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On DVD: Robert Mitchum and Kenneth Anger

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Angel Face,” Warner, 1952]

Robert Mitchum, whose 54-year career in American movies ended with his death in 1997, is never mentioned when movieheads gather and ponder the Great American Movie Stars or Great American Actors, and he’s never included in the Oscar montages. It’s as if this masterful, unflappable, unpretentious, iconic demi-god wasn’t, in fact, the postwar years’ most consistent and resonant leading man, and true noir’s purest and coolest everyman. (Mitchum’s heroes were never weathered, flawed romantics like Bogart’s — he never thought that much about the past.) He may have also been the era’s best line-reader — you’d search in vain through his massive filmography for a misstep or clumsy moment, which is not something you can say for Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, John Wayne or Burt Lancaster. Mitchum knew how to be on film in a way that eludes most actors; his massive bulk, sleepy eyes and laconic voice disguised a quick, quiet intelligence that always seemed to surprise his co-stars.

He worked in virtually every genre that required a morally centered man of action (musicals were out, thank God), and his best films have only become recognized as some of the mid-century’s all-out finest many years after they vanished from theaters: “Crossfire,” “Out of the Past” and “Pursued” (all 1947), “The Lusty Men” (1952), “Angel Face” (1952), “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), “Cape Fear” (1962), “El Dorado” (1966). The new Warner Mitchum DVD box set comes with at least one now-classic Mitchum movie: Otto Preminger’s “Angel Face,” a beautiful meta-noir set in the blazing California sun, pitting Mitchum’s guileless working-class driver against Jean Simmon’s gorgeous but, it is slowly revealed, psychopathic poor little rich girl. The ending is a throat-catcher, even for those days thick with noirish bile and cynicism. The box also includes the fabulous exotic mishmash “Macao” (1952), Vincente Minnelli’s “Home from the Hill” (1952), Fred Zinneman’s sunny Australian sheep-drover epic “The Sundowners” (1960), the negligible western “The Good Guys & the Bad Guys” (1969), and, take notice, Sydney Pollack and Paul Schrader’s “The Yakuza” (1974), in which the aging Mitchum plunges into the Japanese underworld and wreaks holy havoc.

Meanwhile, in another Hollywood, Kenneth Anger was growing up. Long considered the American avant-garde’s pioneer mythopoet, Anger started, briefly, as a child actor (that’s him as the Changeling Prince in 1935’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” alongside James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland), and began making non-narrative, proto-campy films as a teenager. By the time he made “Scorpio Rising” (1964) — a half-hour mood piece that essentially defined authentic American gay iconography and nascent queer culture for several generations of horny guys — Anger was underground cinema’s dark prince. Hanging with Anaïs Nin and Mick Jagger, channeling Aleister Crowley, getting mixed up with the Manson gang (Bobby Beausoleil buried the negative of “Lucifer Rising” in Death Valley, forcing Anger to reshoot it from scratch) — these were the years to be a cool, counter-cultural experimental filmmaker. (Still, these were avant-garde shorts — he’s still more popularly known as the author of the scandal-shop “Hollywood Babylon” books.) Anger’s films range in palette from bedroom amateurishness to Victorian nursery daydream to epic black mass, but they’re all frantic collages concerned more with your experience as a spectator than making conventional narrative order out of chaos. (Anger has agendas involving “magick” and so forth, but like most writing by and about experimental filmmakers, it’s pure blarney.)

The inaugural Fantoma disc of Anger’s scant oeuvre — hopefully there will be at least two more — saves the confrontational luridness of “Scorpio Rising,” “Invocation of My Demon Brother” and “Lucifer Rising” for later, and instead presents his earlier, more glitzy stage, beginning with his incendiary masturbation symbol-fest “Fireworks” (1947), made when Anger was 19. The films are little half-myths that live in an entirely symbolic sphere, boiling down “normal” movies to a fetishized bank of dislocated gestures and images. For me, Anger’s doomed “Rabbit’s Moon” (1950) is his early triumph, a fully realized fairy tale starring a Pierrot le Fou figure in a cardboard glade under a completely fake moon. It was never finished, and has only been seen in a truncated version until now. Climactically, so to speak, “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” (1954) is a grand, 38-minute, rainbow-candy costume party/pantomime, starring Nin, Anger, director Curtis Harrington, and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” songwriter Joan Whitney. The lavish extras include wall-to-wall Anger commentary, supplements demonstrating the films’ restorations, production art, excerpts from Nin’s famous diaries, outtakes (!), and a sleek book of history and stills.

“Robert Mitchum — The Signature Collection” (Warner) and “The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume One” (Fantoma) will be available on DVD on January 23rd.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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