Wow. What a crazy evening. I got a chance to cover the Anthology Film Archives 40th Anniversary benefit “Return To The Pleasure Dome” at the Hiro Ballroom for the Village Voice. It was honoring the legendary Kenneth Anger and featured performances by his band Technicolor Skull, Jonas Mekas performing with Now We Are Here, plus some other bands… the Virgins, Sonic Youth and Lou Reed. On top of all that Moby DJd, actor Ben Foster hosted and we were treated to appearances by Phillip Seymore Hoffman and Julian Schnabel. It was a pretty crazy night… and for $500 a seat I am pretty sure it had to be…
I really wanted to attend because while I have enjoyed his films, I really appreciate Kenneth Anger as this sort of legendary film icon. Aside from making some of the most ground breaking experimental films in history the guy wrote two amazing books, Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II. I am a big movie nerd and his tales of old Hollywood have prominent spots on my bookshelf. When I heard that not only he was going to be there, but that he would be playing a theremin I had to be there. Music in his films is so important I needed to see what he was going to do for himself.
I got there a little bit late and unfortunately I missed most of the Virgins’ set. There guitarist is a friend of mine, and I hadn’t seen them so I was pretty excited about finally seeing them. Like I said, I didn’t catch most of their set but I feel like the toned it down a little bit for the film benefit crowd.
After the Virgins Sonic Youth played. It was the second time this year I have had a chance to shoot Thurston Moore but last time was with his punk band at SXSW. I have never been a very big Sonic Youth fan, but they are a band I have always greatly respected and their documentary “1991: The Year That Punk Broke” was a pretty important film in my musical development. It was great seeing them live. Kim Gordon was awesome.
Between sets Moby DJ’d and played a lot of weird spacey avant gaurd music which seemed to be the theme for the night. I guess I should point out at this point that the bands all played behind silent experimental films that the Anthology Film Archives has restored. I noticed films by Maya Deren, Jonas Mekas and of cours Kenneth Anger.
When Lou Reed played everyone was amazingly excited. Philip Seymore Hoffman gave him a bit of an introduction after asking everyone to donate money to the Archive. As soon as he got on stage we were told that we were not allowed to even dare to photograph him or he would walk off stage. Now I have to say I am not a huge Lou Reed fan, and I am not even really a Velvet Underground fan, (I know, I’m sorry) but even I was pretty excited to see the great Lou Reed… At least until he started playing. He just played feedback while he watched Maya Deren’s Meditations On Violence. Another guy was distorting his feedback from the side of the stage. He played in the back in the dark and didn’t even address the crowd. This, combined with his anti-photo decree, makes Lou Reed a total dick. I’m sorry, but I have been to a lot of terrible noise shows in my life, but at least guys wrapped in tin foil playing Game Boys and yelling into toy megaphones is at least entertaining. People paid $500 a seat to see Lou Reed, the least he could do was say something to the crowd.
After that it was Kenneth Anger and Technicolor Skull’s time to shine. They played super weird music that you would expect from any band with a theremin combined with smoke machines and Kenneth Anger films in the background. The whole thing made for a very weird experience that while not exactly pleasant was certainly a lot more genuine an interesting than Lou Reed’s seven minute set. The one problem I had with the set was that because of the smoke and the lighting it was very difficult to photograph, but when I later looked at the shots I had, it reminded me a lot of stills from an experimental American New Wave film, so I guess that seems extremely appropriate in the end.
After Anger’s set Jonas Mekas came up and gave Anger an award for life time achevement. Mekas spoke of how no living filmmaker had done more for cinnema than Anger. He then asked the crowd to take up arms and attack the NEA and the Library of Congress and demand they create government run faclities to make film stock to preserve movies on film instead of digitally. After his impassioned plea he recieted some sort of poetry over music as Now We Are Here played behind him.
The whole night was completely surreal and I think I would need an advanced film or music degree to understand it all but it certainly made for an interesting night. From Julian Schnabel getting on stage to yell at the people in the back for talking to the guy who kept calling Thurston Moore “big guy” as he got off stage, it was a very weird fucking night. I am very glad I was there.
If you want to see pictures from Anthology Film Archives “Return To The Pleasure Dome” at the Hiro Ballroom click here to see it all…
And please, if you want to help preserve important works of cinema that are slowly turning to dust, please donate to the Anthology Film Archives… or at least go see a movie there… it’s only three block from Lit on 2nd and 2nd…