Tonight a lucky audience in downtown Los Angeles, seated in the opulent setting of the theatre at the Ace Hotel (once the original United Artists Theatre co-owned by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford) will be treated to a number of Kenneth Anger rarities that have been recently rediscovered and restored by Anger’s producer/manager/collaborator filmmaker Brian Butler. Among them are alternate versions of The Magick Lantern Cycle films and the mind-blowing, but ill-fated collaboration between Anger and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, both famously devotees of Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema.
The story of their falling out has long been a foundation of the Led Zeppelin mythos: Anger had been living in Page’s Tower House abode in London, editing Lucifer Rising on the same film equipment used on The Song Remains The Same. While Page was on tour with Led Zeppelin, his girlfriend suddenly kicked Anger out, not even allowing him to get his things. A few days later, the mercurial Magus of Cinema threw a hissy over not getting an additional five minutes of music he needed to complete Lucifer Rising when he wanted it, phoned the Swan Song office and “fired” Page—who was in America and apparently mystified by the whole exercise—from the project. Anger did his patented “curse” routine very publicly, going so far as accusing Page of being a mere “dabbler” in the occult and a rich, lazy junkie. Rock journalists at the time began to speculate if Anger’s curse had worked when a succession of tragic events ended Led Zeppelin’s reign as the world’s biggest rock group.
Pages’ Lucifer RIsing score is wonderfully perverse: a languid but steadily building Middle Eastern-sounding drone, festooned with chanting, tabla, screaming mellotron, a sonically shifting low frequency, foreboding ambiance and shimmering 12-string guitar work. It’s a mad, diabolical symphony of beautiful evil; a fascinating piece of unconventional aggressively avant garde music from one of the rock era’s most mysterious living legends. Married to Anger’s imagery, it’s an exquisite aesthetic and spiritual experience.
The world’s two most famous, most artistically high-level Thelemite magicians collaborated for several years and frustratingly, the fruits of that effort have been seen by very few people. And not for four decades at that.
Over email, I asked Brian Butler a few questions.
How or where did you locate this print?
Brian Butler: I got a call from a storage facility who told me that they had found an “aberated” print of Lucifer Rising. They asked if they should throw it away or if we wanted to keep it. This was a year ago. I was so busy that I didn’t think much of it and put it in storage. Gradually as I started to inventory Kenneth’s archive I found old press clippings and film programs. I found it interesting how meticulous he was in curating a unique experience for the audience. In 1966 he began screening his films as The Magick Lantern Cycle and designed a thirteen-page booklet with a different color for each page. He also recut Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome as the “Sacred Mushroom Edition” for this occasion. In the audience notes were included specific instructions on when to take LSD (still legal at the time) to time it for that film.
I started to notice how The Magick Lantern Cycle evolved in the early 1970s with different versions of Lucifer Rising. It’s seems he began including this in the program as he was shooting it—“Lucifer Rising Chapter One” was shown in 1970—and he experimented with various soundtracks including Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.
Eventually Jimmy Page came onboard in 1973. For someone of the stature that Jimmy Page had reached in 1973 it was quite radical to do an avant garde soundtrack strictly as an artistic endeavor, although Mick Jagger did the Moog soundtrack for Kenneth’s Invocation of My Demon Brother in 1969. They worked together for several years with at least two different versions being produced, one in 1974 and one in 1975.
Which one is this?
Brian Butler: After a lot of research, I found it to be the 1975 version—the most developed of four versions known to exist. It ends with “To be continued” and was obviously a work in progress.
In one interview I found, Jimmy Page refers to when he screened Lucifer Rising in his room hotel room on the sixth floor and seemed delighted that his haunting score terrified guests up on the twelfth floor. He also mentions making a special trip to a screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to be sure the music was synced up correctly. The Anger/Page version was exhibited to the public at least a few times, and also privately, for potential investors.
“The Films of Kenneth Anger” will be introduced by the filmmaker and is a co-production of Kenneth Anger, Brian Butler and Cinespia. The former United Artists Theatre is one of the most opulent movie palaces ever built in America. For a while it was owned by freaky TV minister Dr. Gene Scott and basically closed to the public for more than two decades. The Ace Hotel has restored and preserved all the original decorations, murals and mirrored ceiling and Anger’s films will be projected on the theatre’s big screen beneath ornate columns, a soaring gold ceiling and walls in the style of a Spanish Gothic cathedral. (I was there once to see Dr. Gene Scott and even then it was pretty impressive. Restored it should be pretty incredible.)
More information here and tickets here. Apparently it’s nearly sold out, so if you snooze, you’ll lose, be warned.