Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, February 11, 2013

Did Kenneth Anger Curse Christopher Sorrentino?

AND WHY WOULD I even ask such a question? Well, I am just now getting around to Conjunctions 58, which includes a story by Christopher Sorrentino, "The Cursed."

The story's POV character, Nolan Dane, is a writer interested in film whose father, recently deceased, was a "coterie artist."  In brief, Nolan Dane has traits in common with Sorrentino, son of the late great Gilbert Sorrentino and the author of, among other things, a book on the Charles Bronson film Death Wish.

Some time ago, Nolan Dane published an interview with the biographer of Frederic Constant, an "underground filmmaker" whose films rely on "midcentury homoerotic imagery" and who has also published "an anecdotal history of old Hollywood scandals." Constant was so incensed at the contents of the interview that he has--so Dane learns--placed a curse on the interviewee, the magazine, and the interviewer.

Dane's life has been difficult of a late, and he begins to think perhaps he actually has been operating under a curse. And so the story begins.

Okay.  Constant sounds a lot like Kenneth Anger, director of Scorpio Rising (with its homoerotic biker gang) and other landmarks of underground film, and author of Hollywood Babylon.  Furthermore, Anger is famous for an interest in the black arts. A scholar of Aleister Crowley, he would certainly know how to place a curse, were he ever so inclined.

Did Sorrentino ever interview Bill Landis, author of an unauthorized biography of Anger? No--but he did interview Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, one of those historical-novels-about-people-who-are-not-yet-dead-yet-are-referred-to-by-their-real-names.  A genre that needs a name, and one probably prone to lawsuits, to say nothing of curses. Kenneth Anger does indeed figure prominently, as do some of the Rolling Stones and Charles Manson, in Sway. (I have not read and may never read Sway, but you or I can pick it up for one penny plus $3.99 shipping and handling on Amazon.)

In sum: Kenneth Anger may in fact have been annoyed at Christopher Sorrentino for his role in promoting a novel Anger may have thought defamatory of himself, and Anger may actually have threatened to curse him.

Which is interesting, no?  But beyond all that, "The Cursed" turns out to be a great story. Dane is led to acknowledge that the ordinary burdens of life--loss of love, loss of health, loss of life itself--are such that every one of us has all too many reasons to think of ourselves as "cursed" already, that we all somehow have to manage in a world not designed to preserve us. If the only thing we had to worry about was bad-tempered underground filmmakers, life would be pretty sweet.

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