-darkness and that a movie screen was set up in the living room and a projector was on the dining room table. Two canisters of film were on the table by the projector. . . One contained a travelogue entitled Fire Island, which defendant had made on the east coast.

Nieto accompanied defendant into the bedroom and . . . then asked defendant the name of the man who was strung up from the beam . . . Defendant replied that he did not know his name and that he had met him in a San Francisco bar. . . [The man] was an individual whom he had met either at a “gay” bar or at Fosters [Yikes! I used to work there!] Defendant thought his name was “George,” but he did not know his present whereabouts. The man approached him and stated that he was an “M” looking for an “S.” The man thereafter came to defendant’s home and voluntarily submitted to the beating. Defendant admitted that he was a well-known sadist and stated that he was one of the best in the business. . . After the filming had been completed, defendant drove him back to the bus depot in the “same condition he came in. . . The conviction as to aggravated assault is affirmed.

People say “pictures don’t lie.” They say “seeing is believing.” As a professional motion picture projectionist, I can assure you that movies don’t move.

We told Ken to sit tight. He didn’t have to move either.

–From Rage over a Lost Penny, a work in progress.

Copyright 2009 William V. Raney