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Kenneth Anger

Release Date: 15-05-2007
UK Certificate: 18

Celluloid Sorcery and Psychedelic Satanism

From the light of the projector emerges a darkness that is hard to shake. An intense rush of acid-drenched imagery fills the screen: a hanged man kicks and shudders as the life leaves his body; naked, face hidden in shadow, a man draws a knife across his heart; a top-hatted trickster tokes from a skull-shaped pipe; a deranged psychedelic sorcerer swirls, screams and waves his arms around; a cloaked and horned figure presides over shots of Hells Angels, cavorting hippies and Mick Jagger performing in Hyde Park. Kaleidoscopic swirls, occult symbols and tattoos flit across the screen throughout, subliminal in intent. The only sound is a slow, atonal Moog pulse, provided by Jagger himself.

Welcome to the world of Kenneth Anger, occultist, underground film -maker and unofficial custodian of Hollywood's secret life. The images above are from Invocation of My Demon Brother, released in August 1969. Anger says it portrays "the shadowing forth of Our Lord Lucifer" - the light bringer, appropriately enough for a filmmaker. Whatever manifested as a result of this celluloid ritual, it certainly brought all the bad things with it.

The magus in the film is Anger himself, while the horned man is Anton LaVey, founder of the then-bustling Church of Satan. The cat in the hat is Bobby Beausoleil who, within weeks of the film's release, began a life on the inside, along with other members of Charlie Manson's extended "Family". Beausoleil, Haight Street dandy and occasional member of Arthur Lee's Love, played a key part in the torture and murder of Gary Hinman; the crime for which, some have suggested, the August 9 murder of Sharon Tate was intended to serve as a distraction.

The Stones were filmed at Hyde Park three days after the death of their inspirational cosmic joker, Brian Jones, who was deeply enmeshed in Anger's London magic circle. Four months after the film's release, the Stones played their catastrophic Altamont gig where Hells Angels, given control of security, terrorised the audience leaving one man dead. It was the death of an era, and Anger had caught it on camera.

Anger was drawn to the dark side at an early age. As an artist and homosexual growing up in '40s America, he immediately identified with outsiders, developing a fascination in all that was hidden from view. Before long he found himself a mentor in the notorious English occultist and decadent Aleister Crowley, by this time a wasted shadow of his former self, dying slowly in a Hastings boarding house. In 1955 he travelled to Cefalu, Sicily with the infamously unorthodox sexologist Alfred Kinsey where they were the first to uncover the pansexual murals at Crowley's Abbey of Thelema.

In the late 60s, as the Haight Hashbury scene collapsed into an ugly acid and speed psychosis, Anger packed up and descended on a still-swinging London. With his knowledge of all things arcane, he soon found himself installed as the Stones' Satanic Majesty, and, in darker moments, takes credit for bringing about their double bummer of '69. He once famously freaked out Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg by painting the inside of their front door gold - while supposedly out of the building - in accordance with plans for a pagan marriage ceremony that ultimately never took place. Meanwhile Anger got to start on his long-projected paen to the hippy revolution and the eternally imminent dawning of the age of Aquarius, Lucifer Rising.

Work on the film had begun in San Francisco with Beausoleil as Lucifer, but, Anger claims (and Beausoleil still denies), that his fallen angel ran off with the film, burying it in the desert. With Bobby in jail, Mick Jagger was to be Lucifer mark two, with London's bright and beautiful filling out the rest of the cast and fellow Crowleyite Jimmy Page providing the music. But Anger's scarlet temper and manipulative ways soon saw him fall out with just about everybody. Eventually he managed to take Jagger's brother Chris, Marianne Faithful and Performance director Donald Cammell out to Egypt, though the completed work would not be seen until 1980. Things turned particularly sour with the equally fiery Page, who at one point had Anger slated to direct Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same.

Anger has never been a prolific filmmaker, and is equally celebrated for his infamous Hollywood Babylon books. These photo documentaries chart tinsel town's seamier episodes in all their fallen glory. Murder, rape, suicide and scandal are all covered with gloating gusto. With two volumes under his belt, Anger is sitting on a third until some of those featured are no longer able to take legal action. It's said to include the legendary Brando blow job photo and a chapter on Scientology's impact in Tinsel Town.

And what of Anger today? His rumoured return to celluloid, The Gnostic Mass, a Crowley ritual intended to be his first dialogue film, with a Coil soundtrack, seems to be on hold due to lack of funding. A film about Crowley's paintings A Man We'd Like to Hang is also in the offing. "I don't want to make films for the typical American teenager, who's a moron," says the still fiery 70-something director, and if anyone's got a cool million to spare, Anger's ready to shoot his own script about Crowley's time at Cefalu. So there's life in the old devil yet.


 

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