Known for being a tireless tinkerer who often created multiple edits of his films—and inspired by Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece Napoléon—Kenneth Anger created a special triptych version of his Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. This version of the film was screened only one time, at “Expo 58” the 1958 World Fair held in Brussels, Belgium.
The triptych version of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome has not be screened for over fifty years, but a restored version will be premiered on June 25th, 2015 at one of the top cinemas in the world, the Max Linder Panorama in Paris. The presentation is a production of Sprueth Magers, Berlin and Brian Butler and the team at Lucifer Brothers Workshop in Hollywood.
Anger’s infamous avant garde occult vision features the likes of erotic writer Anaïs Nin, witchy artist Marjorie Cameron (widow of rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons) as the Scarlet Woman and Kali, film director Curtis Harrington as Cesare the sleepwalker, silent film era actor Samson De Brier in several roles and Anger himself as Hecate. The film takes the name “pleasure dome” from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.”
“Magick is action. Mysticism is a withdrawal from action”
If you’re a Kenneth Anger fan, be prepared to be seriously blown away by this astonishing German television documentary from 1970 that shows the master at work on Lucifer Rising. It’s fun to ponder, as you watch, what the average German must have thought about this film, which doesn’t flinch from presenting some of the most outrageous ideas and imagery ever to be broadcast to an entire (unsuspecting) nation. It’s magnificently freaky stuff.
Not only would this have been the first look the world would get of Anger’s magnum opus (which he is seen shooting Méliès-style in a tiny space) there are substantial excerpts from Fireworks, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Rabbit’s Moon, Puce Moment, and Invocation of My Demon Brother, which showed hash smoking (and cocks!) on TV. It’s impossible to imagine something like this ever getting on television in America 44 years ago, but I don’t think the BBC would have touched something this insane at the time, either.
As filmmaker Reinhold E. Thiel admits in his voiceover, it was Anger directing himself that they got on film. As he states, Anger really wasn’t that into allowing them to film him in the first place, but when he did relent it was on his terms. Anger’s interview segments were shot as he sat behind a makeshift altar, lit in magenta and inside of the magical “war gods” circle seen at the end of the film.
Of special note is we see Anger flipping through his “Puce Women” sketchbook (he’s an excellent illustrator) of his unmade tribute to the female archetypes of Hollywood’s golden era and the architecture of movie star homes (This notebook was on display at the Anger exhibit at MOCA in Los Angeles). Anger is also seen here shooting scenes with his Lucifer, Leslie Huggins (both interior shots in Anger’s makeshift studio and among the stones at Avebury) and with the adept in the war gods circle. Oddly, we can hear what the adept is saying (“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”) whereas in the final film he just seems to be muttering something mysterious when Lucifer appears.
Anger discusses his Aleister Crowley-inspired theories of art: How he views his camera like a wand and how he casts his films, preferring to consider his actors, not human beings but as elemental spirits. In fact, he reveals that he goes so far as to use astrology when making these choices.
This is as direct an explanation of Anger’s cinemagical modus operandi as I have ever heard him articulate anywhere. It’s a must see for anyone interested in his work and showcases the Magus of cinema at the very height of his artistic powers. Fascinating.
Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art has announced the mounting of 91 artworks and ephemera relating to the life’s work of the eccentric LA bohemian legend Marjorie Cameron. The show goes up on October 11 at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center annex and will close on January 11, 2015. “Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman” will feature paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, poetry and correspondence between Cameron and her husband rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons, and with the great mythologist Joseph Campbell.
In recent years Cameron’s work has begun to be reassessed by the art world, in part inspired by her close association with artists like Wallace Berman and George Herms, actor Dennis Hopper and underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. As interest in their work increased, so has curiosity about the odd, flaming haired creature from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Sadly much of her work was deliberately burned by the artist herself in the 50s and can only be glimpsed at in Curtis Harrington’s short cinematic portrait of Cameron, “Wormwood Star.” (See below)
The show will highlight the recent publication of Songs for the Witch Woman, an absolutely stunning coffee table art book / facsimile reproduction of Cameron’s drawings and watercolors along with Parsons’ metaphysical and occult poetry produced by Fulgur Esoterica. (The book was printed in a very limited edition, and is available now. If this seems like the kind of item that you would like to own—it’s a knockout, finely published at a very high quality—buy it now instead of waiting until next year when it’ll be selling for $500 on eBay. If you like this kind of thing, I’ll say it again, it’s particularly nice. There’s a beautifully composed foreword by the OTO’s WIlliam Breeze, who knew Cameron, to recommend it as well.)
The exhibition is being organized by guest curator Yael Lipschutz with MOCA’s senior curator Alma Ruiz along with the Cameron-Parsons Foundation. The museum will produce a full color catalogue with 75 illustrations for the exhibit.
Below, Curtis Harrington’s “Wormwood Star.” Heartbreaking to consider how many of these paintings are gone forever.
Za is an early-70s cinepoem by Elias Romero, the underground filmmaker, and one of the main pioneers of the liquid light shows that he began projecting in the late-50s in San Francisco and at Ben Shapiro’s Renaissance Club on the Sunset Strip. Za was filmed in Big Sur and features the movie actress Diane Varsi, portraying an alchemist cum poet. Varsi had already runaway from the superficiality of Hollywood by the time this was filmed, in order to pursue a more artistic and meaningful life. And, interestingly, the raggy dayglo outfits she wears in the film were created by Cameron, no less. Cameron and Elias were old friends by the time this film was made. He had been married to Cameron’s confidante, the poetess Aya. In Wormwood Star Aya admits that: “For years, Cameron never forgave me for splitting up with Elias.”
Watching it today, the film is, er, interesting. I guess back then it probably helped that most of its original viewers were heavily dosed-up.
In 1987 artist/occultist Marjorie Cameron and Kenneth Anger took part in a BBC Radio 4 documentary titled “Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L. Ron Hubbard.” Bohemian weirdo Cameron was a participant in the infamous “Babalon Working” sex magic rituals conducted by her husband rock scientist Jack Parsons and the future founder of Scientology.
In August 1987, Cameron was featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary entitled Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L. Ron Hubbard. The decidedly suspect programme was researched and narrated by Margaret Percy, who interviewed Cameron earlier that year at her home. Kenneth Anger also contributed to the documentary and, for a while at any rate, the two appeared to have settled into a brother-sister type of relationship, with all the ensuing ups and downs. They were even talking about collaborating on another film together.
It was Anger who put the BBC researcher in contact with Cameron, and when Percy sat down with her host at her home on Genesee, she could still detect a vestige of beauty in her, despite the wrinkles and ravages of age: “I thought she must’ve been stunning when she was younger,” Percy attests. One standout memory from their meeting came when Percy asked a couple of questions that seemed to make Cameron uncomfortable and on both times, as if on cue, her dove Pax began cooing in the background. “It was an eerie experience,” Percy recalls.
Back in 1969, the British Sunday Times ran an expose on Hubbard’s participation with Jack in The Babalon Working and cited Aleister Crowley as a catalytic influence on Hubbard’s teachings. To counter this claim, Hubbard issued a cover story in which he painted himself as a cloak-and dagger intelligence agent, sent in to the Fleming mansion on South Orange Grove, to rescue his future wife Betty from the evil clutches of Jack Parsons’ black magic ring. This dubious scenario played hard and fast with the facts, yet in the subsequent radio broadcast Cameron, surprisingly, gave credence to this line, musing how Hubbard, “may have been an agent – as he claims.”
In discussions with [the OTO’s] William Breeze she also reconsidered the circumstances surrounding her own initial involvement with Jack: “She would space-out and say, ‘Maybe I was sent in there’ (to Jack’s house on Orange Grove) ‘maybe I was an intelligence drone.’”
It was clear that over recent years there’d been a sea change in Cameron’s view of L. Ron Hubbard, as Breeze explains: “She may have reached some sort of accord with the Scientologists. She was approached by them and knew some people in LA – that’s how she got Jack’s FBI file. She wasn’t down on them and she wasn’t down on Hubbard anymore. She actually liked Ron. She thought he was charming.”
Over the decades, The Church of Scientology had grown into a multimillion dollar empire, boasting movie star converts, but one person whose low opinion of Hubbard had decidedly not wavered, and had only grown more virulent over time, was Kenneth Anger. To a perennial Hollywood-watcher like him, Scientology’s foothold in Tinseltown only added fuel to his ire, and during his own interview for the same radio documentary he made his feelings abundantly clear, describing Hubbard as an “elemental demon.” Even though she’d never been a member of either organizations, Cameron believed that due to her rich history, she had earned a rightful place in the highest echelons of both the O.T.O. and Church of Scientology.
Interest in this once obscure artist continues to grow; Fulgur is publishing Songs for the Witch Woman by Cameron and Jack Parsons and “Song for the Witch Woman: The Art of Marjorie Cameron”—the first full-scale exhibit of her work—will be mounted in Los Angeles in October.
Listen to “Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L. Ron Hubbard” by clicking here.
Below, artist George Herms, filmmaker Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger discuss Marjorie Cameron in “Cinderella of the Wastelands”:
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 filmprograms. 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.
It’s certainly no slight to the late director Curtis Harrington to describe The Wormwood Star, his visually arresting 1955 portrait of occult artist/beatnik weirdo Marjorie Cameron as being “Anger-esque” considering that he’d served as the cinematographer for Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment and that it stars Cameron, one of Anger’s most well-known cinematic avatars (Cameron famously played “The Scarlet Woman” in Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome and Harrington himself portrayed “Cesare the Somnambulist” in that film. Additionally, Paul Mathison, who played “Pan” in Anger’s druggy occult vision was the art director of The Wormwood Star).
Until The Wormwood Star came out on DVD and Blu-ray recently via Drag City/Flicker Alley as part of The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection, it was very, very scarce and very difficult to see. You either had to be a friend of Curtis Harrington, probably, or have had a mutual friend with the late director (that’s how I saw it) or maybe see it in a museum. Now it’s on YouTube, of course.
So we’ve established that’s it’s, er, Angery, meaning that there’s more than a fair share of visual flair, drama and a hefty dollop of authentic occult creepiness. Cameron, for those who don’t know, was the wife of rocket scientist/wannabe Antichrist Jack Parsons and a participant in the infamous “Babalon Working” magical rite that also involved future Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. She was a dedicated follower of Aleister Crowley and his occult philosophy of Thelema (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”).
Before I made the film I’d heard from Renate [referring here to painter Renate Druks] that Cameron had spent some time in the desert trying, through magical means, to conceive a child by the spirit of Jack Parsons without success. Cameron never spoke of Jack directly, but I do remember feeling sometimes when I talked to her, of her going off into a realm that I didn’t understand at all. It was sort of an apocalyptic thing and it’s there in her poetry.
What you should know as you watch this is that the vast majority of Marjorie Cameron’s paintings were destroyed by her—burned—in an act of ritualized suicide. There are very few pieces by Cameron that have survived—a few paintings and some sketches—and The Wormwood Star is the only record of most of them (outside of the astral plane, natch. What does survive of her estate is represented by longtime New York gallerist Nicole Klagsbrun). Cameron has long been a figure of fascination for many people and I think I can say with confidence that this film meets or even far exceeds any expectations you might have for it.
As with Anger’s films, I deeply appreciate the careful aesthetic balance between beauty and evil and, as such, it’s an extraordinary document of both Marjorie Cameron Parsons’ very essence as a human being and of her creative output. As cinema, it’s a mini-masterpiece that can stand alongside any of Anger’s films, Ira Cohen’s magnificently freaky Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda, Jack Smith’s Normal Love or Yayoi Kusama’s Self-Obliteration.
I was impressed as fuck by Noel Fielding’s clever “dog whistle” homage to Kenneth Anger (and Roy Wood) in the opening credits to his Luxury Comedy TV series (see below), but just imagine seeing someone walking down the street wearing one of these limited edition embroidered “Lucifer Rising” jackets from La Boca:
We’re very excited to have a very limited re-release of our ‘Lucifer’ jacket for Sixpack France. Designed as a tribute to the jacket worn in Kenneth Anger’s 1972 masterpiece Lucifer Rising, the original release sold out long ago, and has since become one or our most requested pieces. This new release is limited to less than 100 worldwide, and we have a few available in our shop now.
Also available in-store exclusively at Citadium Paris.
I think it’s safe to say that the music composed (and performed alone) by Jimmy Page and intended for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, but not used, was/is among the very most sought after Led Zeppelin, or in this case Zep-related, bootleg recordings.
The story has long been a foundation of the Led Zeppelin mythos: Page and the mercurial Magus of Cinema had a falling out, then 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 began to wonder if Anger’s curse had worked when a succession of tragic events saw Robert Plant badly injured in a 1975 car accident, Plant’s five-year-old son Karac dying suddenly in 1977 and the death of John Bonham in 1980 that instantly ended Led Zeppelin’s reign as the world’s biggest rock group.
There are always two sides to every story and Page maintains that he had given the project financial support, put Ken up in one of his homes (Aleister Crowley’s Boleskine House in Scotland, no less) and lent him film editing equipment. Moreover, he’d given Anger 23 minutes of amazing music. Anger needed an additional five minutes from Page to complete Lucifer Rising, but it was slow arriving and after a shouting match with Page’s wife, he threw a major hissy, “firing” Page and viciously denouncing him—for years—in the media:
“He’s a multi-millionaire miser. He and Charlotte, that horrible vampire girl – the druggie that got him on heroin – they’re both junkies. They had so many servants, yet they would never offer me a cup of tea or a sandwich. Which is such a mistake on their part because I put the curse of king Midas on them. If you’re greedy and just amass gold you’ll get an illness. So I did turn her and Jimmy Page into statues of gold because they’ve both lost their minds. He can’t write songs anymore.”
It’s not like Jimmy Page wasn’t busy back then (the time period in question roughly corresponds to the time Led Zeppelin IV was being recorded), plus Uncle Ken can go from sweet and utterly charming to homicidal in like two seconds flat. (I’ve met Jimmy Page, as well. He was super-friendly, easygoing. An old school gentleman, informing me as he shook my hand that he had been gifted with not one, but two copies of my Book of Lies occult anthology. I know which side of this tale I come down on: Jimmy’s! Look, I admire and revere the films of Kenneth Anger. I think he’s a truly great artist, touched by genius, even, but he’s fucking nuts...)
Eventually Page’s music escaped in 1981—probably sourced from the magnetic track from an early 23-minute-long “to be continued” print of Lucifer Rising that Anger showed potential investors (I’ve seen this, it’s pretty incredible)—when it hit the bootleg market as “Solo Performances by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant,” a limited edition LP with a green wax seal (I have one of these, it sounds like frying dogshit). Another blue vinyl version was released in a “Kabbalistically numbered limited edition.” Better quality digital versions started making the rounds on torrent trackers around 2005 and last year Jimmy Page released the music he’d composed for Anger’s film via his website on very limited edition red vinyl that sold out instantly.
The music itself is wonderfully perverse: a languid but steadily building Middle Eastern-sounding drone, festooned with evil 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.
Although Page’s music was not used, the guitarist does make a cameo appearance in Lucifer Rising bearded and staring at a wreathed portrait of Aleister Crowley while holding an Egyptian stele.
Page does not often talk to journalists about his interest in the occult, but in a 2008 Guitar World interview, he did reveal a few fascinating tidbits about his creative process:
Guitar World: There was always a certain amount of speculation about your occult studies. It may have been subtle, but you weren’t really hiding it.
Page: I was living it. That’s all there is to it. It was my life – that fusion of magick and music.
Guitar World: Your use of symbols was very advanced. The sigil on Led Zeppelin IV and the embroidery on your stage clothes from that time period are good examples on how you left your mark on popular culture. It’s something that major corporations are aggressively pursuing these days: using symbols as a form of branding.
Page: You mean talismanic magick? Yes, I knew what I was doing. There’s no point in saying much about it, because the more you discuss it, the more eccentric you appear to be. But the fact is – as far as I was concerned – it was working, so I used it. But it’s really no different than people who wear ribbons around their wrists: it’s a talismanic approach to something.
Well let me amend that: it’s not exactly the same thing, but it is in the same realm. I’ll leave this subject by saying the four musical elements of Led Zeppelin making a fifth is magick into itself. That’s the alchemical process.
In Rolling Stone’s December 2012 cover story “Jimmy Page Looks Back,” Page said “...there was a request, suggesting that Lucifer Rising should come out again with my music on. I ignored it.”
Below, the unused Jimmy Page score for Lucifer Rising:
Manson murderer Bobby Beausoleil, it’s probably fair to say, is an entirely star-crossed asshole.
Take, for example, the anecdote Kenneth Anger has been wheeling around town for a good few decades regarding how the two of them came to part company, in which a nineteen-year-old Beausoleil, who was Anger’s intended protagonist in Lucifer Rising and also living rent free in the filmmaker’s Haight-Ashbury home, purportedly spent money given him for film equipment on dope, leading Anger to send him packing.
In revenge, Beausoleil supposedly stole Anger’s van, as well as the footage for the unfinished film. As followers of his biography will know, Anger habitually relays, usually with a certain laconic relish, how the van, which Beausoleil piloted from San Francisco to LA, broke down right outside Spahn Ranch, resulting in Beausoleil’s fateful encounter with Charles Manson.
Anger’s conspicuous delight at this turn of events could be explained by the infamous locket he reportedly kept dangling from his neck for many years: Beausoleil’s image on the one side, a frog’s on the other, and the self-explanatory inscription—“Bobby Beausoleil turned into a frog by Kenneth Anger.”
This frequently recounted anecdote, however, is perhaps starting to wear thin—so thin it’s beginning to fray. It just doesn’t quite ring true, and not exactly due to the large circumstantial infernal/coincidental overlap element, either, but rather because the real connections of all the main players in this mythology almost always appear (upon closer inspection) much less happenstance than they would have us believe.
So, Beausoleil’s van probably didn’t just break down as recounted (Beausoleil tells a different story himself, anyway). Similarly, Dennis Wilson probably didn’t meet Manson due to his picking up those Family hitchhikers (an equally questionable tale of motorway madness).
Which is not to say that, when you peel off the top layer of seeming psychedelic randomness, the whole scene still doesn’t bristle with synchronicities. Au contraire….
Take, for example, Beausoleil’s role as rhythm guitarist in an early incarnation of Arthur Lee’s Love, The Grass Roots. Eventually replaced by Bryan MacLean, Beausoleil would go on to claim that his nickname at that time, “Cupid,” in part by inspired the band’s ultimate change of name.
Arguably, the hot-headed Beausoleil was probably not the kind of guy it was wise to usurp, and MaClean certainly experienced a very narrow escape.
According to Manson murderer Susan Atkins, it was actually Beausoleil’s arrest for the torture-murder of Gary Hinman that instigated the Manson Family’s ensuing murder spree—enacted, she would claim, in order to convince police that the killer(s) of Gary Hinman were in fact still at large.
Whether or not this was true motivation for the Tate/LaBianca killings, Beausoleil’s connection to them—as progenitor, inspiration, or both—is indisputable, which is why it’s really just super strange that (and feel free to here start whistling “The Red Telephone”) Beausoleil’s replacement in Love, Bryan MaClean, a close friend of Sharon Tate’s, was invited over to Cieolo Drive on the night of the killings, having a change of heart at the last minute.
Below, rarely heard recordings of Beausoleil’s San Francisco group, The Orkustra. Another player in the group was David LaFlamme, who later founded It’s a Beautiful Day who had the eternal FM radio hit, “White Bird.”
On May 17th and 18th, Cinefamily in Los Angeles will be presenting a 35mm screening of the rarely seen Oscar-nominated 1973 documentary Manson. DirectorRobert Hendrickson—who shot some disturbing footage of Family members at the Spahn Ranch—will be there in-person for a Q&A after the May 17th and 18th screenings.
A brief interview with the legendary film-maker Kenneth Anger, in which he discusses Magick, the O.T.O., Bobby Beausoleil, and Henri Langlois, with interviewer Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe. Recorded at the Galerie du Jour Agnès B., in Paris, November 2012, for Standard magazine.
People love to love James Franco and they seem to love to hate him, too. I think it must be because he does absolutely everything. The prolific multi-hyphenate’s latest project is a music video for a song titled “Love in the Old Days” by Daddy, his musical enterprise with artist/musician Tim O’Keefe.
When producer Ted James remixed one of Daddy’s songs, “Love in the Old Days,” Franco cast Kenneth Anger in the music video, presiding over a masked bacchanal based on Anton LaVey’s lycanthropic “Das Tierdrama” ritual (which was, in turn, based on The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells).
Alexandria Symonds: How did Kenneth Anger react when you approached him with this concept? Or was it more collaborative—did you come up with the idea together?
James Franco: This is the first time I’ve worked with Kenneth. But I’ve been very influenced by his work before this. I met one of his close collaborators, a guy named Brian Butler, and Brian and I have been talking about various projects for a while, and we just haven’t been able to do any of them yet. Brian has a movie that he wants to direct, and he wants me to be a little part in. And then when I learned that he did a lot of stuff with Kenneth, I couldn’t have been more excited.
So Brian set up the meeting, and Kenneth is a—[laughs]. He’s a nice guy, but I think he’ll admit, he’s a very strange guy. So the conversation was very weird. We met at the Chateau Marmont, Brian was there. I’d have this whole conversation with Brian, because Kenneth was really quiet, and I’d ask Kenneth something, and it was like he wasn’t even listening—but then, he’d kind of become aware. And he’s very smart, he’s been through so many different kinds of experiences, and was a part of so many different things, traveling with the Rolling Stones at the end of the ‘60s. So at times, if you can get him to talk, he’s very knowledgeable and informative. But at other times, it feels like he’s just thinking about other things.
Alexandria Symonds: What about on the set? What was it like to direct him? Did you basically just let him do his thing?
James Franco: Right. So, I read this book called Sway, that’s a fictional novel, but it uses Kenneth and the Rolling Stones, and this guy, Bobby Beausoleil, who was part of Manson’s group, as characters. I don’t know how true any of it is, but I’m sure the writer did research to make a lot of it at least based on fact. In that book, he has the character of Kenneth Anger making the films—the films that Kenneth actually made. And there were certain approaches that he had to these films, where he would shoot a lot of things kind of documentary-style, just people doing their regular routines. Or sometimes, he would stage these basic rituals, but in the editing, turn them into something much more energetic and artistic than they were when they were just filmed.
I guess I used whatever was in that book as kind of a guide about how to work with him. All I really needed was this basic ritual of, I guess you would call it, “The Marriage of Hell.” And we had imagery that was people in animal masks, that was based on certain images that Kenneth’s friend Brian had shown me. I always saw Kenneth as the Priest of Darkness; his films have strangely fused art and weird, kind of religious rituals. And I knew in one of his performances he plays that weird instrument called the theremin. So, if I just had him kind of preside over the wedding and play the theremin, I knew I could shoot it similarly to the way he shot his movies, and then edit it, and make it into something even more.
Brian Butler—who recently moved into the former Hollywood Hills home of Donald Cammell, he tells me, “for inspiration”—was the creative director for the piece. Butler will soon commence production on a feature film called King Death (this is the project Franco alludes to in the Interview interview). He’ll be appearing in Berlin on Saturday night at the Mindpirates space showing some of his short films with a musical performance.
Read the rest of the James Franco interview at Interview
Below, Daddy’s “Love In The Old Days” (Ted James 1999 Remix):
Kenneth Anger didn’t like Nigel Finch’s documentary on Hollywood Babylon. He thought Finch’s film ended up more about Finch than it did about Anger. It was like a test run for making a movie, which of course Finch went on to make. Anger told me this while we waited in my room, at the Standard Hotel, West Hollywood, Fall 2004. I was about to interview Kenneth for a documentary, and while we chatted, waiting for the crew to set-up, he tore stories out of tabloid newspapers to send to the Kinsey Institute, and I smoked on the balcony, watching the shimmer of eucalyptus trees in the late morning breeze.
When it was time for the interview, we walked along the orange-carpeted corridor only to be stopped by another film crew who were making a movie. At a half-corridor stood George Clooney and Brad Pitt, filming a scene for Ocean’s Twelve. Both looked smaller, their heads somehow bigger. They must have kept their magic for the camera, for it seemed that neither had the presence or, looked as grand a star as Kenneth Anger, who stood half in shadow, quietly waiting by the AD.
Nigel Finch’s ambitious documentary uses Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon as its keystone to build a film about Anger’s life, his movies, his interest in Hollywood and its stars’ scandalous lives. But what is evident amongst all this is that Anger is too big a genius, too complex a character to be fitted in between dramatic reconstructions of Fatty Arbuckle, and tales of Hollywood death and disaster. Though there are some excellent moments, the documentary teases the viewer, leaving an unfulfilled desire to know more about the great Magus of Cinema. Still, it’s worth the price of admission, if only to catch Kenneth Anger on film.
Three magi: Kenneth Anger, James Franco and Brian Butler
Occult artist / musician / filmmaker Brian Butler will be performing Aleister Crowley’s “Bartzabel Working” tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 4, at the L&M Arts gallery space in Venice Beach, CA. This occult ceremony is part of the gallery’s current “Martian Chronicles” theme exhibit and will employ custom robes made in the original A∴A∴ (Crowley’s magical order) designs and a circle, altar and triangle fabricated in vivid colors. Actor James Franco and Noot Seear from Twilight: New Moon will also participate in the ritual.
In conjunction with the current exhibition For the Martian Chronicles, L&M Arts is pleased to present The Bartzabel Working, a performance by filmmaker and artist Brian Butler. Based on a ceremonial evocation of the spirit of Mars, first written and performed in London in 1910 by the famed British occultist Aleister Crowley, the ritual later became part of Los Angeles history in 1946 when Jet Propulsion Laboratory rocket scientist and Crowley protégé Jack Parsons conducted his own version of this rite, with the intention of placing a martial curse on a pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard.
For his reinterpretation of this historical performance, Butler will conjure Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, evoking the site that was once home to the late sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and currently comprises L&M Arts. The ritual will have Butler as Chief Magus, leading a cast drawn from his upcoming feature film King Death and featuring Henry Hopper as Assistant Magus, Noot Seear as Magus Adjuvant, and James Franco as Material Basis, the vessel though which the spirit of Mars manifests.
The performance will take place on Tuesday, December 4th at 8:30pm, followed by a reception with tunes courtesy of DJ & artist Eddie Ruscha.
Butler’s work has been shown at LAXART, in Portugal, Greece and in China. He recently performed with Kenneth Anger at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles as Technicolor Skull. www.brianbutler.com
“The Martian Chronicles” exhibit, honoring the work of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, runs through January 5, 2013
L&M Arts, Los Angeles, 660 South Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA, 90291, 8:30 - 11:30 PM