By Irrum Ali, on 11 November 2014
Set among many enchanting and unusual artefacts, a timely post-Halloween showing of Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising felt perfectly at home at UCL’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Preceding this, PhD archaeology student Ethan Doyle White gave an insight into the film’s occult themes.
The talk explored Kenneth Anger’s background, a California-born filmmaker whose short, experimental films would prove to be of great influence over such ‘big name’ directors like Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, and who is also cited as an inspiration for the development of the music video.
Although well-known among experimental film buffs, Anger is hardly a household name, largely because his films revolve around two themes that were not exactly respectable in twentieth-century American culture: male homoeroticism and occultism.
Anger was a practitioner of an occult religion known as Thelema, which had been founded by the English occultist Aleister Crowley (notoriously dubbed the “wickedest man in the world” by the tabloid press of his own day) while on honeymoon in Egypt in 1904.
Allegedly inspired by a sacred text that Crowley claimed had been given to him by a supernatural entity, Thelema proclaimed that the twentieth-century marked the start of a new “Aeon of Horus”.
This would lead humanity to embrace an increasingly blasé attitude to life and morality, which had been marked by patriarchal control, and in turn had replaced the matriarchal “Aeon of Isis”.
As a Thelemite, Anger embraced Crowley’s ideas and tried to propagate them through his films, along the way picking up and using much of the ‘Egyptomania’ that characterised the faith.
The talk focused on looking at the ways in which Anger had used Ancient Egypt, as well as the archaeology and heritage of other past societies, in his films.
Doyle White cited four main examples: Eaux d’Artifice, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Thelema Abbey, and Lucifer Rising, to highlight how Anger took a great interest in occult and esoteric elements of the past, and how he also made use of the material culture of the past in presenting modern Thelemic ideas to his audience.
In particular, the discussion centred on Anger’s use of archaeological monuments: from Externsteine in Germany to Stonehenge and Avebury in England, and onto Giza, Karnak, and Luxor in Egypt, as settings for one of his best-known films – Lucifer Rising.
We were then treated to the trippy, psychedelic short film (at thirty minutes, one of his longest), which owed much to the hippie counter-culture that Anger believed to prove the “Aeon of Horus.”
Find out more about other events happening at the Petrie Museum: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/petrie/whats-on.
Ethan’s personal blog can be read here: http://ethandoylewhite.blogspot.co.uk/.