From When Giants Walked The Earth, 2008
Described these days by the American Film Institute as “the magus of cinema”, Dr Kenneth Anger, as he enjoys being addressed since receiving an honorary doctorate in humanities a few years ago, long ago reached the status of real-life Magus and is, according to Dave Dickson, now one of the highest ranked members of the O.T.O. His credentials for such a role go back to 1955 when he travelled to Cefalu, Sicily with Alfred Kinsey, the self-proclaimed ‘sexologist’, where they unearthed a number of pansexual murals at Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema, later mimicked by Page at Boleskine with his Charles Pace-commissioned murals. “I never talk about it with people that aren’t magicians,” Anger told one reporter in 2006. “Because they would think you were a fucking liar. But, you see, I’m not a Satanist. Some people think I am. I don’t care…”
Now seventy-eight [in 2008], Dr Anger lives alone in his Hollywood apartment block, too ill currently to respond to requests for interviews, though he continues to talk of new film and book projects. He is also renowned, says d’Arch Smith, for a volatile temperament and “for putting curses” on anyone who crosses him. Behind the popular image of an almost Nosferatu-like character, however, lies a clearly visionary thinker, bitter perhaps at so consistently being misinterpreted and misunderstood but whose work, lying so determinedly outside the mainstream, ranks amongst the most innovative in cinematic history.
Born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer, in Santa Monica, California, in 1930, Anger began his career as a child actor, starring alongside Mickey Rooney as the changeling prince in the 1934 Max Reinhardt production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (also featuring James Cagney as Puck). His own career as a filmmaker began in 1947 with Fireworks, a bizarre short featuring sailors with lit candles for penises, and continued in 1954 with Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome, a gloriously ecstatic exposition of Crowleyan ritual, followed in 1963 by Scorpio Rising, a homosexual fantasy about leather-clad bikers inter-cut with images of Christ, Hitler and the Devil, and a soundtrack comprised of thirteen pop songs – an innovation that prefigured future cine-icons such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino in their use of ‘found’ music for their films.
Serious critics placed Anger’s work in the same surrealist category as Louis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou and Jean Cocteau’s The Blood Of A Poet; works that expanded the language of film. Most mainstream cinema-goers, however, remain utterly oblivious of his place in the canon. Instead, he became better known for his Hollywood Babylon books, a trio of tomes published over a forty-five-year period filled-to-bursting with scurrilous anecdotes concerning the sex and drug thrills of golden-era movie-land stars such as Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson and James Dean, to name just a few.
The late-Sixties found Anger in London, where he began a close association with the Rolling Stones, a period which saw the release of the Their Satanic Majesties Request album followed by the song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, which Anger boasted was inspired by his conversations with Mick Jagger. He also became close to Keith Richards, who was now shacked-up with Brian Jones’ former girlfriend, the occult-curious Anita Pallenberg.
“Kenneth had a huge and very conscious influence on the Stones,” Marianne Faithfull told Mick Brown, explaining that Anger had initially considered Jagger for the title role in Lucifer Rising with Keith as Beelzebub, and how his kinship with the Stones soon led to “a veritable witches’ coven of decadent Illuminati, rock princelings and hip nobility.” But the Stones quickly began disassociating themselves from him after he freaked Keith and Anita out by somehow arranging for their front door to be painted gold one night while they slept upstairs, in preparation for a pagan marriage ceremony they had agreed for him to preside over – then backed-out of – on Hampstead heath.
Anger claimed that showing his films were magickal ceremonies in themselves, describing them as “spells and invocations” specifically designed to exert control over people’s minds. He often revised and updated his movies – he had been working on and off on Lucifer Rising for years before he met Jimmy – adding soundtracks by famous rock stars to some – as with Jagger’s synthesiser contribution to Invocation Of My Demon Brother in 1969 – and ELO to a later print of Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome.
Shot in England, Germany and Egypt, Lucifer Rising was to be based on the story of the Fallen Angel of orthodox Christian mythology, restored to his Gnostic status as “the Bringer of Light” – an implicit part of Crowley’s own teachings, as also depicted in Milton’s Paradise Lost, which ends with the angel, and his host, finding reconciliation with “the Beloved” – and would include real-life Crowleyan occult rituals. As Page well-knew, it’s only in recent history that the name Lucifer has become synonymous with that of ‘Satan’. In fact, Lucifer was originally a Latin word meaning ‘light-bearer’; a Roman astrological term for the ‘Morning Star’ and a direct translation of the Greek word eosphorus, meaning ‘dawn-bearer’. While in Romanian mythology, Lucifer (from the Romanian word Luceafär was used for the planet Venus.
Anger experienced numerous problems with his much-cherished project from the start, however, leading to whispers that the film was – literally – cursed. His first attempt at getting it off the ground in 1967 had failed when its original lead, a five year old boy – another representation of Crowley’s “little child” perhaps – died in an accident before filming began. His place was initially taken by Bobby Beausoleil – aka Cupid, Jasper, Cherub, and other weird aliases – a former guitarist, briefly, with the group Love. Beausoleil had lived for a time with Anger in San Francisco, at a rambling old mansion on Fulton Street known locally as “the Russian Embassy.”
They fell out, however, when Anger threw Beausoleil down the stairs after discovering he’d hidden a large parcel of marijuana in the basement. Aggrieved, Beausoleil made off with most of the early footage, burying it in California’s Death Valley. In revenge, Anger placed “the curse of the frog” upon him, trapping a frog in a well. When, soon after, Beausoleil, now running with the Manson family, was arrested for the Tate- and La Bianca-related murder of music teacher Gary Hinman, he was sentenced to life imprisonment – trapped behind four walls, just like Anger’s cursed frog.
Using what little footage he had managed to salvage from the Beausoleil episode, Anger had made Invocation of My Demon Brother using Jagger’s soundtrack. But his intention had always been to return to what he felt would be his magnum opus, this time with Jagger as Lucifer and Marianne Faithfull and Donald Cammel also in principle roles. When Jagger suddenly changed his mind, setting the production back yet again, Anger punished him by casting his younger brother Chris in the role. But the younger Jagger proved no less malleable and was dismissed after an on-set row. Eventually a Middlesbrough steel worker named Leslie Huggins was given the part, and filming finally began.