Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Kenneth Anger Inspiration

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Matthew Dear’s Her Pleasure Music Video

A month ago, my best friend took me to the Treasure Island Music Festival.  To prepare, I bought glitter (to throw at strangers) and checked out the lineup.  I was dying to see The Presets, whose new album Pacificahas been on a constant loop in my life.  The Gossip was also performing.  I’m a huge fan of Beth Ditto (video involves vogueing), but had never seen their video for Move in the Right Direction. It made me scream: “Barbara Kruger!” within the first ten seconds.  Okay, Kruger doesn’t have omnipresent claim to ALL use of bold text in black, white, and red, but the video is undeniably similar to Kruger’s installations at L&M Arts, her elevator at LACMA, and basically her entire oeuvre.  At least The Gossip creative team was clever and animated the Kruger-like text: cheeky things like “guitar solo” flash during a bridge, and the words “fadeout” appear at the end of the song. Cute.

This reminded me of the time photographer David LaChapelle sued pop singer Rihanna and her record label DefJam over Rihanna’s video for S&M.  .  “I like RiRi.  This is not personal, it’s strictly business.  Musicians commonly pay to sample music or use someone’s beats and there should be no difference when sampling an artist’s visuals,” said LaChapelle.   The appropriation of LaChapelle’s images was undeniable and Rihanna eventually settled.  LaChapelle’s distinct style was perfect for a song called S&M and that’s why it was used. But if you want a David LaChappelle music video, why not hire David LaChappelle?

The S&M video got lots of attention (I even discussed the issue in a law class in grad school) because of the hugeness of both Rihanna and LaChapelle’s names.  But what happens when an indie musician appropriates the work of a visual artist whose name is less than household?—Maybe nothing.  I bring to your attention exhibit C: Electronic musician Matthew Dear and his video for Her Pleasure.  My reaction to it was as immediate as the one I’d had to The Gossip video, but Matthew Dear had me screaming and seeing “Kenneth Anger!”

I became familiar with Kenneth Anger’s because of a show at MOCA last winter.  Kenneth Anger Icons was a small exhibition of the artist’s personal archives in one room, and a handsome red-carpeted screening room showing six of Anger’s films in another.  One of the films screened at MOCA was Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), which features a cast of characters engaging in a variety seemingly ritualistic activity (why it only has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 37%  is beyond me).  Anger made Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome after attending a Halloween party (duh) and was inspired by his fascination with the British occultist Aleister Crowley and the religion Crowley created,  Thelema.  (How did Thelema not become as big as Mormonism?  Thelema at least encourages all kinds of sexual experiences and glitter costumes.)

One of the title images from the MOCA show was a still from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome of a woman with flaming red hair.  This “Scarlet Woman” character also makes more than a cameo in Matthew Dear’s Her Pleasure video—the pink-bewigged lady dominates the whole implied narrative.  The “Scarlet Woman” isn’t the only Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome character in Dear’s music video;  A couple in Egyptian costume, a wide-eyed boy in vaguely Grecian robes, a girl who’s head is caught in a cage, a green-faced fop wearing a Rococo wig, and an imp in the bad skull facepaint all appear in Her Pleasure too.  In both Anger’s film and Dear’s music video, these characters drink from ceremonial goblets, spill a lot, laugh maniacally, get sloppy, and basically devolve into an orgy slash gang rape of the wide-eyed boy.  The lighting and layering of images in Her Pleasure are also signature Kenneth Anger.  The description for Her Pleasure on youtube says that director Tommy O’Haver’s work “pays homage to Avant Garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger in a self-described “mash-up.””

L: Kenneth Anger / R: Matthew Dear. T: Scarlet Lady / B: Green-faced Fop.

The Her Pleasure video is less “mash-up” and more direct restaging of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. The only additions in Mathew Dear’s video are: 1 – a creepy all-white Pierrot clown with blue lipstick (definitely inspired by Anger’s Rabbit Moon, 1950), 2 – a poor imitation of an Anger hustler in a leather jacket (probably inspired by Anger’s Scorpio Rising, 1964), 3 – a random preppy boy with a popped collar  who digs the leather guy, 4 – rapid shots of a hot percussionist on a bango drum @2:48 (I love a heavy brow), and 5 – lingering shots of Mathew Dear himself trying way, WAY too hard to look effortlessly sexy.

Director O’Haver (known for his 2001 high school melodrama Get Over It staring Kirsten Dunst and Sisqo, and 2004’s princess pic Ella Enchanted…) received his MFA in Film from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts (where he is a notable alum), so he was probably shown Kenneth Anger’s work in grad school.  But I also suspect someone involved in the Her Pleasure video saw the recent MOCA show; all three of the Anger source films were in it.

Kenneth Anger looked damn good at MOCA.

Perhaps too well, this all fits into MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch’s art philosophy and vision for MOCA.  Deitch claims there is no longer a distinction between high and low art, nor one between seemingly divergent art forms.  “When I say low art, I don’t mean inferior, I mean street-level things like graffiti, fashion, and music that inspire fearless youthful creativity and at their best are equal in rigor to any studio practice,” Deitch said back in August.  Deitch is probably loving this shit (if he is aware of it).  I am all for appropriation, utilizing institutionalized fine art as inspiration and re-contextualizing and remixing it.  I do hope, however, that Matthew Dear’s people got permission or at least a satanic blessing from Kenneth Anger to use his stuff, ‘cause I don’t think Kenneth Anger would be so down with someone ripping off his work.

– H.I.

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