Kenneth Anger's short film SCORPIO RISING was one of the most influential and popular underground films of the '60s. Avoiding any dialogue, Anger uses back-to-back pop tunes and startling visuals to give a glimpse into the sexually charged world of motorcycle gangs. Mythologizing the biker
lifestyle in a quasi-documentary format, Anger intercuts film clips of Marlon Brando, Hitler, and Jesus Christ, while accentuating the violence, idolatry, and homoerotic nature of their fellowship.
Ricky Nelson's "Fools Rush In" opens the film, as the camera lingers on an array of motorcycle parts. The title of the movie is then shown, written on the back of a motorcycle jacket, in studs. A ducktailed biker pieces together his cycle as The Ran-Dells's "Wind-up Doll" plays; while another
admires his gleaming motorcycle in tandem with the Angels's "My Boyfriend's Back."
Moving out of the garage and into their homes, the film focuses on several different bikers. While "Blue Velvet" plays, one muscular young man slips on his jacket, minus shirt, and then stands with a highway cone placed suggestively between his legs. Elvis Presley's "Devil in Disguise" accompanies
a visit to Scorpio's bedroom, the walls covered with James Dean pictures and THE WILD ONE on his TV. He puts on his biker garb as "Hit the Road, Jack" and "Heat Wave" play, and once ready for a night on the town, he snorts a fingerful of crystal meth.
The Crystals's "He's a Rebel" plays as Scorpio struts along a city street, with his actions intercut with clips from a cheap, b&w film about Jesus, entitled THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM. As Claudine Clark sings "Party Lights," Scorpio and his leather-swaddled friends convene for a rowdy party. Things
take a rougher turn as Kris Jensen's "Torture" plays, and a bunch of the male partygoers abuse another guy, by stripping off his pants.
Gene McDaniels warbles "Point of No Return" as Scorpio becomes more violent and a motorcycle race begins; while Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him" triggers a feverish mix of images, including Nazi symbols, Hitler footage, and Scorpio desecrating the inside of a church. The Safaris's
"Wipeout" ends the film, which builds to a crescendo of swastikas, skulls, a biker taking a spill, and an arriving ambulance. The word END is written in studs on a leather belt.
Inspired by a local Coney Island motorcycle gang, Anger's ode to biker machismo played the avant-garde circuit for many years, often paired with other underground favorites, such as Robert Downey's CHAFED ELBOWS (1967). It is, without question, his most accessible work, and though rather tame
today, it was so controversial at the time of its release that a Los Angeles theater manager was found guilty of obscenity for exhibiting the movie.
Like many underground films of that era, SCORPIO holds a voyeuristic fascination for audiences. More important, it also overflows with energy, and is fueled by an impressively imaginative sense of montage. Full of split-second, almost subliminal edits, Anger isn't afraid to shock and blaspheme, by
playfully mixing Hitler, Christ, and homosexuality in the same breath. Well cast with Brooklyn amateurs and Times Square recruits (including tenderloin regular Bruce Byron as Scorpio), Anger gives their activities an erotic tension, whether the camera is lingering on their leather garb, or
exposing their male-bonding shenanigans. Even simple comic strip panels seem risque, with male characters expressing their devotion to each other.
Still, its most important influence on today's filmmaking lies in Anger's brilliant use of pop songs to provide commentary on the action. Capturing their lifestyle in images and music, this groundbreaking technique predates MTV by two decades, while Martin Scorsese would soon make this technique a
trademark of his work. (Violence, extensive nudity, adult situations, substance abuse.)
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- Review: Kenneth Anger's short film SCORPIO RISING was one of the most influential and popular underground films of the '60s. Avoiding any dialogue, Anger uses back-to-back pop tunes and startling visuals to give a glimpse into the sexually charged world of motorcy… (more)