Mid-week Anger: Scorpio Rising (1963) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
13Jan/160

Mid-week Anger: Scorpio Rising (1963)

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The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

How sexy are you making thisIn post-Eisenhower America we created a strict fiction among well-to-do whites about what proper gender roles are.  Sex was a binary, and whether you were born a man or woman determined your standing in society and what was expected of you.  Then as the waves of feminism then queer theory came rolling in the gendered distinctions began to blue as we unfurled the assumptions made of men and women.  Further advances in biology and social theory revealed true intersex people or those who had their sex assigned at birth.

I'm all for many of these advancements, but one I'm hesitant to accept is the idea that everyone is a little gay or no one is completely straight.  It places an undue emphasis on sexual desire instead of identity and, strangely enough, eliminates nuance by assuming everyone is in the shade of grey.  This is important when talking about Scorpio Rising because it's sexy.  My god is it sexy.  But it's the identity and aesthetic aspects of Scorpio Rising which up my blood temperature a tad, less a wish to jump on the admittedly attractive leather-bound men who seem to be the primary subject of Kenneth Anger's bewitching direction.Come on back young'unThis doesn't convince me, as Scorpio Rising is less about the men in terms of their sexual identities and more about the fetishistic rituals which make up their daily lives.  Yes, a healthy smattering of homosexual desire is visualized, but would Scorpio Rising be any less sexy if they were cut?  I don't think so, and while it would lose some of the wonderfully sly jokes Anger slips in via his editing I would be aroused by the ritual and less by the men.

Which is why it's so important Anger focuses on the carefully laid out ritual each of the bikers has for themselves and not the overt attraction of Fireworks.  What the bikers are doing is creating a ritual to fetishize their lifestyle against the ever-looming reality of death.  Anger doesn't sugarcoat this as a figure of the reaper hangs over many of the images in a literal sense and in an alluded capacity with a shrine to the forever youthful and rebellious James Dean.  The sex is a bonus, but the real joy is in carefully crafting and proudly displaying a devil-may-care aura of confidence not directly tied to sexuality.The death - he loomsI'd be a fool for not acknowledging the teasing erotic charge of Scorpio Rising though.  So many times it seems Anger is on the verge of letting the participants tear into one another in a lustful frenzy but he always pulls away.  Take the moment of a biker in full gear photographed in long shot who starts sauntering toward us.  I wouldn't be surprised if this ended in a kiss, but instead Anger cuts away just as the biker's face is about to become the focal point of the shot.  Then there's that gorgeously framed shot of the smoking biker and the luxuriant long takes of the leather being strapped together.  Scorpio Rising is a perpetual tease and Anger is clearly having a blast approaching but never quite allowing the climax to form.

But, again, sex isn't exactly the point.  Two moments make this clear, both involving nudity.  The first comes from a series of stock sequences showing Jesus leading his disciples and when he cures a blind man Anger cuts for just a second to a meticulously arranged pile of naked men in dark pink light.  My first reaction is that this is creating a correlative between sexual longing and the followers of Jesus, but with the clothing fetishized more than the sex it feels more like how arousal comes from rituals no matter the type.  The religious followers of Jesus took joy and power from his healing message just as the bikers emerge as an empowered "true" version of themselves through the theatricality of their leather rituals.

The second moment is also important and seems to imply sex as the key factor at first.  A seemingly unrelated gathering of men takes place and as they get friendly they start undressing and sometimes playing with one another's penises.  It's not sexy, and has a sort of innocence about it.  No one is erect or stroking their partners suggestively, they're just having fun.  Divorced from ritual Anger is showing us how men comfortable with themselves don't need all the posturing to be happy.  We own our bodies, why not have fun with them without involving sex?THAT's where it's fromIn terms of influence Scorpio Rising may have had the greatest impact on what I've watched.  True, The Wild One and Rebel Without A Cause are important.  But the way Anger blends the teasing sexuality and scorpion imagery reminds me of the sexy scenes from Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive.  The performance as mask for the truth wrapped in biker mystique and hint of dangerous sex was also heavily present in Kathryn Bigelow's The Loveless.  Whatever charge Scorpio Rising held at its inception continues today, teasing another generation of film makers to work out their sexual desire and empowering fetishes in their own way.

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Posted by Andrew

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