As a seasonal commemoration and prelude to the website centred on my book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus going live tomorrow, here is an extract from the book dealing with the occult side of the psychedelic sixties featuring the disturbing work of Kenneth Anger (pictured). Lucifer Rising is the most famous piece of experimental occult cinema to date. I recently enjoyed the luxury of watching it on my laptop sitting on a hotel balcony looking out at the Great Pyramid. The link above shows the film in its entirity. My Feast of the Book of the Law blog mentions my use of the original Jimmy Page soundtrack. Indeed Page and Anger do seem to be somewhat in the airwaves at the moment as an early bootlegged version of the movie with Page’s music has surfaced out there in torrent land. The blood ruby UFO from Lucifer and Marjorie Cameron as Babalon from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome both feature in the cover art of my book.
Here then is the section entitled Lucifer Rising.
A lot of music expressed the Thelemic side of the sixties. One film-maker was second to none in invoking it on screen. Kenneth Anger had featured as a small child in the classic 1935 movie production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This helped him to cultivate his fascination with the bizarre mythic world of the twentieth century’s most distinctive art-form and to later produce his legendary literary expose of that era, Hollywood Babylon. He also became an underground experimental movie maker, bringing to his work his distinctly individual style, being both gay and a passionate advocate of Aleister Crowley. He saw the art of film-making as potentially a form of spell-casting. His major works do function as rituals of invocation. The general style of rapid editing image blending with striking surreal juxtapositions, often of emotionally intense material, has been cited as inspirational to the likes of David Lynch and many rock videos. An early sign of things to come was 1954’s psychedelic Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. It featured Marjorie Cameron as Kali Babalon and Anais Nin as Astarte.
The sixties were Anger’s decade. He recognised the massive Thelemic manifestation and encouraged it wherever he could. Inspired by a short Crowley poem to the light bringer, Anger conceived of Lucifer Rising in 1966. One famous line caught the spirit of the time. ‘The Key of Joy is disobedience’. The process that would bring the film project to completion would be a long tortuous one. Bobby Beausoleil was a charismatic musician who hung out on the West Coast scene before the hippy hype and saw out the Summer of Love and beyond. He had been in an early version of the band that came to be called Love with Arthur Lee. His most ambitious project was the Orkustra, a wildly eclectic improvisational combo who played electrified world music. In the midst of a full-on performance during the heady daze of 1967 he was seen by Kenneth Anger who introduced himself by cutting right to the chase with “you are Lucifer”. Beausoleil was into the idea of starring in and providing the soundtrack for an experimental occult movie. The initial collaboration soon concluded acrimoniously after a public autumn equinox musical ritual theatre event imploded through malfunctioning machinery and Anger’s ill-advised consumption of acid.
Beausoleil’s karma steered him into a dangerous matrix of destiny when he came to move in social circles that included Charles Manson and his Family of wild women and increasingly intense young men. When some hardcore bikers arrived on the scene a chain of events were unleashed that would lead to unimaginable horrors. In common with many of the counter-culture of the time, Beausoleil romanticised the Hells Angels types as noble barbarians. In an attempt to gain kudos he set up a drug deal on their behalf that went badly wrong when the substances were claimed to be duff. Forced to try and regain the bikers cash or suffer likely death himself, Beausoleil found himself in an escalating situation in which Manson himself became involved that led to him stabbing the dealer, a man he had once shared a house with, to death.
It has been claimed that one factor in the motivation of the Tate LaBianca murders was an attempt to set up a copycat scenario that would exonerate the arrested Beausoleil of the earlier murder. Whatever the case, it led him to be associated forever with Manson, although the two men had significant differences. Death Row followed and then years in prisons where gang violence was rampant.
Anger had been in London in 1968, hanging out with the Rolling Stones, later claiming to have inspired Sympathy for the Devil. Connections established then were apparent in his most intense creation, 1969’s Invocation of My Demon Brother. It was described by its maker as ‘The shadowing forth of Our Lord, as the Powers of Darkness gather at a midnight Mass. The dance of the magus widdershins around the Swirling Spiral Force, the solar swastika, until the Bringer of Light - Lucifer - breaks through.’ It was only eleven minutes long. Mick Jagger supplied a constant minimalist moog synthesiser soundtrack backdrop to a rapid series of images centred around a ritual scenario. Anger himself was the magus. Footage shot in 1967 for the original Lucifer Rising project was used. Bobby Beausoleil is heavily featured. LaVey appears with a swastika flag. There are images of the Vietnam war and the Rolling Stones Brian Jones commemoration concert in Hyde Park, including glimpses of Hells Angels present that day. The film appeared as Beausoleil was arrested for murder and the Manson horrors began. It seems to encapsulate the intensity of 1969 and to somehow invoke the later conclusion at Altamont. Anger had wanted Jagger as Lucifer and maybe in some sense his film-making spell-casting did manifest that result but in a tangential way.
In 1970 work restarted on Lucifer, filming in Egypt with Marianne Faithful. Anger met Crowley enthusiast Jimmy Page who agreed to do the soundtrack. This was at the busy peak of Zeppelin’s career and only 28 minutes of music had been created by 1976. The subsequently bootlegged results have been considered by some to be one of the great lost classics of rock. Anger’s frustration at what he took to be slow progress led to a falling out between the two men and left the door open for an extraordinary karmic twist.
In prison Bobby Beausoleil’s fundamental musical creativity won through in the end. He was able to set up a music project using donated instruments and through designing his own increasingly complex experimental electronic gizmos. Contact was re-established with Anger. A brief listening to some music composed in prison was enough to convince Anger to replace Jimmy Page. Amazingly, prison authorities were convinced to allow Beausoleil and his Freedom Orchestra to record a soundtrack album. The project took a long time as prison lockdowns following violent gang clashes disrupted the schedule. The musicians saw some film footage at the start of their project and improvised from there. At no point was the music able to be synchronised with the visuals which makes the final result all the more remarkable.
The finished film is barely half an hour long. There is no dialogue. The visuals call to mind the meeting point between magic and surrealism which was perhaps the fundamental dynamic behind the great sixties upheaval. It has to be acknowledged that Beausoleil’s music is extraordinary stuff and some kind of triumph of the spirit for a man who has lived an indubitably dark strange odyssey. Jimmy Page appears very briefly, seen sitting in profile, holding a replica of the Stele of Revealing in front of a framed photo of Crowley. The rock connection is stronger via the Satanic Majesties, the Rolling Stones. Jagger’s famous sixties consort Marianne Faithful plays Lilith and Anita Pallenberg, onetime partner of both Brian Jones and Keith Richards, has a strong role in the visual proceedings. Donald Cammell, who directed Jagger in the masterpiece psychodrama movie Performance and later shot himself in the head, plays Osiris. The visuals move between an erupting volcano, the Sphinx and Temple of Karnak in Egypt, the German Externsteine, Avebury, Stonehenge, and the brooding psychedelic den of a group of magicians. Finally, a UFO light disc of some kind appears at Karnak. It may refer to Crowley’s poem where the body of ‘sun-souled Lucifer’ is a ‘blood-ruby’.
It wasn’t until 1980 that the film was completed.
Anger has said that just as the final version was set to premiere in New York, one Mark Chapman attended a screening of his films in Hawaii. He approached the director afterwards and questioned him about Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg and finally, John Lennon. After shaking Anger’s hand he gave him a couple of bullets saying “these are for John Lennon”. Such was the backdrop to the appearance of the masterpiece of the artist who more than anyone else was plugged into the Thelemic backdrop of the sixties.
The link above the article will show the complete film.