“As Keith and Anita learned more about the powers of darkness, they grew secretive. They knew the subject frightened me, and they got rid of me when Kenneth Anger or other demonic friends came to call. Keith was impressed when Kenneth ticked off all the great artistic rebels who’d flirted with black magic – Blake, Byron, Oscar Wilde, Yeats and De Quincey…” (Tony Sanchez, Up and Down with the Rolling Stones)
There is something largely missing from popular cinema and music these days, and that’s Satan. I might be sounding old-fashioned – but Satanism had some style. While 1969 turned many things bad – Hells Angels, heroin, peyote, Charles Manson, Dick Van Dyke – Kenneth Anger’s pact with the devil was reaping psychedelic fruit. Anger was a powerful force. His grasp of the symbolic – reckoned with the Satanic creed of ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ – alchemised into works such as Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother, and dealt the decade a final score.
And along the way he also scared some people. In fact, his “awesomely evil 11-minute masterpiece” Invocation – starring himself, Anton LaVey (the High Priest of the Church of Satan), Charles Manson sidekick Bobby Beausoleil (later to serve life imprisonment with Manson for first degree murder), and featuring documentary footage from a satanic cat funeral, a ceremonial skull smoking session, a mummified psychic and a synthesized Moog soundtrack by Mick Jagger – was not as out of this world as the man himself.
“We all were just a little afraid of Kenneth” said Tony Sanchez, the Rolling Stones’ drug manager, in his Stones biography. “Again and again inexplicable things involving him would happen. Once, for example, Robert Fraser arranged an opening party for some white sculptures that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had created. I saw Kenneth clearly at the party, but when I went across to talk to him he seemed to have vanished.
“I thought little of it at the time until that afternoon when Anita, Marianne, Keith and Mick all said that they too had seen Kenneth but had been unable to find him. ‘Anyway’ said Anita ‘it’s very strange because Kenneth told me he wouldn’t be able to come to the exhibition because he was going away on business in Germany’. Kenneth didn’t return to London for two weeks, and by then numerous people all remarked on having seen Kenneth across the crowded room, but had been unable to speak to him. Eventually we asked almost everyone who had been there if they has spoken to him – and none of them had”.
The myth of Kenneth Anger quickly spread through the shakers’ inner circles. The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Jimmy Page – all were eager to move in its current. “Kenneth Anger told me I was his right hand man” Keith Richards told Rolling Stone Magazine. “It’s just what you feel. Whether you’ve got that good and evil thing together. Left-hand path, right hand path, how far do you want to go down? Once you start there’s no going back.”
By ’69 Anger was considered a fierce original in Europe and the United States – both influential and genuinely independent. From his early 1947 film Fireworks, through to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) and Lucifer Rising (1972), Anger became, as Jonas Mekas put it “one of the most complex personalities working in cinema. Whatever he does, be it cinema or life, he does it fully, to the bottom… Kenneth Anger, the True Cosmic Explorer.”
The Kenneth Anger enigma begins in 1935, back-dated by his own hand, where he claimed to have performed the role of the Changeling Prince in the Warner Brothers film A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Whether or not the child was him is debatable – studio key books state the character was played by a girl named Sheila Brown. Anger’s biographer denies this. Bullshit or not, the claim somehow adds to Anger’s ability to transcend the chair.
“Kenneth Anger claimed to be a Magus, though he refused to reveal whether toad sacrifices had been necessary for his promotion” wrote Sanchez. “What is indisputable is that Anger does appear to have certain powers, and he has been linked with extraordinary incidents.”
With an interest in the occult piqued at an early age by Frank L Baum’s Oz books, by the 1950s Anger was travelling the Satanic grottoes of Europe – voyaging firstly through Italy to make a film about the sixteenth century occultist Cardinal d’Este, before emerging in Paris around 1955 (where he met Jean Cocteau). He continued to produce short films, filming 20 minutes of footage for his film Rabbit’s Moon (set under a blue filter, it involves a clown longing for the moon) at the Films du Pantheon Studio. When the studio closed the production down, footage was stored in the labyrinthine archive of the Cinémathèque Française.
In 1955 Anger spent three months in Cefalu, Sicily to shoot a documentary about Aleister Crowley’s frescoes in Thelema Abbey. The Abbey of Thelema was a small villa establised as a temple and spiritual centre by Crowley in 1920. The name was taken from Rabelais’ satire Gargantua and Pantagruel, where the Abbey of Thélème was an ‘anti-monastery’ in which inhabitants spent time “not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure.”
Anger’s film would have made an fascinating excursion – complete with shuddering organ, grotesque undercoats and a resident evil, no doubt. But unfortunately it has been lost. “The film was made for Houlton Television which was a branch of Picture Post – an extinct British Magazine.” said Anger “They lost it. I tried to find it and it’s untraceable. I lived in Crowley’s house, alone, but that kind of thing doesn’t bother me. I had to. It was the only way to get it done.
“I spent three months there scraping the whitewash, which had turned to stone, off the walls. They were still there – all those hyper-psychedelic murals: goblins and demons in fabulous color, scarlet and pumpkin-red. Actually they were good paintings, similar in feel to Ensor”.
But it was the 1960s that truly brought the demons to the surface.
Satan was getting a lot of press. And Anton LaVey – founder and head of the Church of Satan – was spearheading business. The symbolism and ritual of the occult appealed to the anti-establishment; hippies were looking further than flowers, thinkers were pressing the boundaries. On the screen, occult-obsessed films had sprung from the drying patch of Hammer horror – movies such as Eye of the Devil (starring Roman Polanksi’s beautiful but doomed wife Sharon Tate), The Devil Rides Out, The Devils Own and – perhaps – later on The Exorcist. Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby was the cream of the crop – LaVey adding it was “the best paid commercial for Satanism since the Inquisition.”
In 1966 blonde starlet Jayne Mansfield - reputedly a Church of Satan Priestess (following some publicity shots she did with LaVey) - stole the headlines after being virtually decapitated in a car accident, alongside boyfriend Sam Brody. Anton LaVey, reportedly obsessed with Mansfield, took it badly. He had put the curse on Brody.
Gossip now dragged Satan through the undertow of magazines and media. And LaVey seized the wheel. In 1969 he publicly married journalist John Raymond and socialite Judith Case, performed a satanic funeral of Navy machinist-repairman Edward Olsen at Treasure Island (reciting the eulogy while a Navy musician played Taps), performed a satanic baptism on his own 3-year-old daughter Zeena (who chewed gum throughout), appeared on Johnny Carson’s seventh anniversary show and released the Satanic Bible.
It was also around this time Anger began to gather a reputation. And around the time he started working on his opus, Lucifer Rising.
Again to Sanchez: “His life’s work was to have been a film of homage to the devil, Lucifer Rising. For the role of Lucifer Anger employed a good looking young man named Bobby Beausoleil, who played guitar with the Californian rock band Love. Mysteriously, after many months of filming, Beausoleil appeared to go beserk and carried out a singularly bestial murder which ended with his writing on a wall with his victim’s blood”.
Rumour has it that Beausoleil was kicked out by Anger after he hid an enormous parcel of marijuana in house. Anger later claimed that the guitarist took the footage for Lucifer Rising with him, and buried it somewhere in Death Valley. Kenneth Anger therefore placed ‘the curse of the frog’ on him – by trapping a frog in a well.
It was not long afterwards that Beausoleil became associated with the Manson family and murdered music teacher Gary Hinman – after a bulk sale of LSD to some bikers went bad. He is currently serving a life sentence for first degree murder.
The role of Lucifer was subsequently offered to Mick Jagger, with Jimmy Page brought in to compose the soundtrack. Page’s interest in the occult is well known – from the early seventies he owned an occult bookshop and publishing house, “The Equinox Booksellers and Publishers” in Kensington High Street, London. The company published a facsimile of English occultist’s Aleister Crowley’s 1904 edition of The Goetia. Page had also purchased and lived in Crowley’s estate of Boleskine – an old home by the side of Loch Ness in Scotland, originally purchased by Crowley because its isolation and layout reflected the order required to speak to spirits, as per instructions found in the The Book of the Sacred Magick of Abra-Melin the Mage.
“I feel Aleister Crowley is a misunderstood genius of the 20th century” Page told Sounds Magazine in 1978. “Because his whole thing was liberation of the person, of the entity, and that restrictions would foul you up, lead to frustration which leads to violence, crime, mental breakdown, depending on what sort of makeup you have underneath. The further this age we’re in now gets into technology and alienation, a lot of the points he’s made seem to manifest themselves all down the line.”
For personal reasons – heroin – Page never completed the job. What he did deliver was twenty-three minutes of music three years later – five minutes short of Anger’s demands and the final cut. Page recently released the recording as ‘Lucifer Rising and Other Soundtracks’ in 2012.
Anger’s view of Page has meanwhile soured over the years. “He’s a multi-millionaire miser,” he told Mark Berry, in a great interview for Bizarre Magazine. “He and Charlotte, that horrible vampire girl – the druggie that got him on heroin – they’re both junkies. They had so many servants, yet they would never offer me a cup of tea or a sandwich. Which is such a mistake on their part because I put the curse of king Midas on them. If you’re greedy and just amass gold you’ll get an illness. So I did turn her and Jimmy Page into statues of gold because they’ve both lost their minds. He can’t write songs anymore.”
The final soundtrack was delivered – remarkably – by the incarcerated Beausoleil. And it is quite stunning; an hypnotic reel of looping psychedelic guitar, with ancient harmonics fuzzing at the core. It was Anger’s most expensive film because it involved a trip to Egypt. In the film Marianne Faithfull played Lilith – a demon. “I said to Marianne Faithfull, don’t bring any drugs because they’ll execute you” recalled Anger. “So she hid her heroin in her makeup box underneath her face powder. I think she was powdering her face with heroin.”
And the hallucinogenic stories from The Rolling Stones camp meanwhile continued to flourish. Tony Sanchez relates Anger’s participation in the wedding of Kieth Richards and Anita Pallenberg – which he suggested be a pagan ceremony. He then explained that the door of the house where the ceremony is held must be painted gold with a magical paint containing special herbs, which represent the sun.
“The next morning I was awakened by Anita yelling hysterically to Keith from the hallway” says Sanchez. “I pulled on my dressing gown and ran downstairs to see what all the commotion was about. ‘Look Tony, look’ she screamed pointing to the door. I was astonished to discover that it had been fastidiously painted inside and out in gold. ‘It must have been Kenneth, but I can’t work out how he did it’ said Keith. ‘The security people put the strongest lock you can buy in that door, and there’s no way anyone could have got a spare key.’ ‘It must be another of Kenneth’s powers’ said Anita. ‘It means he can fly into the house anytime he wants to’.
Anger himself offers a more sober assessment of his transmuting abilities. In Out! Demons Out!: An Oral History of the 1967 Exorcism of the Pentagon, Anger recalled his method of infiltrating the Pentagon to attack Mars, the God of War. “I just walked right in. I had studied how the Pentagon staff were dressed, and I was just like them. I wore a dark blue conservative suit. I even had a small American flag on my lapel. There were these hothead lefties, who, their idea was they would take over and kill the capitalists – not very practical.
“I had a map of the Pentagon. I went into every single men’s room and left—in a place where it was bound to be discovered, usually on the seat —a talisman which was written on parchment paper, drawn in india ink. Each one was drawn individually using one of Crowley’s talismans as my guide. They probably could figure out it was something occult. They know about those things, and they have a reference library.”
“He’s still our ruling god. Mars loves bloodshed, and he is a force that’s still operating in the world—it’s a force that according to modern thinking is irrational, but nevertheless there. Freud would have called it the unconscious or something but I believe that these are actual living entities. Not ‘living’ in the way like humans living and breathing, [but] living in a way that are much beyond our capacity, because they’ll never die.
“I didn’t stop until I had scattered all 93 of my talismans—because 93 is a sacred number for Crowley. Then I walked out, it was all very inconspicuous. The security guard looked at me and gave me a nice look, like we’re all looking after each other. If I’d been stopped and put in handcuffs that would’ve been unpleasant. That isn’t the way I want to spend my time in Washington—I had a ticket to the opera for later that week.
By the 1980s Anger was living largely in retirement, screening his films at universities and film festivals. He was also living off the pulp-gossip of his Hollywood Babylon books 1 and 2, which trawled through the scandalous underbelly of Hollywood stardom. They contained highly litigious litanies of debauch and revelation (including the Fatty Arbuckle sexual assault scandal, the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the Hollywood Blacklist and the murder of Sharon Tate) most of which continue to be debunked. Film historian Kevin Brownlow criticized the work, quoting Anger as saying his research method was “mental telepathy, mostly”. A documentary of Anger called Kenneth Anger’s Magick was also released around this time. Its director Kit Fitzgerald claimed Anger told her he was now so broke he had been forced to sell his air conditioner.
Anger has said Hollywood Babylon 3 has been written, but is on hold in his top drawer – he can’t afford the inevitable litigation from The Church of Scientology. He has called today’s Hollywood a “dried-out prune of a place”, with stars that are not worth gossiping about. “I covered most of the people who were interesting to me in the first two books.”
But among the murders, madness, drug addictions and demons, the best of Kenneth Anger stands out for the hypnotic power of his films. “Like many people, I was astonished when I saw Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising for the first time,” Martin Scorsese said in an introduction to the released DVD. “Every cut, every camera movement, every color, and every texture seemed, somehow, inevitable, in the same way that images of the Virgin in Renaissance painting seem inevitable—in other words, pre-existing but dormant, and brought back to life through some kind of evocation.” Anger’s splicing of pop soundtracks with imagery – as far back as 1964 – is also regarded as pioneering, influencing Scorsese’s generation first-hand.
And whether his other-world powers remain intact or not, Anger today remains a rarity and a raconteur, stranded somewhere between Old Hollywood and modern oblivion. He remains both reviled and respected. Depending on where you stand.
As mentioned, there are a number of interesting interviews with the man. Check out Mark Berry’s intriguing chat with the bloke. Below are videos Lucifer Rising, Anger’s commentary on Invocation of My Demon Brother and lastly his 2004 revisit to the Crowley’s Thelema Abbey.