I’m in the midst of a short busy period, so I decided instead of a lapse of reviews over a few days to knock out my final remaining short film on the list. Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising has been cited as an influence on dozens of films and filmmakers to follow in the years to come, from Martin Scorsese to David Lynch. Like most experimental works, it ignites discussion, even if it does so in not the best of ways. But, I will say this for Scorpio Rising; it was a heck of a lot more watchable than a good 80-90% of the other experimental stuff on the list, even if it may have been for a single solitary reason.
The film is pretty much plotless, consisting instead of a menagerie of images of bikers, greasers, and all-around hoodlums of the 1950s, all placed in a mildly homoerotic subtext by the staccato of images that are intercut within the film. There’s also a section near the end that inserts some Christ imagery, which I’m sure pissed a hell of a lot of people off, though the reasoning seemed a little opaque to me. What ultimately makes Scorpio Rising work, aside from the eclectic cinematography (and by that I simply mean it is ever-changing and thus rapidly appealing to the eye), is one thing: the soundtrack. There is no dialogue at all in this short, and that along with the lack of plot means that the primary exposition to be gotten from the film is the relationship between the songs used and the content displayed on the screen during the songs. It is so easy to take for granted with films nowadays, or even a couple decades ago or so, but Anger’s short films were really the first to actually do this; toy with juxtaposition of the visual elements of the film versus the audio elements. It may have been one of the last real aspects of the rudimentary cinematic language to be realized, and a good many number of filmmakers owe a debt to what Anger accomplishes here.
What surprised me most about this was how much I ended up liking it. Of course, most of that is very likely because I’m a very big fan of oldies music, and virtually all of the audio in this half-hour short was oldies music (occasionally mixed with things like sirens and revving engines), so I could just sit back and tap my feet to the songs while the visual elements just skimmed right off my surface. It is this that I believe has caused me to see Scorpio Rising as largely indeterminable; there is undoubtedly context and subtext to a lot of, if not everything in the film, but I just wasn’t able to ascertain most of it on this, my first viewing. This is likely to be one that will have many layers to uncover, and many little surprises to find upon repeat viewings. And, unlike pretty much every other experimental film I’ve seen, this is one I could actually see me viewing again in the future.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10