“The montage of hermetic symbols becomes first dreamlike, then menacing; centuries of mystical thought are distilled into a series of voyeuristic fantasies, a kinky psychodrama backed by the carnival strains of a maleficent calliope. Anger intended Lucifer Rising to stand as a form of ritual marking the death of the old religions like Judaism and Christianity, and the ascension of the more nihilistic age of Lucifer.”–Mikita Brottman in “Moonchild: The Films of Kenneth Anger”
DIRECTED BY: Kenneth Anger
PLOT: Lava erupts and the goddess Isis awakens, calling to her husband Osiris. In a room far away a man wakes up, sits on a throne in his apartment and somehow spears a woman in a forest far away, then climbs into a bathtub to wash off the blood. Later, the moon awakens the goddess Lilith, a magick ritual summons Lucifer, and flying saucers appear over Luxor, Egypt.
- Anger originally shot a film called Lucifer Rising (A Love Vision) in 1966, which starred Bobby Beausoleil as Lucifer. Anger claimed that Beausoleil stole most of the completed footage and hid it; the star contended that Anger merely ran out of money to complete the movie. Anger then took out an obituary-style ad in The Village Voice announcing his retirement from filmmaking. Whatever the case, Anger incorporated some of the surviving footage from the original Lucifer into Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969).
- Anger began working on the project again in 1970 and completed the first cut of Lucifer Rising in 1973, with a score by Jimmy Page. After a falling out with Page he had the movie re-scored by Bobby Beausoleil.
- Beausoleil was a Haight-Ashbury musician who came under Anger’s influence during the Summer of Love. After his falling out with Anger the musician joined Charles Manson’s “Family.” He murdered music teacher Gary Hinman in 1969 over a drug deal gone wrong, and was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Anger contacted him to create the music for Lucifer Rising, and he wrote and recorded the score from prison. The band heard on the soundtrack is comprised of his fellow inmates.
- Lucifer Rising was completed with funds from the National Film Finance Corporation of Great Britain, prompting some controversy about state funding of a “devil film.” Anger also received financial assistance from the Germany’s Hamburg Television and the U.S.’s National Endowment for the Arts.
- Anger did not complete the editing on the final cut until 1981, a decade after work was begun.
- In one of the film’s final scenes there is a long shot of the Colossi of Memnon in Upper Egypt. If you look hard you can see a puff of smoke rising in the distant background. According to Anger, this came from him ceremonially burning the film’s script because the work was now complete.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The orange UFO flying over the crumbling columns of the Temple of Luxor, then peeking over the shoulder of the colossal ancient statue of Ramses II.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Egyptian gods and goddesses frolicking through a magickal psychedelic landscape, summoning Lucifer and flying saucers.
Trailer for “The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 2 (including clips and music from Lucifer Rising)
COMMENTS: A shaggy-haired man in a robe of many colors caresses a stone column. A woman in a gray robe approaches him from behind, touches him on the arm, then backs away. The man is Chris (brother of Mick) Jagger, and this is the only time his character appears in Lucifer Rising. On the DVD commentary Kenneth Anger explains, “he was supposed to play the high priest in my film, but he proved to be too difficult… I had to send him home because he kept asking ‘What does it mean?’ Everything had to mean something to him in his logical mind, and I told him it doesn’t matter what it means, that it matters to me, not to you… If I really wanted to continue with him, I could have made up some story… but the whole thing, the meaning is too complex and deep. Or simple, if you’re an initiate; it’s almost like a childish fairytale…”
Here are a few of the moments in Lucifer Rising that may have stymied the logical-minded Jagger. The opening shot of an Icelandic volcano erupting at dawn. A bare-breasted Egyptian goddess reclining on a giant statue, watching a baby crocodile emerge from an egg with glee. A man in a robe of pyramids and eyes who wakes up one morning, sits on an Egyptian throne in his apartment, suddenly becomes naked and spears a woman walking in a distant forest, then climbs into a bubble bath to wash off the blood that has drenched him. Marianne Faithfull in pallid gray makeup, awakened from her coffin by the moon. Hooded men with torches walking up stone stairs in the moonlight. An elephant stepping on a cobra. Anger himself dressed in a red wizard’s cap running around a magical circle in super fast motion. A man appearing in a satin bowling jacket with the word “Lucifer” spelled out on the back in rainbow colors (a joke and a nod to the opening credits of Anger’s Scorpio Rising) who sits on a throne and shuffles Tarot cards while staring ahead blankly. A shot of a woodcut of a satyr copulating with a goat. Lucifer receiving a birthday cake that dissolves into an explosion. A shot of cattle in a field caught in a thunderstorm. Donald Cammel as Osiris with his face painted green. A giant, green, living Martian idol, in front of which naked pink people dance. And, of course, Egyptian gods waving their ankhs to summon orange flying saucers.
Jagger shouldn’t have worried; in the final cut, Anger’s cinematics sell the craziness and make logical objection pointless. The photography is magically entrancing, from the primordial erupting lava and bubbling mud to the sandy idols of ancient Egypt, shot against blue skies from low angles to honor their magnificence. Images of pyramids and eyes recur hypnotically throughout the long montage. The costuming, sets and makeup are colorful, curious and occult; there are no characters, every actor is transformed into an archetype shuffling mysterious symbols around a mythic chessboard. The opening scenes are meditative but grow more fractured and experimental as the film progresses, until the flying saucer climax when the film blinks in epileptic negative images like apocalyptic lightning flashes. Add to this the murderer’s score from Bobby Beausoleil, with its growling blues licks and swelling synthesizers, trance organs and trumpet interludes, which both complements and drives the action. It’s a masterful accompaniment that expresses all the repressed loneliness of an angry, caged soul briefly granted leave to roam the fields of imagination, desperate to make its moment of reprieve and redemption count.
Like the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Lucifer Rising is filled with esoteric symbolism that may have little significance to anyone besides Anger. To understand the “meaning” of the film in every particular as the director understands it may not be fruitful; it may actually damage the universality of the imagery. To get a basic grasp of the specific mythology Anger is working with, realize that he is a devotee of the occultist Aleister Crowley (whose portrait briefly appears on a wall). Crowley taught that humanity passed through three ages (or “aeons”), symbolically ruled by the Egyptian gods Isis, Osiris, and Horus. He believed that the twentieth century was the end of the age of Osiris (also identified with Christ), and that the age of Horus was about to come. (Crowley claimed to have all this revealed to him by the “angel” Aiwass, who dictated it to him in a tome called The Book of the Law). Anger sees this third age as dawning in his lifetime, signaled by the social tumult of the 1960s, and celebrates the destruction of the old repressive Judeo-Christian order and the coming of a new, creative age with Lucifer Rising. To Anger, Horus is the same archetypal figure as Lucifer—whom he identifies not with the Christian devil, but etymologically as the “bringer of light” associated with Venus, the morning star. Therefore, in the film we first see Isis, who summons Osiris, and together they summon Lucifer. Confusing matters, Anger also throws the Jewish figure of Lilith (who he explains was the rejected consort of Lucifer/Horus) into the parade of deities. Oh, and flying saucers, too.
Few readers are likely to give much credit to Anger’s belief that an angel appeared to Aleister Crowley and correctly predicted a changing of the god guard. It’s not certain that Anger literally believes this to be true. At any rate, we do not have to literally believe that God sent his only Son to Earth to suffer for mankind’s sins in order to be moved by a Christ allegory; such stories ultimately deal with deeper universal themes of love and sacrifice. Similarly, whether we actually believe in Lucifer Rising‘s mythology, we still respond instinctively to the theme of creative transformation it evokes through its depiction of the shifting of the cosmos’ tectonic plates. And even Anger does not limit himself to a strict doctrinal interpretation of his work, but allows mystery to play around the edges. Explaining that he put the UFO in Lucifer Rising because the crew actually sighted such an apparition during production but failed to capture it on film, he confesses, “I’m glad I don’t know what it means, because it’s a mystery… That’s what makes life fascinating to me. I certainly don’t want the answers to everything.” Wise words, from a perverse Magus.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Although Lucifer Rising is only as meaningful as the amount you are willing to read into it, its dreamlike sleepwalk though ancient Gods and tenets does captivate for the admittedly brief duration.”–Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image
IMDB LINK: Lucifer Rising (1972)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Look Back with Kenneth Anger – Anger discusses Lucifer Rising (along with his other works) in this rare 1997 interview with Films in Review magazine
Lucifer, Arisen – A journalistic portrait of Bobby Beausoleil by San Francisco Weekly‘s Lessley Anderson, focusing on the soundtrack to Lucifer Rising; it also details the bad craziness of Haight Ashbury in the 1960s, and Anger comes off poorly
956 (98). Lucifer Rising (1972, Kenneth Anger) – Shooting Down Pictures, a blog covering They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?‘s “1000 Greatest Films” list, compiles a large selection of quotes about Lucifer Rising
Kenneth Anger – Video of Anger relating an anecdote about Bobby Beausoleil at a London Q&A in 2006
“Hymn to Lucifer” by Aleister Crowley – The short poem that may have inspired Lucifer Rising
DVD INFO: Lucifer Rising is officially available on two compilations released by Fantoma. The first is The Complete Magick Lantern Cycle (buy), a 2-disc collection containing all of Anger’s completed films (and some incomplete ones) up to his temporary retirement in 1981. The set contains commentaries by Anger, demonstrations of the restoration of each film, outtakes from Rabbit’s Moon, the director’s 2002 documentary on Crowley’s artwork called The Man We Want to Hang, and a booklet with stills and appreciative essays from Guy Maddin, Martin Scorsese and Gus van Sant.
Anger’s 1963-1981 films, including Lucifer Rising, are available separately on the single disc The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 2 (buy, reviewed by us separately here). It’s essentially disc 2 of the Complete set. Both collections are out-of-print but widely available; when we checked prices, Vol. 2 was going for about the same cost as the The Complete Magick Lantern Cycle.
(This movie was nominated for review by “Funkadelic,” who called it a “film from an era when people were doing drugs to make movies to do drugs to” and said it “reminds me of a longer, darker version the Easy Rider LSD trip scene with crappy music.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)