Friday, October 12, 2007

Required Viewing: Scorpio Rising

About the title- just as there are certain books that one must read in order to be a cultivated person, there are certain films that most university students are told they absolutely have to watch while in university, usually by the dorm mate who follows this with, ''and you've got to watch it high.'' I'm not going to list all of the must-see-while-in-college-while-high films- let's assume the list would include The Wizard of Oz with the Dark Side of the Moon, The Big Lebowski, The Dark Crystal, The Matrix, and... well, you get the idea. Instead, I want to discuss movies that should necessarily be a part of everyone's mental furniture. Or, at least, everyone who reads this blog. I'll leave it to you to decide what condition you want to be in when you watch them.

Scorpio Rising is a musical invocation of the Thanatos and Eros of motorcycle culture. Director Kenneth Anger has made a number of path breaking short films, which are blessedly now available on DVD, but Scorpio Rising is the most accessible of his masterworks. I'd also recommend Lucifer Rising and Invocation of the Pleasure Dome.

Many of Anger's films recall occult rituals and Scorpio Rising is structured as a four-part motorcycle ritual. The first part features young men repairing and polishing their steely, glistening machines. The second part is a pop-overdose of motor-icons such as Marlon Brando and James Dean and actual drug abuse. The third section features a boozy, lurid, out-of-control biker bacchanal in a church at midnight. The fourth section is the actual bike rally and a biker's death. All of this is intercut with images from biker films, lil' Abner, Nazi rallies, death masks, and a Jesus epic and scored with a constant 60s pop soundtrack. In fact, Martin Scorcese has credited Scorpio Rising with teaching him how to use music in a film.

Like all good ''underground'' films, Scorpio Rising is radical, if a bit unfocused. The film's cheeky homoeroticism is startling when you remember that it was shot in 1964. Scorpio is the sign of the zodiac that rules machinery as well as the genitals. It's also one of the most compulsively watcheable films I've seen from that era- it would hold the attention of all but the most MTV-damaged contemporary viewers. And it's more than a bit disturbing- the surreal rush of images and sounds reels by like something from the subconscious and it's never entirely clear what the ritual in the film might evoke.

All of this verbiage might be completely bewildering. The thing about Scorpio Rising, and all of the required viewing films is that they must be seen because they can't really be described.

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