Flower-power on steroids performing forbidden rites
Although not as impenetrable as some of his earlier films (it does after all have characters and a narrative of sorts) 'Lucifer Rising' still sits comfortably enough in the vein of experimental film to confound the uninitiated with regard to form as well as its Egyptological and Occult content. Essentially, the film is an homage to the work of infamous English occultist Aleister Crowley, who hoped his religion of Thelema would eradicate Christianity and usher in a new era of unbridled sexuality and free expression. Indeed, the actual rising of Lucifer in the film is enacted through a Crowleyian ritual invocation performed on screen and as such the film can be viewed as a 20th century cinematic update of magickal rituals where, with each subsequent viewing, the rising can be enacted afresh.
Before the (overdue) DVD release some years back, Anger's films were notoriously hard to come by, and as a result 'Lucifer Rising' is a film I knew a lot about before I had even seen a still photograph of the film. However, this no doubt provided me with a lens through which to appreciate the film, as the film itself (like most experimental film) is easy to appreciate when you stop trying to "understand".
Some background information: among the 1960's counterculture philosophy of moral liberation, free-love, and flower-power utopianism were dark stirrings which came to a malignant fruition with the Rolling Stones' disastrous Altamont festival and the Tate/LaBianca slayings courtesy of Charles Manson's "family", thus bringing the fledgling Aquarian age to an abrupt end. And what, you may ask, has any of this to do with 'Lucifer Rising'? And well, the answer, is everything(!) as the 1960s were essentially an unconscious mass evocation of Aleister Crowley's oft misunderstood maxim "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" and no other figure has done more to promote the name and work of Crowley in the arena of popular culture than Kenneth Anger.
Fascinated by fame (especially its darker aspects) from an early age, Anger had long been a fringe figure in Hollywood making and independently distributing obscure, homo-erotic, and occult inspired works that eventually attracted Their Satanic Majesties themselves the Rolling Stones. Anger was attracted to the power and pop-culture shamanic potency wielded by rock stars, and none more so than Mick Jagger who, hard as it is to believe these days, was back then viewed by parents and moral guardians as an androgynous, drug-addled threat to society. It was Anger who gave Jagger a copy of Mikhail Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita' which inspired the lyrics of 'Sympathy for the Devil', a favour which Jagger repaid by contributing a monotonous Moog synthesiser tape-loop to Anger's film 'Invocation of my Demon Brother', and as the ultimate gesture Anger intended him to play the part of Lucifer in his Magnum Opus 'Lucifer Rising'.
In the end Jagger chickened out, eventually leaving the role to be played by unknown Leslie Huggins. However, despite the lead role being played by an unknown, the film still boasts Donald Cammell (writer/director of 'Performance') as Osiris and Marianne Faithful as Lilith who play out a bizarre archetypal psychodrama against stunning backdrops of giant statues in Egypt, including, most evocatively, the Sphinx. Originally, the soundtrack was to be composed by Led Zeppelin guitarist, and fellow Crowley devotee, Jimmy Page (who puts in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo) but owing to contractual obligations with Led Zeppelin he was only able to complete 22 minutes worth of material and was subsequently fired from the project following a bitter fallout with Anger. Eventually the soundtrack was composed by Manson "family" member Bobby Beausoleil (Anger's original choice for the role of Lucifer but who had a disagreement with Anger and buried the original print of the movie in the Death Valley desert forcing Anger to reshoot the film) whilst serving a prison sentence for his part in the murders performed under the orders of the counterculture anti-messiah Charles Manson. The soundtrack itself is part chilling, haunting soundscape and part dynamic quasi-classical rock opus which has a magnetic and spellbinding quality which complements the film in a way impossible to imagine from any other composition.
So, all told, 'Lucifer Rising' is more than a short film, and more than a work of art even though the film is an exemplary example of both. However, more than these, it is the tortured result of a labour of love more than a decade long (filming began in 1966 yet was only finally released in 1980) which serves as a curious post-script to an era of fervent creativity in music, film, and art as well as being a curious admonition to those that seek unadulterated spiritual and moral exploration in the name of "Do what thou wilt" that with such potent virtues come all-encompassing costs.
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