Saturday, 11 February 2012

Guest Review - Invocation Of My Demon Brother (1969)

Country: USA

My introduction to the works of Kenneth Anger began when I saw Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) [on the Channel 4 show Midnight Underground.] My first thoughts were “What the hell is this?” Bizarre imagery set to classical music, with a guy who had impressively long fingernails. In the pre-internet days, a trawling of the library uncovered a book featuring underground filmmakers. This led to my quest to track down as many of his works as possible, which was not easy in the days before multi-region DVD players. Most of the copies of Anger’s films were American, but eventually, through the classified ads in a magazine, a, cough, bootlegged copy of nine of his short film were mine, albeit on a Maxell C180.

These nine films, collectively known as the Magick Lantern Cycle, and spanning the years 1947 to 1980 are, to all intents and purposes, a nine-part homage to the thoughts and theology of Frater Perduarbo himself, the occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley’s Egyptian-based philosophy, Thelema, places emphasis upon ritual and magick in order to access one’s Higher self, or Demon Brother. Simplifying a complex belief system drastically, the Demon Brother will enable the proponent to follow their True Will or path in life. The path is to be followed without regards to ethical considerations: Crowley’s phrase, which was inspired by the works of the 15th century monk Francesco Colonna, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” pretty much sums up the whole thing. Thelema’s usage of stylised ritual and symbolism is perfectly suited to avant garde cinema, and perhaps its greatest proponent was heavily influenced both spiritually and visually. The Thelemetic emphasis on fulfilment of desire runs through the whole of Anger’s Cycle. Homoeroticism, violence, drug use, Nazi imagery, biker gangs and Jimmy Page are presented without a moral compass. They are simply ‘there’.

Anger’s two most overtly ritualistic films are Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Invocation of my Demon Brother, with the latter a paean to Lucifer in his incarnation as the god Mars. Tellingly, Invocation actually came into existence from the ashes of an abandoned project, Lucifer Rising. Red imagery features throughout and, indeed, the whole atmosphere is aggressive. Pleasure Dome’s almost serene, cerebral tone is entirely absent here. The Rolling Stones were a spent force by 1969, but Mick Jagger provides a perfect soundtrack: a grating, hypnotic and discordant piece played on a Moog synthesizer which, allied with the repetitive, fast editing of Anger, create a cinematic equivalent of psychobilin. Charles Manson groupie Bobby Beausoliel is a truly frightening Lucifer, with bleached hair and eyelashes, he presides over a magickal ritual featuring hippy types and cigarettes which probably aren’t Silk Cut. Images of US troops in Vietnam are intercut with brief glimpses of the Woodstock Festival, the ceremonial funeral of a cat, Christ-like figures and naked men. Anger himself appears as a Magus performing an Egyptian-style ceremony and Anton LaVey camps it up as Satan, complete with black cloak and plastic horns. LaVey’s own philosophy is, interestingly, a fairly dilute form of Crowley’s. Take a look at LaVey’s The Satanic Bible and try to read it without laughing.

‘An assault on the senses’ is perhaps a cliché, but is appropriate here, and was Anger’s intention. The last few minutes are especially fierce, featuring epilepsy-inducing flashing images, the Eye of Horus and a supremely creepy image of what may be the titular brother, complete with angel wings and knowing smile.  The most unsettling scene in Argento’s Deep Red (1975), which features a doll on a tricycle, is prefigured here, where an African-looking fetish doll rapidly descends a staircase in stop-motion animation. The inexorable advance also echoes that of the spirit of Sadako in Nakata’s Ring (1998), but the doll at least doesn’t come out of the TV. A card held by the doll reads “Zap your pregnant that’s witchcraft” and that’s it! Not, perhaps, as perfect a film as Puce Moment (1949), Invocation is, however, an excellent example of Anger’s genius. Few directors have his sheer audacity in overlaying image upon image and his complex approach to symbolism. Many directors can produce technical and artistic magic, but Anger is one of a select handful who can invoke real magick.

© Rich Flannagan 2012

Many thanks to Rich for this wonderful guest review, the first of many I hope. If you like what you read then please head over to Rich's excellent blog 0.50 Action Express - Rich is also a regular contributor to the peerless Italian Film Review, and to the equally impressive Videotape Swapshop.


  1. Hi there, I loved your tribute to Anger's films. He has always been a favorite study of mine.
    But I felt I should point out one major discrepancy . Bobby Beausoleil is featured in Lucifer Rising as the one of the Egyptian gods. With his long curly dark hair and handsome face he resembles Jim Morrison a bit. He also did the soundtrack for the film.

    The Albino guy in "Invocation..." is just that -a true albino. And probably just someone Anger spotted on the street and thought would be a freaky film subject.

  2. Whoops, thanks for the clarification! I'd always wondered how they bleached his eyelashes.

  3. I always assumed that Beausoliel played both roles, as the dual aspects of both Lucifer and Mars but having just watched it again, closely, its obviously not the same person.I remember reading that Beausoliel composed the Lucifer Rising whilst in prison. I prefer Jagger's soundtrack over Beausoliel's though.

    1. Nice to see Anger covered! Thanks, Rich. :)

      I believe 'Invocation' was cobbled together from material initially intended for 'Lucifer Rising' (as, according to Anger, at least, Beausoleil stole much of the completed footage, forcing him to effectively release a 'short').

      It's certainly an effective film, and does make some sense if one understands (Anger's) cinema as ritual - intended to invade/infect the audience through a rapid collision of seemingly disparate (but in reality carefully assembled) images. The act of viewing itself, and the mental state it is designed to engender, 'invokes' within the audience the relevant deity. Consider:

      "Invocation, in ceremonial magick, is usually performed with artistic expression aimed at embodying the known attributes and preferences of the god being invoked. Often song, poetry, dance, drumming, perfumes and incense, colors or images that remind one of the deity to be invoked are used by the magickian to tune in to the deity."

      Hence the 'Zap! Your pregnant. That's Witchcraft' tagline at the film's conclusion.

      In this sense, the Vietnam newsreel material, with the five pointed star prominently displayed on the helicopter, and the Rolling Stones footage (bringers of a new, decidedly Luciferian, consciousness to the Aquarian/Love generation!) all makes (some kind of) sense.

      If you believe in all that stuff. ;)

      Note: Beausoleil did indeed compose the soundtrack for the later 'Lucifer Rising' (following Anger's falling out with the first composer Jimmy Page), but as far as I know he wasn't at any point involved with creating/contributing anything for the 'Invocation' track. Jagger's Moog twiddling absolutely suits the abrasive nature of 'Invocation', but Beausoleil's work for the (entirely different) film 'Lucifer Rising' is both mysterious and magisterial - entirely in keeping with the 'Light Bringer' depiction of Lucifer intended by Anger. In contrast, Jimmy Page's score (available around the Net), is rather predictably dark, ambient and...rather obvious.

  4. Mike: Thanks a lot!

    johnny: Yep, there was a falling out between Anger and Beausoliel regarding the abortive Lucifer Rising footage, with each one blaming the other. Given Anger's tricksterish personality, its nigh on impossible on to know either way.

    From what I've read, Mick Jagger was solely responsible for the Invocation... score, and its probably my favourite composition of his. Best listened to at full volume.

    I'm not a massive fan of Beausoliel's Lucifer soundtrack, its a bit like the 'new-age' cds on sale in garden centres for me, but, yes, Page's contribution does spoil the atmosphere somewhat.

    One of the reasons that Anger, next to Michael Powell, is my favourite director is the fact that his films can be read in any number of ways, with or without the Crowley-esque connotations. His use of discordant imagery is as powerful as that in, say, Un Chien Andalou, but with, possibly, a more cerebral approach.

  5. johnny: Where are my manners? I forgot to say thanks for the praise, and for the clarification of some esoteric points.

  6. That's OK, Rich. Thanks for your reply. :)

    I really like the Beausoleil score for 'Lucifer Rising'. It's not at all obvious (given the subject matter), and covers a lot of ground tonally. I think he carefully avoided cliche (for the time) and definitely composed per Anger's intentions.

    I agree that one can very happily watch Anger without any reference at all to the Crowley babble, but it's also fun to follow Anger's lead and see how he's representing various esoteric concepts both formally and thematically in his films.

    I have the first Fantoma DVD releases of the Anger films, but I fear the BD release may be out of print. I think I may have missed out... :(

  7. Amazon still stock the blu-ray johnny. The region free disc is a hefty £30, but the dual play region 2 is £14. I think I payed less than a tenner for it, so it looks as though stocks are low.

  8. The albino is NOT Bobby Beausoleil. That guy looks nothing like BB and on top of that, you simply cannot bleach eyebrows & eyelashes. That actor is a real albino; I don't know his name but I know it's not Beausoleil!

  9. If you'd bothered to read the comments you'll have noticed that this was pointed out by another commenter, and the author of this review, acknowledged the error, and appreciated the correction.


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