On Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1972)

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by Jacqueline Valencia

Lucifer Rising is perhaps the  most elaborate of Kenneth Anger‘s films. With locations in Egypt, England, and Germany, Anger conned the Egyptian government into believing he was making a documentary about Egyptian peoples. In fact, he was making a film about Egyptian gods summoning the age of Lucifer. The strange musical score leads viewers through staged ceremonies, ritualistic movements, and weird scenery. Experimental techniques were used for mounting, mixed with basic traditional cinematic structures, adding to an unsettling, but commanding visual quality to this avant-garde masterpiece.

It’s hard to write anything on Kenneth Anger’s work without writing about his personality and the personalities of those that surrounded him. As a follower of Aleister Crowley’s religion, Thelema, Anger often based his work on occult themes. However, his many other works dealt with subjects and visuals that were taboo in his day: ie. homoeroticism in his film Fireworks.

The making of Lucifer Rising involved an odd mix of folk: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin guitarist, long follower of the OTO), Bobby Beausoleil (Haight-Ashbury musical prodigy, former member of rock group love, former associate of the Charles Manson Family, and convicted murderer of music teacher Gary Hinman), Marianne Faithfull, Chris Jagger (brother of Mick), Donald Cammell (writer of The Untouchables and director of Demon Seed), and Wally Veevers (who worked with Stanley Kubrick doing special effects for Dr. Strangelove and photography for 2001: A Space Odyssey).

“he was supposed to play the high priest in my film, but he proved to be too difficult… I had to send him home because he kept asking ‘What does it mean?’ Everything had to mean something to him in his logical mind, and I told him it doesn’t matter what it means, that it matters to me, not to you… If I really wanted to continue with him, I could have made up some story… but the whole thing, the meaning is too complex and deep. Or simple, if you’re an initiate; it’s almost like a childish fairytale…” – Kenneth Anger on Chris Jagger, appearing once in Lucifer Rising (commentary on the dvd)

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Anger is rumoured to be a difficult man with a personality prone to bodacious claims and hot tempers. This led to many difficulties in the making of Lucifer Rising. At one point footage was either lost or stolen leading to a delay in its completion. In an odd series of events, Bobby Beausoleil had to complete the score in prison (with prisoner musicians) after Jimmy Page had a falling out with Anger over time constraints. Marianne Faithfull has claimed that Anger hypnotized her or drugged her up to make the film. By the time Lucifer Rising was released, Anger had “cursed” almost everyone involved in the film.

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Although Anger is a demanding character, his  talent for film is undeniable. In Lucifer Rising, Anger utilized interesting techniques creating a film that was both hypnotic and compelling. At the beginning of the film, a giant volcano erupts sending fire flowing upon the land around it. The score screams and spirals in screeches creating dissonance with sad guitar wails. It’s an ominous moment before the first characters appear on the screen. Reptilian imagery emerges from eggs and flowing waters, predicting the tale of something mysterious and traditionally unwanted. The bare breasted goddess Isis wakes up and calls on her husband Osiris. A man awakens and sits on a throne in a small room, somehow spearing a woman in a forest far away, then washes the blood in a black bathtub. Lilith (Faithfull), wakes and magickally summons Lucifer.Orange flying saucers then simultaneously appear over Egypt and the Temple of Luxor.

I can’t blame Chris Jagger for asking what it all meant.

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The film is replete with esoteric symbolism, but a concrete meaning was obfuscated by Anger; nor does a meaning matter in this film. The saturated colours alone are a wonder to behold. There’s a scene where a man gets up from his bed and crosses the threshold of his room. The room is a brilliant red highlighting his golden robes which are intricately sewn with vibrant filigree. Each step he takes is languid, pulled to the swell and beat of the droning score. Much of the aesthetics are reminiscent of everything psychedelic and drug induced from the 1960s. However, it would behoove me to mention that most of Lucifer Rising is a constant influx of time and space travel within its occult texture. In an interesting tracking shot a man floats through hallways of red and obscuring black, then is grounded as he performs a ritual by an altar. The shot is memorable because there’s something very disconnecting, yet coercive in its presentation, as if it were casting a spell on the viewer. It’s the same thing that happened when music videos started up on MTV. The weirder and more sinister, the more people would remember and re-watch the video, despite the catchiness of the song. Much of Anger’s use of tracking and strange camera mounting has been copied in the music video format because it somehow was successful at “casting that spell.”

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 There’s no actual dialogue in Lucifer Rising. Characters are unusually dressed and painted up to look ethereal and transcendent, matching the menacing atmospheres. A young Magus dances around a consecrated circle, working himself (and the viewer) into a dervish of images that are beautifully disturbing. My favourite part is when Lucifer appears wearing a shiny jacket with his name sewn in white letters over a rainbow on his back. Lucifer is rock and roll in the film. In many ways, Anger presents the world with a vision of his beliefs, but he cares little if you agree with him. His intention in the film is to convince you that worlds of faith and religion are symbolic and completely artful. They’re worlds to play in with stories that can be bended in the mind of the individual. Anger might be trying to relay a personal mythology, in the end he creates a mystical experience for the viewer, thereby enchanting them with the drama within the film’s atmosphere.

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Somebody buy me this jacket.

There’s a hell of a lot of literature on Kenneth Anger and interviews one can delve through. I enjoy his work, rather than the ideologies and personality that drives them. Much can be said for his influence in advertising and music video as an art form. I suggest a watch of Lucifer Rising. Although it can seem creepy (like horror movie creepy), it’s work that can still pull at the senses leaving you wondering if you were affected in some supernatural way.

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Kenneth Anger up at UbuWeb: http://www.ubu.com/film/anger.html

Get Your Own Lucifer Rising Jacket: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/get_your_very_own_lucifer_rising_jacket

Roger Ebert Interviews Kenneth Anger: http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/interview-with-kenneth-anger

No, I am not a Satanist: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/mar/10/kenneth-anger-interview

Jimmy Page Unearths Lost Soundtrack to Lucifer Rising: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/jimmy-page-unearths-soundtrack-album-20120316

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