3.18.2016

Magick rituals: Kenneth Anger (III)


Lucifer Rising: communication across time and space

Rituals could be said to be the great theme of Anger’s cinema.  (In his sincere commitment to their representation, he might be the last of the truly devout religious filmmakers.)  His first film, Fireworks, may not have initially been designed as the enactment of a ritual, but Anger would later frame it in those terms in his added prologue, describing it as a kind of spiritual vision, the dream as an act of conjuration.  Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969)—both odes to Anger’s mentor Aleister Crowley—explicitly stage occult rituals for the camera, with Anger using the magical properties of cinema (rhythms of editing, mise en scene, color, composition) to heighten their intensity.  Puce Moment and Scorpio Rising, too, depict rituals of dressing up and going out in which clothes and accessories are accorded an almost talismanic power to transform subjects.  The figure of the biker and the Hollywood actress are no less invested in this power than are the priests and priestesses in the occult films.



The erotics of magick: Invocation of My Demon Brother


Ritual is sacred, material, and erotic for Anger.  Magickal energy is produced by the interaction between bodies and objectsEven more than Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Invocation of My Demon Brother—in which the ceremony is intercut with shots of nude men lounging in a living room and a shadowy male figure, also nude, brandishing a knife—emphasizes the queer sexual element of magick.  (Crowley, who famously had male and female lovers, believed sex itself to be a kind of magick rite.)  In Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965) sexuality is sublimated completely into the fetishistic polishing of a hot rod--the car as instrument of and stand-in for sexual relationality.  In his proposal for the longer version of this film, Anger compares the car customizers to “priests or witch-doctors.”  For the teenage gear-head sensuously running a feathery powder puff over the car’s gleaming chassis to the sounds of “Dream Lover,” the car is both lover and dream, the object through which he exercises his magick powers.


The gear-head buffs his chassis in Kustom Kar Kommandos


Lucifer Rising (1981) suggests the coincidence of multiple rituals occurring across vast distances of time and space, linking ancient Egypt, Stonehenge, and the astral plane (represented by the UFO that flies overhead in the film’s final shots), their energies pinging off each other like signal towers.  Anger, who hails Lucifer as a bringer of light and love, imagines his conjuration as kind of cosmic miracle.  But Lucifer Rising is really no more miraculous than any of Anger’s other films, even as it takes place under a blazing sun instead of the blueness of the moon.  For Anger, all of these ritual performances are acts of profound and ecstatic expression.       

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