Admittedly, the very sight of an image of the commie hippie drag queen troupe, The Cockettes (led by Hibiscus and his would-be merry man-ladies) is to me the height of radical repugnancy, aggravating aesthetic and biological disharmony, and well beyond redeemable human depravity, so naturally I was quite reluctant to watch the rarely-seen lecherous experimental in arthouse excess Luminous Procuress (1971) starring Pandora and the terribly torturous tranny team, and directed by multi-media artist Steven F. Arnold (The Liberation of the Mannique Mechanique, Gomorrah Borealis); a rather queenish yet refined fellow who had the distinction of being voted "Best Dressed" one year by the L.A. Weekly. Upon first seeing the film none other than famed surrealist Salvador Dalí described Luminous Procuress as “a work of genius” and took on auteur Arnold as his young protégé (who he referred to as his "prince"), thereupon resulting in the young artist’s involvement with the painting and opening of the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Spain. Despite Dalí, as well as Andy Warhol delighting in the visual luxuriance of Luminous Procuress, the revolutionary work is scantly referenced in the documentary The Cockettes (2002) directed by Bill Weber and David Weissman, which is quite telling as the film owes more to the avant-garde auteur behind it than the exceedingly effete faux queens that rock-out with their cocks-out in the spiritually salacious and sinful cinematic work. Indeed, Luminous Procuress does feature aesthetically displeasing men that look like creepy caricatures of Courtney Love and Amy Winehouse, as well as hedonistic hippie degeneracy and lecherousness love-in lunacy, but this rather experimental celluloid art piece is also comparable to Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Werner Schroeter’s Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972), and Ulrike Ottinger’s Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (1978) due to its keen kaleidoscopic imagery, hermetic homoeroticism, and overall unwavering intimate idiosyncrasy. Essentially beginning where Jack Smith left off with Flaming Creatures (1963) with a reasonably healthy serving of Milligan-esque low-camp eroticism, except to a more heightened degree (the film features unsimulated sex of the somewhat serious stripe), Luminous Procuress – a film that dared to portray phantasmagorical cunnilingus and intensely iconoclastic imagery (including a Satanic pope buggering a bent over nun) – is a vehemently vagarious and heteromorphic work of celluloid carnality of the absolutely assiduous abberosexual sort.
Although I cannot say I agree with his political persuasion nor hermaphroditic fashion sense, I undoubtedly believe that Steven Arnold was practicing what he preached, at least in terms of aesthetic authenticity, when he stated, “art is revolution or it’s nothing,” as Luminous Procuress is indubitably the sort of cinematic work where the auteur fought tooth and (broken) nail to bring his uniquely unruly and ruthlessly risqué images to life as if he was engaged in a cinematic crusade for the reevaluation and reinvention of the artistic medium of film. Unfortunately, due to the influence of certain financial backers of the film who wanted the cinematic work released asap, Arnold was apparently removed from the production of Luminous Procuress not long after the film’s principal photography was finished, or so says Warner Jepson, the man who was responsible for assembling the haunting, hypnotic, and hallucinatory synthesizer score for the work. On top of composing the music for the film, Jepson and Victor Barberi were responsible for editing it together, which probably explains why Luminous Procuress is even more nonlinear in structure than the works of Jack Smith. With the dialogue recorded for the film being deemed useless due to the noise of trolley buses and voices interfering with the recording of sound at the studio in which it was originally mixed, Jepson and Barberi opted for dumping the original dialogue and replacing it with foreign (a sort of mishmash of pig French and Slavic languages) and mostly indecipherable voices, henceforth further adding to the otherworldly esotericism of Luminous Procuress. Despite Arnold’s lack of involvement in the post-production aspects of Luminous Procuress, the film is undoubtedly his auteur-piece as made apparent by the unmistakable aesthetic essence of his previous black-and-white quasi-psychedelic surrealist shorts like The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967), Messages, Messages (1968), and Various Incarnations of a Tibetan Seamstress (1969), with the subsequent film starring The Cockettes – the only work he shot in color with the exception of the impossible-to-find work Gomorrah Borealis (1984) – being his cinematic opus magnum. Far too murky, menacing, meditative, mystical, and lacking in mock-heroic humor and musical numbers to be a mere cheeky Cockettes cinematic concerto piece, the members of the fag drag gang purely act as peculiar yet surely potent props for Luminous Procuress. Influenced by historically revolutionary artists ranging from pioneering French illusionist filmmaker Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon, The Impossible Voyage) to Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, Steven Arnold was certainly an artist with a grandeur artistic vision, certainly more so than a group of campy commune communists of the superficially sardonic and mostly senseless sort.
As an assuredly ambitious artiste who sought to “save the world” and create a “new mythology” through his audacious artistic creations, it is beyond question that Steven Arnold’s Luminous Procuress is a work of metaphysical, if soundly self-indulgent and sensual, cinema. In the brief 10-minute ‘video portrait’ Steven Arnold's Heavenly Bodies directed by Stephanie Farago, Arnold proclaims that his great and grandiose goal with his art was: “creating things for people to look up to…young people…and giving them miracles, giving them hope, giving them shrines and giving them hope, giving them new forms of religion and new ways to believe and believing in all things.” As a sort of perverse quasi-Jungian prophet of the notably homophile persuasion, Luminous Procuress is Arnold’s virtual cinematic holy writ and certainly a singular and strikingly stylized work in the history of American film that deserves greater recognition as being – not unlike the works of James Sibley Watson (The Fall of the House of Usher, Lot in Sodom), Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising, Lucifer Rising), and Paul Morrissey (Trash, Women in Revolt) – a rare example of cultural mongrels creating authentic and seemingly organic art in a most mercenary and materialistic nation with next to nil kultur nor history. Seemingly too ominous for fans of The Cockettes as a sort of "bad trip" and "post-hippie nightmare," Luminous Procuress is conspicuously the sort of work that cinematic dreams are made of, hence the film's virtual consignment to the celluloid garbage heap of history; a realm of no return better suited for the likes of high-priest hippie Hibiscus and his horrid flock of serenading and springing fashion victim faggots.