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The Underground Film World Of Aleister Crowley

Embedded above is a new work by digital media artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon, whose work has a haunting, ethereal quality to it. Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae – Aleister Crowley is no exception. It’s a melding of the “Signs of the Grades” images from the book that shares the film’s name. As somebody who isn’t really into the occult, I’m not quite sure what all this means. But I take it the “Signs” are poses one does during a magick ritual.

I’m also not that familiar with Crowley personally, but his name and influence comes up a lot in the underground film world. For others who are similarly unfamiliar, Crowley (1875-1947) was a British occultist who practiced the philosophy of Thelema, which is idealized by the phrase “Do what thou wilt.”

Photo of Aleister Crowley performing a magick ritual

Crowley’s two most famous “disciples” are underground legends Kenneth Anger and Harry Smith. Many, if not most, of Anger’s films are very ritualistic in the Crowley tradition, such as the suiting up of garments in Scorpio Rising (1964) and the rebirth of the Fallen Angel in Lucifer Rising (1972). Both of those films can be found on the second volume of Fantomas’ gorgeous DVD retrospective. Also, Crowley is also evoked literally via a superimposed photograph in Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) — on Fantomas’ first volume — and in the more recentĀ  The Man We Want to Hang (2002), which documents a show of Crowley’s artwork and is also on the second DVD volume.

Filmmaker, anthropologist and folk musicologist Harry Smith went so far to claim that Crowley was “probably” his biological father, which is fairly unlikely. He made the claim to underground film critic and historian P. Adams Sitney in an interview for Film Culture that’s reprinted in the magazine’s Reader book collection.

As for recent underground filmmakers, Craig Baldwin includes actual film footage of Crowley in his epic collage narrative Mock Up on Mu. The film recounts the twisted relationship between rocket scientist Jack Parsons, New Age guru Marjorie Cameron and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Parsons was an enthusiastic Crowley devotee, while Hubbard participated in magick rituals with him. Cameron also starred in Kenneth Anger‘s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and several scenes in Mock Up on Mu are also clearly directly inspired by Anger’s films, particularly some early scenes involving Parsons that look like they could have come out of Lucifer Rising.

Last year, Video Inferno hosted the first H3R3TIC Film Festival in Amsterdam and included several films on Aleister Crowley and the occult. Two documentaries they screened were Aleister Crowley: In Search of the Great Beast by Robert Garofalo and Aleister Crowley: The Beast 666 Donna Zuckerbrot. Plus, they screened Paola Igliori’s documentary on Harry Smith, American Magus.

Spanish filmmaker — and Underground Film Journal favorite — Carlos Atanes has a work-in-progress film on Crowley called Perdurabo. The film tracks a man’s trip to Italy to find the occultist, but instead stumbles into an abbey where Thelema is practiced. I’ve embedded the trailer for this film below.

Finally, I just received word that Montreal underground film entity Ca Ca Ca has directed an experimental documentary called The Man We Want to Anger: Kenneth Anger, Aleister Crowley, Cinema, Magick and the Occult. I don’t know anything else about this film beyond the title that riffs on Anger’s own Crowley doc, though. But Ca Ca Ca co-directed the film By Any Old Light by Dionysos Andronis, which I enjoyed and reviewed on the Underground Film Journal. Also, Pierre-Luc Vaillancourt of Cinema Abattoir was nice enough to write up this description of the film for us:

The Man We Want to Anger: Kenneth Anger, Aleister Crowley, Cinema, Magick and the Occult
a film by Ca Ca Ca – France / Quebec – 2009
Experimental iconoclast documentary by underground occult entity Ca Ca Ca. The Man We Want to Anger deals with ethics and aesthetics ideas of Crowley’s magick… Anger discuss a lot about it in interview, solstice and solar (not satanist) roots of Crowley, his link with cinema and his own films. The interview has been filmed in major part at the Crowley’s paintings exhibit this past june ’08 at the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris. So there is parts of a conference about Crowley’s painting, lot’s of industrial music reference and presence in the film, which as been in many form linked with Crowley. The most interesting part is in the second half (the film is divided in Die Liebe & Das Leben) were at one point any narration / documentary convention are occulted and a void is entered of 20 min of image destruction dealing with fascism, mystic-nazi, swastika: pure cinema obliteration in a magick lyricism.

I’m sure all this is probably just scratching the surface of Aleister Crowley’s influence throughout the underground film world, so it might be a topic I’ll return to in the future. If anyone else has anything to add, please leave a comment below.

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