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BOOK REVIEW: Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon II
by Charles Tatum

It seems like these days, the Golden Age of Cinema (the 1930's-1950's) seems pretty tame. Everyday people humiliate themselves on reality television just to achieve fleeting recognition. The names disappear into our attention-deficited collective (quick, name the winner of the second season of "Survivor"), and we latch on to the next Contender or Idol or the bimbo Who Wants To Marry My Dad. Thank God for Kenneth Anger.

While the internet allows us to replay Janet or Tara's boobie escapes ad nauseum, we must rely on faded memories and rumors when it comes to those icons we normally see in black and white on basic cable television. Then came Hollywood Babylon.

Anger appeared in the film "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as a child, and grew up in Tinseltown, eventually becoming know for his avant garde film work like "Scorpio Rising." He was privy to many a juicy story, and dragged many a skeleton out of the closet in the book.

Every film fan knows a big hit deserves a sequel, and a tinted photo of a fat Liz Taylor beckons us into the world of Hollywood Babylon II. Here, while Anger defends that he in fact does like movies, we are privy to over three hundred pages of bitchy, and often hilarious, gossip, which I easily went through in one sitting.

It does help to have some knowledge of classic Hollywood. I have seen actor Paul Kelly in many a picture, and had no idea he once served time for manslaughter. The name Pantages is synonymous with grand movie palaces, but I never knew Joseph Kennedy (one of this country's biggest bastards, the more I read) once framed Alexander Pantages on rape charges.

Was gay George Cukor really fired from "Gone With the Wind" so Clark Gable could get manly man director Victor Fleming to do the job right and turn this chick flick into an action studded romance? Or did Cukor have some knowledge that a younger Gable would submit to some man on man action in order to further his career?

While most of the dirt flung is serious (the Black Dahlia murder complete with explicit crime scene photos, a whole section on who committed suicide and how), Anger rises above it all with morbidly colorful writing. On choreographer/director/drunk vehicular manslaughter criminal Busby Berkeley: "He made surrealistic, voyeuristic, erotic musical dream fantasies which made eyes pop and pricks stand up around the world."

On the two women who betrayed character actor Lionel Atwill's confidence and blabbed about his infamous house orgies:"...two Judases in skirts did their best to drag their host by the short hairs all the way up the hill to Golgotha."

When speaking of James Dean, Anger asks: "And yet, today, if Richard Gere, or Matt Dillon- or any of the other members of the boring regiment of James Dean clonettes spewed out by Francis Ford Coppola in 'The Outsiders'- were to suffer Dean's fate, would cults arise, fans commit suicide, would mash notes arrive thirty years after their demise? Doubtful."

Anger shows no love for Gloria Swanson (celebrating her death in a strange half page rant), Joan Crawford (publishing nude photos from her modeling days), or the Reagans (we are all going to die in a nuclear holocaust).

Hollywood Babylon II was published in 1984, and another sequel to complete a trilogy has not been forthcoming. So we must live with this forbidden volume, readily available at many public libraries, and suffer through today's celebrity marketing: which celebrity starlet (otherwise famous for nothing) has been seen in a recently discovered (but by no means planted) sex tape. Joanie Laurer, you way? Color me shocked, I'd rather read about the mind blowing lesbian coupling of Tallulah Bankhead and Hattie McDaniel any old day. Hollywood Babylon II gets five stars from me.

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originally posted: 04/29/05 03:55:45
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