ALEISTER CROWLEY HAS BEEN A UNIQUE PERSON, WHO MADE POSSIBLE A CONNECTION BETWEEN OCCULTISM AND MAGIC WITH CINEMA, MUSIC AND LITERATURE. HE WAS AN ENIGMATIC MAN, AN EXPERIMENTER IN VARIOUS FIELDS AND HE HAS BEEN THE UNWITTING INSPIRATION OF THE MAIN EXPONENTS OF THE SO-CALLED ‘COUNTERCULTURE' IN THE WESTERN WORLD BETWEEN 1960S AND 1970S. ACCORDING TO CROWLEY, "MAGICK IS THE SCIENCE AND ART OF CAUSING CHANGE TO OCCUR IN CONFORMITY WITH WILL": THIS STATEMENT, MIXED WITH LIBERTINISM AND SPIRITUAL MISH-MASH, CLEARLY INSPIRED THE ROCK'N'ROLL ICONIC IMAGINATION WHICH HAS BEEN PROMOTED FOR AT LEAST A DECADE.
In cinema, symbolisms and interests that interested Crowley were main topics in horror movies, but not exclusively: authors as Alejandro Jodorowski, Ken Russell or Kenneth Anger also gave a personal vision about them. They particularly focused on formal and esthetic aspects, which were also based on a naive exoticism, related to the One Thousand and One Nights imagery and to places like Middle East, North Africa or India. These countries were once visited by few lucky travelers and writers, but nowadays they are easily reachable by anyone, causing a decrease in mystery and fascination.
Anger, especially, flirted with the ghost of Crowley since the 1950s. He was an artist and an underground filmmaker and one of most important exponents of the golden age of experimentalism in American Cinema. He was attracted to occultism and magic rituals becoming a follower of Thelema, which was a religion founded by Crowley. That collected all his interests, starting from mysticism to philosophical thoughts of Oriental inspiration. These are the basic ingredients of some of the most important films made by the director born in Santa Monica, which were mixed with the classic topics of his artistic work: homosexuality, pop culture, Situationism made through found footage, visual experimentalism, kitsch and magniloquent scene design. To Anger, making a movie is “casting a spell”.
That statement is already clear watching Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). That film is a continuing parade of spiritual and mystical appearances (included Crowley, who is performed by Samson de Brier) together to symbolisms related to the thelemic philosoph. But Anger reminds us constantly not to take these things too seriously: in a rare commentary, he stated that decided to make that film after attending a Hollywood party where he was totally fascinated by all costumes and decors. This makes Anger to us as a sort of kitsch version of Josef von Sternberg plunged in LSD.
Next year, Anger documented his visit to the Thelema Abbey in Sicily (where he made his return in 2004), then he proposed again satanic and occult themes in Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969) and in Lucifer Rising. The first one is a collage of images and synthetic, disoriented and illogical music played by Mick Jagger, who was very impressed and influenced by the Californian director. The second one had a long and troubled development, and Marianne Faithfull and Jimmy Page, also executor of the score, play a role in it. Anger’s interest in Crowley has not decreased over the years, since he produced, in 2002, The man we want to hang, which shows an exposition of paintings, drawings and objects by and about the “late occult master Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)”.
Which is the heritage of that age, nowadays? We can see it as an interesting try of creating a new subversive and alternative imagination, a product of naive a far superstition which has hugely influenced popular arts for a certain time. The heritage in our current culture is almost totally absent and we can say those that imagination has had no future. But we also know that the words “no future” might mean a lot.
Text by Alessandro Altobello