Apr 7, 2011

Crowley Rising: Kenneth Anger's The Man We Want to Hang and Brush of Baphomet

Biologist-turned-Sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey (left) and Kenneth Anger (right) at the Abbey of Thelema in 1955

Homo-Occultist auteur Kenneth Anger has always had a lifelong admiration for The Great Beast Aleister Crowley. As a matter of fact, Anger is also a follower of Crowley's Thelema - a religion which would play a major influence on the independent filmmaker's cinema-magick experiments. Anger's stunningly colorful and ambitious work Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1953) includes a variety of Crowleyite and Thelemite inspired themes and also features the mysterious Scarlet Woman Marjorie Cameron (whom would later live with Anger for a small period of time) - the widow of  NASA rocket scientist Thelemite Jack Parsons (whom accidentally blew himself up in his home laboratory) on the eve. In 1955, Kenneth Anger traveled to Sicily, Italy (with his fellow hedonistic friend Alfred Kinsey) so that he could direct a documentary on the Abbey of Thelema - a small house that Aleister Crowley used as a Temple for his religion in 1920 during one of his various self-imposed exiles. Italian II Duce Benito Mussolini would later have Aleister Crowley thrown out of fascist Italy and subsequently the religious murals created by the English Occultist were painted over by locals. Although Kenneth Anger would later restore the murals for his documentary Thelema Abbey (1955), unfortunately, a British television channel lost the film. Kenneth Anger's most ambitious Thelema themed film is undoubtedly Lucifer Rising - an extraordinary esoteric work that would take over a decade to make, but was certainly worth the long wait as it is arguably the American auteur filmmaker's cinematic magnum opus. Lucifer Rising - which was shot in Germany and at various ancient Egyptian temples - is a symbolic interpretation of Aeon of Horus - a new period in human history prophesied by Aleister Crowley in his Thelemic unholy holy book, The Book of Law. Apparently, at the dawn of the Aeon of Horus - which began in 1904 - humans would become devoted solely to individual liberty, following Crowley's law "Do What Thou Wilt." Despite being a nonbeliever with little interest in the Thelemite self-gratifying faith, I think it is obvious to most people that self-worship is indubitably a virtue of the modern Occidental world, thus coincidentally fulfilling Crowley's prophecy.

The Man We Want To Hang (2002)

After about twenty years of retirement, Kenneth Anger returned to filmmaking at the genesis of the new millennium and eventually released the short film The Man We Want To Hang (2002) - a work which encompasses a good number of phallocentric painting created Aleister Crowley during his lifetime that had been displayed at an exhibit Bloomsbury, London. Additionally, in 2009, Anger released Brush of Baphomet, yet another film comprised of various painting (from a 2008 exhibit in Paris) created by Aleister Crowley. Although shorter in length than its predecessor, Brush of Baphomet is the more wickedly sweeter of the two Crowley painting tributes. As for Crowley's art: although the paintings leave much to be desired in the way of technique, they vividly scream out the Great Beast's undeniably distorted view of humanity, as well as his playful fixation and notorious historical participation with sexual depravity. I especially enjoyed a painting featured in Brush of Baphomet of a nude savage Negress jovially grabbing the phallic nose of a man who resembles Pinocchio. Whereas The Man We Want To Hang features Crowley's most iconic artistic works, Brush of Baphomet features The Great Beast's more complex and expressionistic oil murals. In 2000, Dutch filmmaker Nico B. paid homage to Kenneth Anger's infamous book Hollywood Babylon by documenting an exhibition dedicated to the gossipy work at the Museum of Death in California. Thus, I would not be surprised if Kenneth Anger received his initial inspiration to document the two Aleister Crowley painting exhibits from Nico B.  Interestingly enough, in an interview we (Soiled Sinema) conducted with Nico B., the Dutchman stated about his friendship with Kenneth Anger, "Afterwards he (Anger) met my then wife and child. We even celebrated Christmas together. Then out of nowhere, in some dark moment he called me and was upset about something. Anger said he would put a spell on my family and I asked him to never contact me again."

Brush of Baphomet (2009)

Kenneth Anger lecturing on Aleister Crowley

Although Kenneth Anger's post-career shorts The Man We Want To Hang and Brush of Baphomet might not seem like anything special - they are beyond a shadow of doubt - loving tributes to a wicked man whose Occult influence is uniquely grand and ultimately incalculable. In a way, Aleister Crowley was the hidden guru behind the counter-culture "revolution" and the hippie movement. After all, Mr. Crowley is featured on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album with other various historical figures that The Beatles admitted to admiring. In 1971, Jimmy Page - guitarist of Led Zeppelin - moved into Crowley's former house in Loch Ness, Scotland and he even engaged in sex magick rituals, but later found such Occult activities no longer fun (replacing them with heroin). In fact, Page was originally hired by Kenneth Anger to provide the soundtrack for Lucifer Rising, but his wife later had a cat fight with the Occultnik filmmaker, so consequently, the famous guitar player was fired from the film (despite the fact that Page had already composed a score, which was inevitably left unused). In retaliation, Kenneth Anger belittled Jimmy Page to the press and even threatened to attack him with a black magic curse.  After his falling out with Jimmy Page, Kenneth Anger hired convicted murderer and Manson family associate Bobby Beausoleil to score and record the soundtrack for Lucifer Rising in prison (Beausoleil was given permission by the institution to do so).  Beausoleil also stars in Anger's short Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) - a film made from an agglomerate of scrap footage from Anger's original 1966 failed attempt at directing Lucifer Rising.  On top of being heavily Thelemic in both theme and imagery, Invocation of My Demon Brother features Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey (whom plays "His Satanic Majesty"), as well as random concert clips of Mick Jagger - who also composed the Moog Synthesizer-driven score for the film.  After all, Mick Jagger is the man that gained much fame by writing (with some minor help from Keith Richards) and confidently singing the 1968 controversial hit song "Sympathy for the Devil."  What better way for Lucifer to subliminally trick people than through the aesthetically pleasing hypnotism of music?! Aleister Crowley would also influence industrial music (Throbbing Gristle, Coil), as well as neofolk groups (Death in June, Current 93). In the late nineteenth century, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated that god was dead. Instead of embracing their traditional Christian cultural backgrounds, many of the great artists of the twentieth culture fell in love with the self-worshipping gospel of Aleister Crowley.  'Tis no wonder the modern world is so pridefully and enthusiastically unholy, for that we can partially thank Aleister Crowley.

 Aleister Crowley on the cover of
The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's album

-Ty E



Kenneth Anger was one of the first underground filmmakers to use the svastika in his 1963 film "Scorpio Rising". Then came Richard Kern in the eighties and now Aryan Kaganof, from 1989 till today. For the 3 above important-underground filmmakers the svastika is a holy symbol.

Unknown said...

Excellent article. It's almost heart breaking to think of any film being lost, especially one of historical note for a myriad of reasons, like "Thelema Abbey." Oddly enough, I am currently reading "The Book of the Law."

As far as "Lucifer Rising," I actually think that Beausolei did a phenomenal job with the score. It's great and fits the film like a snug tee.

Soiled Sinema said...

Heather: Thanks!

Indeed, it is a shame that so many films (especially from the silent era) have been lost. I was so glad when I found out that F.W. Murnau's "Phantom" (1922) was discovered a couple years back (after being assumed forever lost).

Anger also attempted to adapt de Lautreamont's proto-surrealist novel "Maldoror" in the early 1950s, but unfortunately only test shots were made for the film. Considering I loved reading Maldoror, it is quite disappointing for me to realize what could have been an excellent, was never completed.

Also, I totally agree regarding Beausoleil's brilliant soundtrack for "Lucifer Rising." In fact, I think it is better than anything Jimmy Page has ever done. Beausoleil is a guitar wizard. If you want read a great interview / article with Beausoleil, I recommend checking out the book "Apocalypse Culture II" published by Feral House. It is an excellent book all around. In fact, I recommend you checkout the first "Apocalypse Culture" book as well.

I have read at least one book by Crowley, his work of poetry "White Stains." I have his "Book of lies" which I plan to read sometime soon.

-Ty E