Lucifer Rising (1972)

*. Sometimes obscurity can be a good thing. Ambiguity can be fertile, allowing for multiple interpretations of a movie’s meaning, which then draws us back to the same film again and again, finding something new or previously hidden every time.
*. A lot of experimental film is like this, where things are left deliberately vague and open-ended. This is particularly the case in short films that are image-driven. A movie without dialogue is, perforce, going to show and not tell.
*. This should be a credible defence of Lucifer Rising, a short film with no dialogue. We should feel at liberty to interpret it however we wish. But I don’t think that was Kenneth Anger’s plan.
*. Instead, I think the obscurity here is part and parcel of the film’s meaning. That is to say, it’s supposed to mean something. It’s just that what it’s supposed to mean remains obscure.
*. This isn’t all Anger’s fault. What the film consists of is a pastiche of scraps taken from various occult rituals. In order to make any sense out of it you’d have to know about Aleister Crowley (that’s his picture hanging on the wall) and his philosophy or religion of Thelema. Today, Thelema is even more obscure than it was at the time, and I’m not sure it’s worth boning up on for the help it’s going to be here.

*. The sense of the film being a kind of scrapbook is made even more pronounced by the way it was made. It was shot over a period of around four years, using talent that came and went, and then came again. Bobby Beausoleil, for example, was originally going to star, then fell out with Anger and got involved in the Manson cult. His footage still appears in the film though, and he also did the soundtrack when he re-connected with Anger after his (Beausoleil’s) conviction for the murder of Gary Hinman (he wrote the score in jail). Meanwhile, Jimmy Page, who was supposed to do the soundtrack, only appears in a brief cameo.
*. Are any of the cast meant to be “characters”? There aren’t a lot of credits. The way the roles are usually described don’t make much sense to me. How is Marianne Faithfull Lilith? Is the guy in the Lucifer jacket Lucifer? There’s actually a character named Chaos?
*. As with the cast, so with the locations. We start off in Egypt and the pyramids, then travel to the Externsteine in Germany. Then back to Egypt for the finale at the Temple of Karnak. All to illustrate . . . what? The coming of the Age of Aquarius? The Aeon of Horus? Is Horus going to come to Earth in a spaceship?
*. Well, this is obscure to be sure, but personally I don’t find it evocative of much of anything. In short, I don’t understand what’s going on. The opening scene has male and female priest figures (or perhaps they are Isis and Osiris) lifting their staffs of power in gestures that made me think of masturbation.
*. This leaves us with the most basic elements of colour, editing, and sound floating in a vacuum. The music isn’t my thing at all, but I did sort of like the overture to the volcano. There’s a garish use of colour but I didn’t find it that significant aside from the scene with the woman in grey rising from her riverside crypt, which is really very pretty. As for including so much nature footage, I again have to throw up my hands at what the point of it was. The elephant stepping on a cobra was cool, but was it meant to relate to God cursing the serpent (“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”)? Maybe. But . . . an elephant?
*. Anger is a highly individual taste. Lucifer Rising is generally considered one of his more accessible works, but it doesn’t do much for me. I don’t have that feeling of a work that’s opening up in front of me, revealing strange new seas of thought and feeling. Instead, it feels like a closed book in a made-up language. It’s very personal and even enjoyable at times, and I give it credit for this. But then so is a wank.

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