Issue 11 | July 2013July 22, 2013
The Postmodern Undead: A Review of Marc James Léger’s Neoliberal UndeadAugust 28, 2013
By Nick Hudson
We had gone along to see the first evening of A Weekend of Anger at ICA London (July 27th – 28th) – a two-day, chronologically-programmed retrospective on the entire ouevre (thus far..) of avant-garde cinema’s premier magus, Dr. Kenneth Anger. Spread over three hours, with a fifteen-minute interval and a brief introduction by Anger himself, we left the space exhausted and exalted by what may just be one of the most visually-dense collected outputs of any filmmaker.
Anger’s arresting, ritualised montages, loaded with multiple super-impositions and laser edits, are also beguiling portraits of a variety of counter-cultural milieu in which the 86-year-old director has participated across his sprawling career, from both the queer LA raconteur/socialite Samson DeBrier and muse of Bataille/Artaud, Anais Nin in Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome (1954) to Marianne Faithful and Donald Cammell in Lucifer Rising (1970-1981). One of Cammell’s earliest memories (at least within his accepted mythology – a capacity and impulse to self-perpetuate one’s own mythology is something he shares with Anger) is sitting on the knee of Aleister Crowley, 20th Century poet, Magickian, mountaineer and puckish provocateur. Anger would often cast his films subtextually – does this make them pseudo-documentarian…?!
The impact upon Anger’s work of Aleister Crowley (and Crowley’s Thelemic principle of life’s journey as a pure manifestation of one’s true will) is impossible to understate. Portraits of Crowley and related iconography are alluded to, recreated, and/or literally depicted within the films, and watching the entire collection of early works in one extended sitting I was quickly prone to delineating a loose narrative ‘template’. All of the films aside from three open with a protracted sequence wherein the protagonist adorns him/herself with jewels and the appropriate magickal attire before entering a secondary physical dimension in which the ritual is then enacted. Once within this dimension, psychoactive/alchemical stimulants (joints, cocktails…) are shared between the guests/aspirants as a precursor to a form of transcendence where identities are blurred – literally, courtesy of the aforementioned super-impositions – and all awareness of any concrete physical space is dissolved. As the editing rhythm accelerates and the super-impositional palimpsest increasingly declines to favour one predominant visual layer, we are drawn into a seductive and hallucinogenic nether-space.
Or in Crowleyian terminology, we are invited to cross The Abyss and seek an audience with The Secret Chiefs…
Prior to the screening, as Anger introduced the films, and during the interval, the dormant screen pulsed a warm crimson. I couldn’t help but suspect this part of Anger’s self-curatorial design. Ever the showman, why wouldn’t he want to be back-dropped in blood-red while introducing an oeuvre drenched in the Scorpionic currents of sex, death and resurrection?
I was honoured to speak very briefly with Anger during the interval. I gave him a copy of my record Letters To The Dead, and we spoke about the two songs used in Puce Moment (1949). Attributed to Jonathan Halper, the internet relinquishes virtually nothing. Anger told me that Halper had a very ‘brief musical spurt’ and subsequently repaired to a Scottish monastery, where he apparently still resides.