Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Truly Terrifying Film

Many of the films of Kenneth Anger echo some of the playful found in Jacobs and Smith, but in Scorpio Rising he aims at something much darker, we might call it heaviness, in contrast to the lightness of Smith and Jacobs. Critic, Juan Suarez, describes the difference: “In [Scorpio Rising], gayness was aligned to sincerity, subjective truth, and authenticity; the protagonists’ homosexuality was the expression of a subjective inner essence repressed in everyday contexts,” while, on the other hand, in Flaming Creatures, “there is no subjective essence to be realized, no interiority where the self’s truth lies dormant” (Suarez 191). Indeed, Scorpio Rising begins more playful than it turns out to be. At first it looks like it will be a longer version of Kustom Kar Kommandos, a homoerotic, fetish-heavy music video. For some viewers the injection of Jesus into this context is just an adventurous extension of the joke. But for those of us willing to speculate on the homosocial nature of the relationships among Christ and his disciples, the continuity between Scorpio and the Savior is very important. It is no mistake that the appearance of Christ and the apostles coincides with the singing of, “he’s a rebel…” on the soundtrack. While this may be offensive to some, it shouldn’t be too unsettling for those among us who have no vested interest in Jesus Christ’s sexuality.
Where it gets troubling for the rest of us is in the movement from iconologies of rebellion to those of fascism and death. Anger is not at all content to subvert the dominant culture by exposing its homosocial roots. This is not a coming out film. Gay pride fails to hold Anger’s attention. Rather he wants to explore his fears. Part of what happens in Scorpio Rising demonstrates that insidious ease with which icons of rebellion and freedom can become symbols of power and oppression. Moreover, one can never dismiss unwanted meanings; if one wishes to take back those symbols from the dominant regimes and re-appropriate them as counterculture, one still evokes all previous meaning. Scorpio may want to use the Swastika as a new symbol of rebellion, but it will always be an emblem of mass murder.
Why would anyone who is queer want to hold that up as a representation of gay culture? It is precisely Anger’s point that insofar as counterculture has the potential to become mass culture, it is extremely dangerous. Scorpio Rising offers, in part, a cautionary vision about where gay culture can go, if it insists on being blessed by the mainstream. The persistent suggestion is that an individual, who is good, will always be subsumed into the culture with which he seeks to affiliate himself. This culture, whether marginal or mainstream, will inevitably turn destructive especially as it moves out of the margins and into the mainstream. That is precisely what happened to Christianity which began with love for your neighbor and ended up with the Crusades, The Inquisition, Manifest Destiny, the 700 Club and the Promise Keepers. One should feel heavier after watching Scorpio Rising. It is a very frightening film, much scarier than any dumb Hollywood thriller or slasher flick, because the stuff that Anger is afraid of is real.

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