The Limits of Excess and Fantasy in Puce Moment

By Rosie Edwards


The work of gay cult filmmaker Kenneth Anger is heavily influenced by the excessive frenetic and bourgeois culture of 1920s Hollywood in which he grew up. The representations of wealth within his films are ironic critiques while simultaneously creating the elaborate psychedelic fantasy of his vision.


In Puce Moment (1949) the first half of the film is a sequence of images of material possessions set to ‘Leaving my old life behind’ by Jonathon Halper. The images have an explicitly tactile quality: the use of bright colours in clothes, bottles and furniture, the shaking movement of the dresses meaning the light catches each sequin, the heavy makeup of the actress makes her face shiny and round and her exaggerated lashes insist on the three dimensional. Anger’s art therefore consists of this textured presentation of objects signifying wealth and the ritual of preparing the body for performance with these objects. Anger was the first director to use popular music to add another dimension of social meaning in film Accompanied by lyrics such as ‘I decided to leave my old life behind, I don’t need it anymore’ and ‘I’m gonna learn to climb the clouds’ the performance of preparation is shown as a transitional stage between the real and the fantasy. Fantasy can therefore be said to be expressed to the viewer through the application of materiality to the body. The dress eventually chosen by the woman is puce, thus the fantasy portrayed is defined by the physical nature of the objects used.


The second half of the film, or the ‘moment’, can be seen as the fantasy element of the film. However, rather than doing a specific activity the woman stays in the room walking slowly, lying on her sofa or walking dogs. The fantasy behaviour consists of everyday movements, the only way in which it is designated fantasy is through the material signifiers. In fact the fantasy is this depiction of daily life as relaxed bourgeois space in which the only concerns are trivial, such as dog walking rather than cleaning or working. The fantasy is to be unconcerned and leisurely, a luxury only attainable through money. The accompanying music for this section is ‘I’m a hermit’ also by Jonathon Halper. Lyrics including ‘ecstacy’s my game’ and ‘I can live of air alone’ convey the internal atemporal nature of this fantasy. Rather than a lived reality, it is a non-material fiction constructed from and expressed through objects.


As the title shows the ‘moment’ of experience is defined by puce – created but also limited by its material form. By capturing the paradox of art’s portrayal of fantasy Anger does not criticise those who make art that relies on decadence, rather those whose actions actively create decadence as exclusive. He invites his audience to consider how class and the relation of class to material possessions affects the accessibility of artistic practice, and the way in which the meaning of the art is understood by its audience.


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