Without the benefit of dialogue or the progression of plot, Scorpio Rising unearths the spirituality at the center of American biker culture through its iconography, detecting the substance inherent in the process and attributing religious significance to the swivel of a socket wrench and tautening of a belt strap. By transmogrifying mechanical rigor into divine ritual, Kenneth Anger forges a sacred communion between the erotic and the morbid, conjuring the mystique of the outsider through the contours of tight jeans and the lingering threat of the quietus. The result is a hallucinatory and orgiastic windfall of imagery, powered by the oneiric resonance of nostalgia and its accompanying sexuality.
Objectifying polished metal like the subject of a pornographic centerfold, Anger’s camera lingers on fragments of glistening motorcycles and shirtless men with a synthesis of the salacious and reverent, ameliorating the sex object to the stature of the theological totem. Overlaid with the ornate and gently melancholic sounds of Little Peggy March’s “Wind-Up Doll,” the camera evinces the literal and the figurative from its photographic portraits and soundtrack selections, scanning and observing vehicular maintenance with the delicacy of a slow dance, treating each wrenching motion and burnished fender as a metaphor for the song’s unrequited love and an eroticized representation of physical labor.
Anger expands upon these variances between connotation and denotation through subliminal editing techniques and visual juxtaposition, insinuating an equity of symbols through jarring comparisons between celebrity and sexual identity. As his subjects model for the camera, resembling flesh-and-blood mannequins adorned in skintight leather jackets, Anger draws parallels between their affected carriage and the defiance extolled on the silver screen, identifying a direct line between Marlon Brando’s slouched demeanor in The Wild One and the languorous posturing of his bonafide iconoclasts.
These bonds between the corporeal and spiritual are further strengthened by provocative collages of stock footage and ideological emblem, invariably imbuing the sacrosanct with danger by stitching together portions of an educational short on Jesus Christ with snippets of chapped asses, swastika-adorned flags and scowling grim reapers. It is at this intersection between idolatry and blasphemy that Kenneth Anger reveals the essence of biker chic, defining their flirtation with death as a dogmatic principle and superficial fashion statement. Scorpio Rising’s lurid obsessions possess a similar polarity, occupying the rift between bewitching occultism and ghoulish nihilism, impregnating each glossy image of piety and apostasy with unabashed prurience and childlike wonder.
Scorpio Rising (Puck Film Productions, 1964)
Directed by Kenneth Anger
Written by Kenneth Anger and Ernest D. Glucksman
Photographed by Kenneth Anger