Fireworks (1947) By Oveisy, Fouad
Fireworks, Kenneth Anger’s breakthrough short film brought him immediate renown, and acclaim from the likes of Jean Cocteau, upon its debut at the 1949 Festival du Film Maudit (Hutchison, 2004: 27). Inspired by the baroque approach to imagery and mise en scène that dominates Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un poète [The Blood of a Poet] (1930), and exploring the trance-like machinations of the unconscious and dreams found in the cinema of Maya Deren, this film cemented Anger’s reputation as a pioneer of the ‘postwar American avant-garde cinema’ (Meir, 2003). Homoeroticism, a growing disenchantment with violence, and the monolithic rememoration of figures of fascination and authority, are among the major themes explored in Fireworks. To speak of an underlying thematic unity is to reduce the film’s stylistic and philosophical multiplicity; nevertheless, a number of key motifs predominate in the narrative and visual storytelling. For example, while the morphing matrices of phallic symbols (a totem, a missing middle finger) and icons of American power and consumerism (navy soldiers, a Christmas tree) hint at an overt use of symbolism, the suspended gaze of the camera emphasizes Anger’s own articulation of the work as the release of ‘all the explosive pyrotechnics of a dream’ (Fireworks). After its public release, homophobic outrage against the perceived pornographic content of the film led to an obscenity trial; in the end, the California Supreme Court declared that Fireworks was art (Hattenstone, 2010).