Kenneth Anger on the Resurrection of "Lucifer Rising"

lucifer rising
Still from "Lucifer Rising."

Forty one years ago, Los Angeles filmmaker and magus Kenneth Anger collaborated with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to create the soundtrack to Anger's mystical film "Lucifer Rising." Shortly thereafter -- for reasons both scandalous and scurrilous -- the two fell out and the version they envisioned was thought to be lost. The film was reworked with another line of sonic thought -- that of musician, poet and murderous Manson family alumnus Bobby Beausoleil -- and over the years manifested itself in different releases, not all of them particularly optimal for the express intention of seeing, either mystically or otherwise. By the time the "final" version of the film premiered at the Whitney Museum in New York City in late December of 1980, it was the culmination of a process that had taken almost 15 years to pursue.

But it wasn't the end.

Recently, Anger's colleague Brian Butler rediscovered the original cut in a mislabeled box languishing in the Anger archives. A lost film ranking in repute with the original cut of "The Wicker Man" and the true-red color ending of Taxi Driver, it's been fully restored and screens April 17 in downtown L.A. at the former United Artists Theatre in the Ace Hotel -- which, suitably enough, also existed as a mislabeled box for many years (the ornate theater has recently undergone a dramatic makeover).

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It's cool and convivial inside the 95-year-old confines of Musso & Frank, the Hollywood Boulevard steak place that, like Kenneth Anger, is one of the few remaining links to the old Hollywood. It's here that Anger and Butler discuss the new life of "Lucifer Rising" with me. Anger was pleased when Butler had announced he'd discovered the buried treasure, even as the auteur focuses on his current works -- including his latest, a series of films culled from archival sources about the first airships.

"It just got misplaced and then it turned up," Anger admits. "I don't put metaphysical baggage on things." Butler: "It took quite a bit of work in the laboratories to get the print cleaned up because it was just so old." What did he think when knew what he'd found? "I was happy because I'd always wondered, like a lot of people did, what it was." Interest in Anger's work remains high even today. Although the theatre is 1600 seats strong, the Cinespia-presented event has almost completely sold out. Is it still a thrill to him after all this time to see such a response? "I like it better than if nobody came!" he laughs.

"Lucifer Rising" -- a phantasmagoria of allegorical images lasting around a half-hour -- was filmed in locations in Egypt and England charged with various kinds of sorcery. The differences in soundtracks are striking: Beausoleil's stringed twinges, grinding organ and baldly rock freakouts are in sharp contrast to the faintly clinical, highly mesmeric synth passages of Page, who appears bearded in the film admiring a photograph of Aleister Crowley. Starting with volcanic eruptions at sunrise and flowing dreamlike through a panoply of esoteric symbols passed down since time immemorial -- which may or may not include swimming tigers and crushed cobras.

Still from "Lucifer Rising"
Still from "Lucifer Rising."

It stars singer Marianne Faithfull as Lilith, Beausoleil and "Performance" director and longtime Anger friend Donald Cammell as Osiris. The film emerged at the crucial point in time between the mysticism of the Aquarian Age and the cynicism of the "Me Generation." Lest one think that Anger's affections lie deep in the beating heart of that Summer of Love, he claims, "I have always considered movies evil; the day that cinema was invented was a black day for mankind. My reason for filming has nothing to do with "cinema" at all; it's a transparent excuse for capturing people, so I consider myself as working evil in an evil medium."

Still from "Lucifer Rising"
Still from "Lucifer Rising."

As for Jimmy Page, Anger has lost contact with him. "I haven't been in touch with him in about ten years," Anger admits, at which point Butler clarifies, "He did release his remastered version of the soundtrack a couple of years ago." It's a situation that's reminiscent of when director Alejandro Jodorowsky and financier Allen Klein reconciled their decades-long feud, resulting in the re-release of Jodorowsky's films "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain." No bad blood anymore between Anger and Page? "Not that I know of," Anger chuckles. When the subject arises of the poor-quality bootlegs of the Page-soundtracked "Lucifer Rising" circulating in the last few years on YouTube, however, Anger spits in scorn, "I hated those."

The working process with Jimmy Page was a straightforward arrangement. "We got along. Either you get along or you don't. We got along fine; we had a shared interest in Aleister Crowley, and he has an incredible collection of books on Crowley. The thing that drew us both together was books," Anger says. "I have a few books about Crowley that I bought before the interest in him soared. In the early 1950s, you could pick up, in a used bookstore, inscribed copies for a reasonably price. In fact, I first met [Page] at Sotheby's when he outbid me on a Crowley book that I wanted. Of course, he got it because he had enough money to have it."

Still from "Lucifer Rising"
Still from "Lucifer Rising."

"It had a checkered kind of history," Anger recalls about making the film. "People falling in and out of the project -- but I wouldn't give up on it. So I persisted. I took Marianne Faithfull to Egypt; I'd been there five times and I'd always managed well there. My cameraman was Michael Cooper, who was known by then as a still photographer. He shot the cover of (The Beatles') "Sgt. Pepper;" several of my friends have committed suicide. Michael was one of them (Nb. Cooper died of a heroin overdose in 1973)." About Cammell, the film's Osiris, he remembers, "Well, he was preoccupied with death...and then he killed himself. That seemed like a logical thing to do, because he was romantically interested in death. And so he put a bullet through his head -- which didn't surprise me, because he was always romantically inclined toward death."

Other Anger films from the Magick Lantern Cycle - a cavalcade of Anger's shorts from the 1950s through the 1970s - will also be screened alongside "Lucifer Rising." Magick - spelled with a "k," lest it be confused with the province of card sharks and escape artists - isn't the kind of simple-minded sorcery seen in the casting of spells that bewitches, say, Darrin Stephens into a goat by his mother-in-law Endora. But does magick still mean anything to Anger anymore? "Well, I refuse to answer that question," he states flatly. "Magick is...either you understand it and appreciate it, or it just passes you by. It isn't something you turn on and off -- either it's there, or it's not. It's there for me because I've studied the subject all my life and I don't need to impress anybody or show them tricks or anything."


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