Movie Review: The Magus
Film as Satanic ritual has never really evolved into a full-fledged subgenre even with the still continuing interest in the work of Kenneth Anger. But, every once in awhile, one will come across a great underground movie that treads heavily in the dark arts.
Jaimz Asmundson‘s The Magus is one of those films.
The film documents an actual ritual: The artistic process of the filmmaker’s father, C. Graham Asmundson. Graham awakens, drags on a cigarette, fixes some coffee, applies a few strokes to a painting in his kitchen, showers, then heads out for a day of serious work.
The opening is quite banal. It’s straight vérité, unilluminating, dingy documentary footage. No voiceover. No talking to the camera. We only know Graham is an abstract artist of some kind thanks to that painting he fiddles with and various little paintings and art books strewn about his messy apartment. It all looks fairly like the way any other artist might live.
Though he doesn’t speak, we can guess at Graham’s character just from the way he enters into the world in the morning. He appears a bit world-weary and beaten down. He is a man who makes art not out of joy, but out of compulsion. He paints because of the demons inside him that must come out.
Graham eventually exits his apartment and we soon learn that the banal opening is quite deliberate, to ground us in the real world. The artist trudges through a frozen and empty urban wasteland to arrive at the basement entrance to a bland office building. Here, we assume is where Graham’s art studio is located.
Well, sort of. Graham descends below the Earth, traverses a bland, institutional-like hallway, and takes an elevator down even further. Suddenly, we are out of the real of documentary and into some new twisted reality — all the while never losing that initial documentary feel.
Graham continues to walk down corridors and stairwells that grew increasingly darker, narrower and spookier, as if he is descending into the very pits of Hell. But, he’s not. He’s just finally arriving at his art studio: A tiny, all-white space with a little wooden box sitting in the middle of the floor.
At this point, we, as an audience, are totally thrown off of our expectations and the title The Magus finally starts to fit with the person we have been watching and becoming involved with. Still, this is a film — running only about 12 minutes long — that continually sheds its preconceptions the way Graham sheds all of his clothing when he is all alone in his white room.
Fully naked, Graham begins painting with the supplies he draws from the box. His strokes are fine and intimate, yet sweeping when his designs begin filling up each of the white walls. It’s a form of action painting where each gesture with the brush is a deliberate, ritualistic act. Graham isn’t painting as much as he is conjuring.
Each of the paintings, all being completely abstract, appear to be entrances to some other worlds. Perhaps those demons have forced Graham to paint the homes they long to return to.
But, still, the film has one last shift to show us why Graham is indeed the Magus. As banal and drab as the opening scenes were, the film’s climax is a wild, chaotic swirl of colors and shapes. Graham becomes a conductor, creating a symphony of art. The paintings no longer stay on the walls. They become fully rendered environments. Graham stands in the middle of a roiling, ebbing, flowing cacophony of paint and light that envelops his naked body.
Plus, the man whom we were introduced to, that dour, draggy artist really becomes alive. He paints not just with his hands and arms. His entire body mixes the colors and makes them move. He is 100% in control of his self-made environment. This place, we come to understand, is his real home.
Jaimz Asmundson has crafted a exquisite short film honoring his father. What begins in a very familiar-looking real world eventually leads us to a strange new reality that is disorienting and unknown. As much as Graham conjures up his art, Asmundson has conjured up a vision that is extraordinarily startling, beautiful and terrifying to behold.
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