Sometimes I think the whole world has been infected by Philip K Dick's paranoia, all of us falling for notions of questioning reality, as his deeply unsettling ideas about media and consiousness and existence and its overall lack of cohesion are exposed to a mass audience in the plots of Tom Cruise movies.
But then I remember The Religious Experience of Philip K Dick, and I console myself with the idea that we're not that batshit insane. Yet.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Every year, I see ads and articles about a Read Comics In Public day, and they always make me laugh, because I think every day is Read Comics In Public Day.
There is no shame or embarrassment about being an adult who loves comic books. Partly because we live in a world where the geeks have won and even my Mum knows who Hank Pym is, and partly because there is nothing to be embarrassed about here.
I have never felt any shame about it, even when dickheads still think it's the funniest fucking thing in the world to see a grown adult reading a superhero comic. I don't care what they think. Not since the day I got the first Batman movie adaption.
When I'm 14, my class goes on a big, exciting field trip to Christchurch, which is the closest big city, a couple of hundred kays away. We're going to see some Shakespeare or some shit, (although I really think it might have been The Crucible), but we also get to do big city things like go to McDonalds, and go to the big spacies parlours, and check out a proper shopping mall.
It sounds sad as shit, but it was very exciting. It's 1989 and we come from a town of 3000 people in the middle of fucking nowhere on the arse end of the world, and shopping malls and McDonalds are a taste of the fucking future.
When we all get back on the bus to go home, Rachel, a smart and funny classmate, sits beside me and shows me some godawful earrings that I'm easily able to lie about because I've got two sisters, and then she asks me what I bought at the mall.
I had got a Batman comic, and I didn't really know if I should show her or not.
Like everybody else in the entire goddamned world, I was a mess in my early teens. All those hormones, all that weird shit you have to go through.
You're not a kid anymore, but definitely not an adult, just these weird, gawky in-between thing. And under so much pressure to grow up, and act like an adult, without having any idea how to go about it. (To be fair, I'm over 40 now, and I still have no bloody idea how to act like an adult.)
It's a time when you have to grow the hell up, and give up playing with toys, and start going out with girls, and all that crap. Some things are harder to give up than others, and some things you just can't give up completely, no mater how many times other people tell you that you really should.
Comics are the thing for me. In a lifetime of buying, reading and collecting the damn things, it's in my early teens when I come closest to going full turkey and give them up. I can't be reading these childish things any more if anybody is going to take me seriously.
Fortunately, I don't really give a shit if anybody takes me seriously or not. Comics have always been the thing, and they always will be. And I keep up a teenage habit, fuelled by New Warriors slickness, and Jim Lee's X-Men, and the Dead Man saga in Judge Dredd.
But it does goes behind the door. I'm still getting 2000ad every week, and Uncanny X-Men every month, but don't go on about it. I don't bring them into school, and only talk about them with my very best mates, who are all just as shudderingly dorky as I am. I don't talk about comics around normal people, and I especially don't talk about them around girls.
But my fever for comics builds throughout the teenage years, and when the Batman movie comes out in 1989, I'm going crazy for it. So when we go to the big city, and I see the movie adaption for sale for five bucks, I had to have it. It's in the prestige format, has got some sweet Jerry Ordway art, and will keep me going until the movie comes out in video, months and months away.
And when Rachel asks me what I got, I don't want to tell her.
But then it's a moment of clarity, and a total 'so what' moment? I might as well share it and show her that I bought a Batman comic, and tell her how fancy it is. She might laugh at me, she might think I'm a fucking nerd, but I'm okay with that. After all, I really am a fucking nerd. In the words of the immortal philosopher, Popeye the sailor man, I am what I am. Why hide it?
Rachel doesn't laugh at me when I show her the comic book. She reveals that she really liked the Batman TV shows when she was a little girl, and we spend the rest of the bus trip talking about that instead. I have to lie again, because I'm 14, at the stage in life when the campy Batman was the absolute worst thing ever, and it'll take me a while to grow out of that.
But we talk about Catwoman and King Tut and Cesar Romero's mustache, and it's no big deal. It never is.
In the years since, there have still been plenty of people who think comic books are inherently childish, and roll their eyes and make a smart comment when I'm trying to enjoy some motherlovin' BPRD. I don't bother getting agitated any more, I just feel sorry for them. They're missing out on some amazing art, and we could all use some more amazing art in our lives.
That's the real growing up, that I didn't even know I was doing. And this was just one example, Rocky Horror was saving me from being a homophobic shitheel, and I was just a year or two away from my first real adult comic book. There was a lot of change going on, and I looked like a fucking geek while I was doing it, but it was a shitload of fun.
You can spend your whole life worrying about what other people think if you, or you could just get on with your life. No choice. No shame.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Nobody expected the Bourne movies to be the defining spy action films of the early 21st century, but that's what they turned out to be. When the first film opened in the early 2000s, it looked like just another middlebrow spy effort, like so many others, only to turn out to be so much more.
More streamlined than Bond, way cooler than try-hards like xXx, and smarter than almost all of the dozens of other spy flicks of the past 15 years, the Bourne films are enormously entertaining, gut-punchingly thrilling and, just sometimes, unexpectedly moving.
There are plenty of reasons for the artistic and commercial success of the movie series – a fierce devotion to political relevancy, Paul Greengrass' eye for hyper-reality, Matt Damon's awesomely blank performance, even the way it achieves the miraculous and makes a ropey old Moby song still sound super cool.
But the real appeal of the Bourne films can be boiled down to three main points - of efficiency, of action, and of compassion.
The Bourne films obviously grew from the Bond legacy, mixed up with a bit of John La Carre seriousness, a dash of Jack Ryan charm and left to percolate in a modern filter. But they were also heavily influenced by the sharp professionalism and deep-set efficiency of Michael Mann's films.
Bourne is almost a pure Mann character, smart, fast and ruthless, and totally self-aware. He's always thinking two steps ahead, and getting out of situations with the utmost efficiency. He doesn't waste any effort, never second guesses himself, and lives with the consequences.
Jason Bourne doesn't waste a step, and, wonderfully, the filmmakers give the audience enough credit to follow him. By the time you're starting to wonder why Jason is wrapping towels around his hands, he's already using them to vault over walls with broken glass on them.
And this efficiency bleeds right though to the plot, with stories that have no fat on them - never hesitating, always moving forward. By tapping into thoroughly modern fears of mass surveillance and rampant globalisation, the stories make big points about life in the 21st century, without ever getting too preachy on it.
Jason Bourne doesn't stop moving, and his story doesn't stop either, until he's got the result he wanted, and until we've seen the injustice he's fighting.
The second great thing about the Bourne films is a natural by-product of that efficiency – it has some awesomely kick-ass action scenes. Ever since his first real fight against another hyper-killer in his Paris flat, the sight of Bourne laying the smackdown on some other poor fool is one of the great sights of modern cinema.
The one-on-one fights are endlessly inventive, with the use of magazines, pens and hardback books as weapons. And again there, is no wasted effort, no posing or showing off. Whatever gets the job done as quickly as possible.
Each of the films also features some kind of bonkers car chase, racing around some great city of the world in fine and utterly implausible style, full of crunching metal and high speed skids. It's all well and good to bang on about the dangers of the oppressive state, but you can't beat a good handbrake skid around an internationally renowned monument.
The thrills these films have generated with their fighting and chasing has influenced the way action films have been shot ever since, with many poor imitators over the past decade, as everybody seemed to learn the wrong lessons.
It's undeniable that the Bourne movies are full of shaky camera, but they still crucially manage to hold the image in the frame, even if it's still bouncing all round it. It's tough to go for that immersive vibe without actually losing clarity, but through exceptionally smart staging and some clever use of sound design, it's always clear what's going on, no matter how chaotic it gets.
But the best thing about the Bourne films isn't the fighting, or the way Jason Bourne can disappear into a crowd without breaking stride, it's the way the films are all about the importance of showing a little compassion, of letting in a bit of humanity
After flirting with this idea for a while, the Bourne films transcended their genre at the end of the second movie, when Jason doesn't shoot the scuzzy Russian bad guy in the head when he's got him at his mercy, and walks away to tell somebody how her parents died instead. It's not the revenge story you think you've been watching. It's just somebody wanting to know why they lost somebody they loved.
These movies are all about Jason Bourne becoming a human being, and part of that is not being a psycho killer who shoots people in the head. He gets into the whole mess because an evil genocidal dictator is also a beloved daddy, and actually kills surprisingly few people during the films. Those that do die tend to meet their demise at the hands of others, or put Bourne into an impossible situation of kill or be killed.
But he never gives in to cruelty. Even better, empathy becomes a virus, and showing compassion spreads throughout this organisation of fucked-up killers. Some never change, but others become genuinely baffled by a non-violent resolution, and even start to crave it.
By the end of the third film, it's even saving Jason Bourne's life, as another killer whose life was spared passes on the favour and learns a simple lesson. It turns out that, remarkably, breaking a cycle of violence can actually be a good thing.
After a slight lapse in quality control with the last Matt Damon-less effort, another film in the series is coming out soon. And as surprising as the overall success of the Bourne films has been, it was no shock that the most exciting thing to come out of the latest round of Superbowl movie trailers was a 40-something-year-old man decking some poor schmuck with one punch.
Damon and Greengrass always said they would only come back to the Bourne films if they had a decent story to tell, and it's a different world now from the one we had when the series was launched, with a whole new bunch of things to be paranoid about.
Jason Bourne has no time for that paranoia. He's too busy moving, too busy turning into a human being as efficiently as possible.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
The brilliant British comedy Peep Show is done and dusted after 10 seasons of agonising and truthful moments. While I still hope that we can check in on Mark and Jeremy every 10 years ago, if only to confirm that they will never, ever learn a fucking thing, I really wish they would just give Super Hans his own talk show, in which he pontificates on life and offers appallingly awful advice.
Super Hans On true love…
"I'd take a fucking truncheon up the arris for this one. Or an umbrella. I would open an umbrella up inside my arris for this one."
"I'm getting married, and I would punch in the throat anyone who tried to stop me. That is how I feel today, Molly. So suffused with love, I'd put a glass in the face of anyone who tried to stop us joining our souls together. I'd hospitalise them."
"War makes people horny. Yalta, Yalta was hardcore, Stalin and Roosevelt sandwich, Churchill sat on the side wanking. Yeah?"
On the value of vans…
"You should just a get a van. With a van it's like you've got an MBA, but you've also got a fucking van! You're not just a man anymore, you are a man with a van. You get a van, Jez, we could be men with ven."
"See, the longer the note, the more dread."
"Dude, that's not jam, that's just total fucking marmalade."
On the importance of taking drugs at big life-changing events…
"You should drop acid at the funeral. Make it more intense. That's what I did at me old man's, it was fucking mental. I was crying and laughing. Didn't know who was dead and who was alive."
"But if you're tripping and you're having a baby, it's like "Fuuuck!" You know? You see a little guy come out of there, what's gonna happen next? Frogs out of her arsehole? Milk out of her ears? Anything's possible."
On ecclesiastical politics…
"Don't pigeonhole me, dude. Barchester Chronicles. Ecclesiastical politics when you're high. These guys really knew how to do a fucking number on each other."
"We are gonna have parties in this place that go beyond fun and actually get really, really nasty."
"That will probably become clear later, like the French Revolution."
"People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can’t trust people, Jeremy."
On the Meaning of Life…
"It's a pisser, though, innit? Cancer. They should a find a fucking cure. They should pull their fucking fingers out. It's important."
"Real men don't get the Earth to help carry their luggage, mate. They carry it themselves."
"Thoughts. You wanna give that shit a rest. You've been going and thinking thoughts your whole life, and look where that's got you, eh."
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Love and Rockets is still the coolest comic there ever was, is, and will be. After more than 30 years of absolutely brilliant comics, the Hernandez brothers' work remain second to none.
The latest annual issue of Love and Rockets – the last to come out in this format – has been released in the past week, and is more than welcome, because it’s just as fabulous and thoughtful and real as it ever was.
After years and years of producing brilliant, heart-wrenching and beautiful comics, it would be so easy for Los Bros Hernandez brothers to give their devoted audience exactly what they want.
It would be so easy for them to just do more and more stories about Luba and Maggie, and just tell stories of these weird and wonderful women, and their fabulous friends and family, and just focus on that. Building up a body of work like that, creating a small and personal mythology, is a worthy goal in life.
Or, you could do what the brothers do best, and go wherever their whims take them, with goofy, energetic and slightly disturbing new stories that are as good as any of their classic work, while still making room for catching up with old friends.
The artists keep their various long-running stories moving in various interesting and emotional ways, but still have the fiery passion of doing something new. There is always room for a bit of experimentation, or for some plain old fun.
They have always done this. Issues of Love and Rockets, in any format or volume, have always had that mix of stream-of-consciousness wackiness and madly ambitious world building, right back to the earliest days. And they’re still doing it, never content to rest on their considerable laurels, or take it too easy. There is always something new to say.
So while Gilbert’s comics expand his ongoing saga of Fritz and her family into new and sordid directions, with strange doppelgangers and insidious lineages, he has still got room for the goofy and gory adventures of Aladdin, as he continues to blur the line between movies and reality in his world.
Actually, for once Beto isn't the one going off on a crazy unrelated tangent, with all of his stories in #8 taking place in the same universe as his whimsically jagged Palomar tales, but they are a long, long from the world of fried slugs and submerged sculptures.
It’s far more of a head game, consumed with questions of identity, all laid out in the artist’s typically straight-forward style. His cast of characters has grown so vast, and he still brings in more and more people, populating it all with reincarnations and rebirths, new clones and old ghosts. Fritz is still there, but this is a murkier, darker corner of her world than we have seen before.
Meanwhile, Jaime’s comics are even more frenzied in their rush to do new stuff. The anarchic sci-fi adventures of Princess Animus continue in new stories, while the new adventures of Isla Guerra have a familiar Jaime character in an unfamiliar location – a young girl stuck on a idyll Pacific island dreams of bigger things, only to have them dashed against the deadly sharks of reality, and then her story crash bangs into the galaxy-spanning looniness of Animus' glorious nonsense.
And the Locas world continues to expand with the ongoing story of Tonta and her crew, taking them on a little bit, growing up so fast. Viv remains Viv, and Angel's painful downfall is never clearer than when we don't even get to see her properly. (Queen Rena operated the same way - Beto isn't the only one playing with the idea that these people keep having the same stories over and over again.)
If nothing else, it's all worth it for the still astonishing beauty of Jaime’s staging and body language, on show for all to see again. Check out the posing in this panel – the straight back of Tonta’s greeting, the coiled nerdiness of her best friend, even the casual flick of the hand in the girl walking past. It’s a perfect piece of comic panel staging, and every character, no matter how minor, has a life. (And that’s without getting into the balls an artists needs to break all the proper rules of storytelling and start off a story by showing the main character from the rear.)
The new directions that Jaime heads down are an essential part of a living artist, but there is no denying it’s so good to see all his young punks from years ago together again, a bit more wrinkled and a bit more swelled, reunited in another endless night at a dirty punk gig.
It’s right at the back of the new book - after promising the return of all sorts of old faces in the last 2015 issue of L&R, Jaime only returns to that world for the last 17 pages of L&R #8, but it’s just so fucking good.
In those 17 pages there are plenty of characters showing up for the first time in years – Joey Glass in the same old tee-shirt, with a brand new beer gut; Daffy and her too-cool-for-school daughter; Terry still failing to ever connect with Maggie; Izzy back in the world briefly; and holy shit! Is that Mike Tran?
It’s the same old story with the same old faces, they’ve gotten older, and jumping in the mosh pit might actually kill them now, but Maggie and Hopey are having another dumb argument, while La Llorona gets ready to play.
It’s the old story of not being able to go home again, and about the great bullshit and utter reality of the generational divide, and how some nights, you just can’t get away from the place you’re stuck at, and how new people can sound interesting in theory, but turn out to be weird and boring snobs. And it all ends with two wonderful silent panels, of the same old story going on, and some things never change, no matter how many wrinkles there are. Best to just go with it.
It’s a little astonishing to think the New Stories have been going for eight years now, but it is time for a change. It’s been an absolute thrill to get so much Love and Rockets goodness in one shot every year, but can lose the details in the long wait between issues, and a more regular schedule would help fill those gaps.
But it doesn't matter if Love and Rockets comes out four times a year, or just once, it's always fucking amazing, and still so fucking cool.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
I have no idea what the hell I'm doing when I move out of my parents' home, somewhere in the mid-nineties. I've just turned 19, and in a spectacularly ill-advised display of independence, I've moved hundreds of kilometres away, to live in a shitty flat in Dunedin.
I don't have a job, or a girlfriend, or a car, and I have no fucking idea what I'm doing with my life. Almost all of my friends went off to university, and I followed some of them to the new city, but I couldn't bear the idea of spending one more goddamn day in school.
I'm so freaked out by it all, and I'm so fucking scared of the world, and because I'm 19, I'm so fucking scared of anybody seeing how so fucking scared I am, so I hide it all beneath the usual adolescent bullshit and bluster.
And the comics I bought that first weekend I moved out of home still reek of that fear and bullshit, while still providing an invaluable link to the past, and the glorious promise of future possibilities
I'm on the dole when I first move out, so it's life on an incredibly strict budget. I somehow survive on a food budget of $20 a week – which means lots of cornflakes, pasta and $1 pies – and also put aside $15 for booze – just enough for a couple of riggers and a scrumpy cider, or the cheapest, nastiest bottle of vodka, anything to get through the blasted weekend.
My comic budget, however, was $30 a week, because I knew my priorities, and would frequently forego things like lunch in favour of a new issue of From Hell or Legion of Super-Heroes. It's still an expensive habit, and I have to give up long-running Spider-Man and Superman runs, because there is only so much I can actually afford.
But I don't have any money to actually go out and do things, so when I'm not going for long, rambling walks around the city, I'm spending vast amounts of time stuck inside my shitty flat, and reading my comic books over and over again really do help. I'm pretending to be a proper adult, but I'm still a teenager and when it all gets a bit much, and too big, and too scary, I always have the comics to dive into, and get away from the world.
And when I first set up in the city, and have paid my first bond and rent, and have all the plates and cutlery and towels I need, the last of my setting-up money goes on a couple of fancy comics. This is the first time I've ever lived in a city with a comic shop before, and I'm going to mark the goddamn occasion with some comics that I'll keep forever.
Again, this is the mid nineties, and the whole trade paperback thing was just really kicking off, with the big comic companies suddenly realising how much money there actually was in collected editions, so I snapped up two recent and new comics in this great new format.
They say you figure out your tastes when you're 19, and set yourself on the type of movies and TV and comics and music you're always going to like. I don't know about that, but one of the first things I did on that first weekend as an adult was head out and get Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, and Mr Punch, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, and I still think they're both bloody brilliant, all these years later.
Marvels was a happy connection to the past. I had to give up most of my Marvel comics I was getting, which wasn't that hard because, again, it was the mid-nineties. But Marvels' trawl through the history of that weird and wacky universe was such a wonderful capture of how crazy it all was.
On those long winter nights of the first year on my own, when there was only a two-bar heater to offset the wind creeping in through the dodgy windowsill, there was real warmth in this utter sentimentality, and in the startling realism of Alex Ross' light sources.
All my Marvel comics were a long way away – it would take a couple of years before I got all my comics together again – but everything I had always loved about the universe could be found in this one new book. It was pure comfort.
But it wasn't all unfettered nostalgia - Busiek's script was also a sign of the future, and of new possibilities, which was just as welcome in this terrifying new world.
It was a more introspective tone than Marvel's usual bombast, with a fond retelling of classic tales given new depths. Just as much as Ross inspired a mini-boom in static, painted superhero comics, Busiek's script promised a more complex, yet warm, voice to this sprawling universe.
Gaiman and McKean's Mr Punch couldn't more different on a superficial level, but had that same connection to the past and future.
The book actually made me feel less homesick, not just because of its wistful, nostalgic and slightly perturbed vibe, but because the creators' earlier work, Signal To Noise, was the only proper graphic novel in the library at the town I had just left, and I had read that book over and over again in the previous few years.
Mr Punch was a completely different book, with a completely different tone, but that combination of creators always felt like home, and always helped with the homesickness.
And there it was again, all that possibility. After years of regular, mainstream comics, something as experimental as McKean's collages and Gaiman's breakdown of anything were intoxicating, and inspiring me to seek out more challenging stuff.
This was, to me anyway, a new way of telling tales, with the script leaving out key elements of the story, with the real tale in the spaces in-between moments, in the things left unsaid. It was such a pleasure to have something that credited the reader with a bit of intelligence, even if I still haven't figured out what was really up with the mermaid, all these years later.
As terrifying as all this new responsibility and expectation was in my life, there were always new ways at looking at things, and new ways of telling stories, and can help someone at their most vulnerable.
All this is 20 years ago now, but I still own those books. They're still on the bookshelf beside me, and they're just as fun and interesting and comforting.
I'm certainly a different man to the one I was all those years ago. I've figured out some things, got my shit together in others, and positively excelled at one or two things in this life.
I still don't know what the fuck I'm doing, but I'm getting there. And there are always more comics – both old favourites and new thrills – to get me through the worst of it.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
The late, great Mark Gruenwald wasn't a brilliant comic book writer – his plots were often hackneyed, his characters were damp, and his dialogue was cheesier, and riper, than a 17-day gouda – but he was a terrific ideas man, and he could see which way the wind was blowing.
He was way ahead of his time with his Squadron Supreme series in the 1980s, with ideas and concepts he introduced there still being successfully mined by contemporary creators. And he could see the audience for superhero comics getting more bloodthirsty, so he got Scourge to walk into the Bar With No Name in an issue of Captain America, and blow away 18 supervillians with some explosive bullets.
In this day and age, when Wolverine happily guts anybody who looks at him funny, or when every second superhero comes equipped with some high-powered weaponry, it's easy to overlook how unsettling the Scourge saga was in 1980s Marvel comics.
The Scourge character (or characters) popped up in a dozen different Marvel comics over a year or so, shooting some costumed villain dead in cold blood, hollering 'Justice is served!' and disappearing again. He (or she) could show up anywhere, or kill anybody, and the random violence was often used as a grim punchline to some other ongoing storyline.
While many of Marvel's top talents had their shot at a Scourge cameo, it all came to a head early in Gruenwald's mammoth Captain America run. Some of the villains banded together and met at the Bar With No Name to discuss the murderous problem, only to be brutally killed by the bartender. And then Cap took down the villain, only for him to be killed by yet another shadowy killer, in a Russian doll of psychopathic vigilantes.
This kind of carnage would become regular fare in the trigger-happy 1990s, and there had certainly been plenty of death and gore in Marvel comics before, with the Punisher mowing down legions of unnamed goons since the seventies.
And it was certainly the sort of things you saw in plenty of For Mature Readers comics at the same time, with even the immortal Batman dragged into some awkward adult violence. This sort of violent nihilism wasn't exactly unknown in comic books at the time.
But this was something new for Marvel in the 1980s, as the company tried to shake off the stagnant air of a 20-year-old comic company, looking for a new direction. And the sheer amount of corpses left behind was new, with damn near half of the Book of the Dead volumes of The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe (Deluxe Edition) filled up with Scourge's victims at that time.
And it was just so brutal. Scourge killed women and cowards and reformed henchmen. One female victim met her end while showering after a wrestling match, and the killer frequently appeared out of nowhere. He could disguise himself as anyone, and any character could suddenly become a cold-blooded murderer.
Editorially, Scourge might have been nothing more than a good excuse for disposing of some of the Marvel Universe's dorkiest villains, including some that went all the way back to the earliest days of the publisher. But it was also unsettling, and you couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor bastards who ended up facing the wrong end of his gun barrel.
The history of Scourge was later revealed to be a vast conspiracy, and some version of the character still pops up every now and again. And even all those villains that were killed have been resurrected, with The Hood bringing almost all of them back to life for no real good reason a few years ago.
And those Captain America comic are as clumsy and stilted as most of Mark Gruenwald's stories, but they have those hints of the future, that plenty of other creators still use. While Scourge's victims never lasted long, the legacy of his initial appearances still lives.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger made esoteric magickal movies that appeal to literally dozens of people. They're infused with satanic ideas, truly queer scenarios, ritual fun and games, deeply droning soundtracks and mad cosmic opera.
They have their charms - especially Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising and their ultra-trippy imagery - but they're certainly not for everybody.
I've watched them all, getting drunk one weekend in 2001 and hiring them all out from Alice In Videoland in Christchurch, and I just got a funky DVD of his works imported from the UK. But I don't think I've ever recommended his films to anybody I know, even the biggest movie nerds I've met.
And yet, with such a limited audience for his crazy and beautiful ideas, he's still managed to influence modern culture in two huge ways. Some of the greatest artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers of our time have managed to influence culture in similar ways, and they only manage to do it once throughout their long careers.
Kenneth Anger did it twice.
The first instance took some time to catch on, but can now be seen in nearly all of the films showing at your local multiplex. Unless they are some science fiction of fantasy nonsense, or have some scintillating synthesizer, modern movies are saturated with pop songs, often to excellent effect, often to mediocre effect.
And yet, the transition from full on film scores to pop magic is only a relatively recent addition to the story of cinema, and Anger kicked it all off with Scorpio Rising.
It's a short film, totally gay in the best possible sense of the term, with a heavy focus on leather, motorbikes and the occult. And it would be the nothing more than the smallest footnote in the history of film if Anger hadn't done something fascinating with the soundtrack.
He put modern pop songs onto the film, and there was a sudden zing of divine beauty, as images and sounds combined in a whole new way, offering new juxtaposition and energy to the filmed image.
It still took a while to catch on, but one young filmmaker who took note of the movie was a Mr Martin Scorsese, who has become an artist at matching a good tune to a good image. And Scorsese has gone on to influence a thousand thousand other filmmakers, to the point where any movie set in the modern day feels weird without some kind of musical accompanist. It's given films as different as Pulp Fiction, Sleepless in Seattle and the Guardians of the Galaxy a whole new level.
It might seem like a trivial and silly thing to inject into modern culture, but it's still there, and Anger still did it first.
His second big influence on everything was even bigger, and can be seen in almost every newspaper and news bulletin on earth.
When Anger wrote his Hollywood Babylon books decades ago, they were written with a gleeful malevolence, as Anger picked the scabs off Hollywood's biggest stars. A minor player in the game of cinema ever since he appeared as a child in a 1930s adaption of a Midsummer's Night’s Dream, Anger was only too happy to share some of the biggest secrets he heard.
So Hollywood Babylon became the first place to really dig the dirt, and serve it up to a huge audience. It's where most people first found out about James Dean's habit of putting cigarettes out on himself, or saw the horrific effects that WC Fields' lifetime of drinking had produced, and there was plenty more murder, intrigue and malevolence behind Tinseltown's bright lights, with plenty of nasty photos. It didn't even matter if most of it probably wasn't true.
It was still scandalous, and still seen as dirty and grubby, but Anger's books showed there was an insatiable demand for celebrity dirt, and it's spawned an entire industry of salacious gossip today. Actors and musicians and other celebrities live and die by this strange news cycle these days.
The tabloids and mainstream news outlets that took Anger's style and ran with it might not be prefaced with a quote from Aleister Crowley, like Hollywood Babylon is, but they all owe debt to Anger's first efforts.
Kenneth Anger is still kicking around now in the year 2016, when so many other good and godly people have passed on, which says something about the health benefits of Satanism.
But I like to hope he sees some of the beautiful mess he has left behind in his idiosyncratic career, and the way we all came around to seeing movies and celebrity culture the way he does.