His 1947 short film Fireworks is regarded by many as the first gay narrative film made in the United States.
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Kenneth Anger, one of America's first openly gay filmmakers and the author of the controversial celebrity gossip touchstone Hollywood Babylon, has died. He was 96.

The news was announced by the art gallery Sprüth Magers, which hosted several of Anger's art exhibitions over the years.

"With deep sadness, Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers, along with the entire gallery team, mourn the passing of the visionary filmmaker, artist, and author Kenneth Anger," reads a post on the gallery's website.

The post continues, "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, as well as for the visual languages of contemporary queer and youth culture."

Director Kenneth Anger in 2019
Director Kenneth Anger in 2019
| Credit: Trapart Film/Everett

Born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer on Feb. 3, 1927, in Santa Monica, Calif., Anger was raised in a middle-class Presbyterian family and became interested in movies at a young age. He came to awareness about his sexuality at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United States, which eventually led to him moving out of his parents' home and renaming himself Anger.

Anger began making movies as a teenager, and his earliest surviving piece is 1947's Fireworks, a homoerotic short film in which a dreamer (played by Anger) is accosted by navy sailors amidst phallic symbolism. Fireworks resulted in Anger being arrested on obscenity charges, but he was acquitted after a California court ruled the film was art rather than pornography. Anger later said of Fireworks, "This flick is all I have to say about being 17, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July." It is considered by many to be the first gay narrative film made in the U.S.

Kenneth Anger in 1955
Kenneth Anger in 1955
| Credit: Estate of Edmund Teske/Getty

Anger's later films include Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969), and Lucifer Rising (1972), among others. As their titles imply, the films reflect Anger's interest in the occult; he eventually converted to Thelema, a religion founded by noted occultist and writer Aleister Crowley. "The artist saw film as nothing less than a spiritual medium, a conveyer of spectacular alchemy that transforms the viewer," according to Sprüth Magers.

Outside of film, Anger authored Hollywood Babylon, a controversial chronicle of purported scandals from the early years of Hollywood. Although many of the book's claims have been disputed (notably on the Hollywood history podcast You Must Remember This), it remains infamous, inspiring, among other projects, the recent Damien Chazelle film Babylon.

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