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Scorpio Rising (1964)


More like Kenneth Shrugger
More like Kenneth Shrugger

Genre: Experimental Short

Starring: Ernie Allo, Bruce Byron

Directed By: Kenneth Anger (Fireworks Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome)

Overview: Bikers prepare themselves and their rides for a race, tossing in some sadism and classic rock hits along the way.

Kenneth Anger’s barely 30-minute dirty montage of leatherman bikers is less a film set to music than a rock and roll playlist set to 50s memorabilia and 60s images. Quite obviously shot on 16mm film, this dirt-poor-budget production - as 99% of all underground experimental film are - Scorpio Rising is a fairly plotless tale, more a series of captured moments. Sometimes the images are iconic: a pack of Lucky Strikes sitting next to a motorbike club patch of a scorpion. Sometimes they’re homoerotic, like topless men donning their leather jackets. Sometimes they’re juxtapositions: Jesus contrasted with bad boy icons James Dean and a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club jacket-wearing Marlon Brando. Shocking images abound too, especially near the end of the piece, such as a biker snorting coke while a noose hangs from the ceiling in the background. Luckily the film has a heavy focus on the score, with very little sound work besides. I say lucky because those muddy-print, under-lit, oft-boring, nigh-storyless images leave much to be desired, unless the story of a man's belly button is something you find intriguing. Musically it’s all golden and much of the tracks used are pretty slick, dark and radically-themed, like Elvis’ “(You're the) Devil in Disguise”, the haunting Bobby Vinton single “Blue Velvet” (thanks Lynch - who credited Anger as his inspiration), and Kris Jensen’s appropriately used “Torture”. But the music wasn’t as tight as it could have been thematically, wth too many songs that I’d consider ‘wholesome’: Martha and the Vandellas’ “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave”, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles and most of all, Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him”.

Exciting as it is... napping doesn't seem very tough... Oh, unless he's supposed to be WORKING! Oooo! What a Rebel!
Exciting as it is... napping doesn't seem very tough... Oh, unless he's supposed to be WORKING! Oooo! What a Rebel!

Sometimes downright confusing, as art film is entitled to be, Scorpio Rising is a lot more accessible – artistically - than other experimental films, like, oh say… the piss-poor Wavelength. In 30 scant minutes the audience receives a subculture infusion of biker metal and leather, skulls and scorpions, but there are still some overdrawn moments - watching engines being greased and boots being put on began digging into me the ever-constant question of my quest: “why did this get in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book?” Wikipedia answers that question boldly in Anger’s own words:

"it was a groundbreaker, legally. Because there are only a few flashes of nudity...someone denounced it to the Hollywood vice squad and they raided the theater and took the print. And the case had to go to the California Supreme Court to be freed and then it became, like, a landmark case of redeeming social merit. That was the phrase that was used to justify that it wasn't pornography. And, indeed, there's nothing pornographic about it. Somebody had to break the ice and have that kind of case at that time to establish the freedom, because, before then, the police could seize anything they wanted to."

The 1001 book itself adds, “Most controversial, to the extent of prompting legal action, is the witty but deliberately provocative juxtaposition of the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” with found footage from some Sunday School version of The Life of Christ intercut, putting forward the heretical if not sacrilegious notion of the Disciples as a strutting, gay-tinged youth gang out to overthrow the established order…”

Scorpio Rising will remain for me, especially at 29 minutes, a worthy addition to the history of cinema, important to the advancement of anti-censorship laws but as something enjoyable to show your friends on a Friday night? That deserves a heavy caveat with the bold words EXPERIMENTAL ART FILM. If your friends wear intentionally-ironic manicured 70s porn moustaches with un-ironic berets and cigarette-holders while drinking white-wine spritzers, well they might get a kick from this learning experience. Otherwise, this is experiment before enjoyment.

You know he's hardcore when he reads children's comics.
You know he's hardcore when he reads children's comics.

Performance: 6 Cinematography: 5 Script: 5 Plot: 4 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 52% (Stings A Little)

Kenneth Anger is the kind of experimental filmmaker whose work I knew I’d see eventually, and now I know why I didn’t hurry to get around to them. I suspect I won’t pursue his works any longer. Oh and check out the truly un-rebellious, un-impressive name he was born with:
Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer.

Here's one thing that's Squish approved: Good name change, Wilbur.

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Scorpio Rising is indeed unsettling, almost gay-ish in the picturing of the biker. However, Lucifer Rising is a far more better experimental film. Looks like a short by Alessandro Jodorowski.

You say 'almost gay-ish' but the IMDb write up says it straight up "Nazi Gay bikers"

Tempt me all you like with your Jodorowki temptations, I don't believe that this could be anywhere as genius as Alessando!!!!

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