Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Don't Look Back in Anger

Kenneth Anger's chaotic relationship with British rock gods

A follower of Aleister Crowley's Thelema religion, Kenneth Anger's filmic influence can be seen in the emergence of the music video, and the work of David Lynch and John Waters.

SANTA-MONICA born Kenneth Anger is equal parts Aleister Crowley disciple, avant-garde filmmaker, and gay Hollywood gossipmonger. Fixated with fading silver screen stars and homosexual male icons, his scandalous tome Hollywood Babylon lifts the lid on an endless array of tinsel town drug abuse and depravity, stories of deviance and death that would befit The Great Beast himself. Anger considered Rolling Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Brian Jones - and Anita Pallenberg, who had been a lover to both musicians - to be at the centre of his provocative path. Perhaps the Stones themselves saw Anger as a possible conduit for the rebellious tone of the late 1960's, yet looking at the cover of their 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, it isn't absolutely clear how serious the group were taking the magus (the band wear sorcerer garb that would only suit a pantomime).

Anger's infamous film LUCIFER RISING is a mesmeric ritual charting the shift of Christianity (Aeon of Osiris) towards a demonic land (Aeon of Horus). Anger considers movies as spell-casters, "a transparent excuse for capturing people," but this subscribes to Crowley's religious cycles, looking at a post-anointed faith. Mick Jagger was intrigued by Anger, and how occultism had the potential to inspire counterculture. The filmmaker tried to convince The Stones talisman to take the role of Lucifer, but Jagger baulked and offered his brother Chris instead. The more famous Jagger composed a gratingly discordant moog score, which would be used in INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER, a short that salvages initial LUCIFER RISING footage and splices scenes from The Stones Hyde Park concert for what is essentially a film about a funeral for a cat. Donald Cammell was also cast as Osiris in LUCIFER RISING, together with Marianne Faithfull as Lilith and Jimmy Page in a cameo as "Man holding the Stella of Revelation." On set, Anger repeatedly argued with Chris Jagger, resulting in the latter being fired, and Faithful fell off a mountain, luckily sustaining only mild concussion.

Mick Jagger's score for INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER was created from a newly acquired Moog synth and it shows; it has the much the same effect as turning on the instrument and leaving it running.

The soundtrack to LUCIFER RISING is another contentious affair. Anger met Page at a London auction where they were both bidding for Crowley memorabilia. Anger convinced Page to compose the soundtrack for his film, with the rock star giving Anger permission to move into the basement of his London mansion to use his editing suite. In October 1976 Anger got into an argument with Page's then wife Charlotte, who threw him out for allegedly giving guided tours to strangers. The magus consequently labelled Page as a washed out musician unable to meet deadlines, and removed him from the project. In fact the Led Zeppelin guitarist had the soundtrack in place before he ever saw any footage; Page had extended an existing piece that he thought would fit the film, centred around a "majestic drone" on a bass tanpura acquired from India. He then used chants and assorted instrumentation to create a twenty-minute track that takes up one side of the 2012 release Lucifer Rising and Other Soundtracks.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Suffolk Saucer Attack


Steve Bissette's trading card on the Rendlesham alien envounter, featured in Kitchen Sink's "Saucer People" set of 1992. Bissette's illustration focuses on one of the many traits of this infamous 1980 UFO incident: the observation by American and British personnel of creatures suspended in beams of light working on their spaceship.

SHORTLY after Christmas 1980, Suffolk became the location of an apparent UFO crash; dubbed "the British Roswell," mystery still remains what actually happened in Rendlesham Forest, near RAF Woodbridge. At around 3.00am on the 26th of December, RAF Watton in Norfolk registered an "unknown" flying toward the coast. Disappearing from scopes in the vicinity of the forest, security police at the RAF base - then under the control of the USAF - saw lights fall from the sky. Patrolmen discovered a metallic object with "a pulsating red light on top and a bank of blue lights underneath ... hovering or on legs." Case studies are blighted by witness contradictions and disparities, particularly the extent of people involved: one maintains that before a second sighting, a large number of personnel gathered to await the UFO's arrival at a prearranged spot. Consequently, facts have been shrouded by exaggeration and misperception; UFO researcher Jacques Vallee has even suggested that the story was a complete fabrication to monitor servicemen's reactions to a potential alien attack.

Since the Autumn of 1980, Eastern England had been a hotspot of UFO activity. Incidents included strange lights over Fylingdales radar station and the NSA communications base at Menwith Hill, and even a police officer was reported abducted from his patrol car in Yorkshire. On Christmas Day, the British Astronomical Association stated that sightings of moving lights were in fact meteors and inert space debris; even on the 26th December, the RAF Watton "unknown" coincides with the passage of a bright meteor. Yet by the following day, stories had spread between the twin NATO bases at Woodbridge and Bentwaters of aliens, ground traces from their craft, strange marks left on trees, and significant increases of radiation. USAF airmen claimed that they discovered triangular depressions in the clearing where the UFO landed, yet British police officers noted that "the impressions were of no depth and could have been made by an animal." Similarly, the marks on the trees were in fact made by forester's axes identifying trees due to be felled.

If you go down to the woods today ... THE RENDLESHAM UFO INCIDENT creates some wonderfully ethereal images.

While the facts of the Rendlesham UFO encounter are still muddied thirty-five years on, explanations follow two main paths. As Jenny Randles notes in her piece 'Rendlesham Evolving Theories' in Fortean Times #204 (December 2005), "there are hints ... that conditions could have made the [nearby Orfordness] lighthouse look more mysterious and difficult to recognise. The trigger for this confusion may have been a mirage caused by the lighthouse beam shining through a patch of low mist, splitting the light and smearing it. Some of the military witnesses were using night vision scopes to observe the glow, and these can cause optical distortion effects." Another plausible theory is that the lights were caused by a "fireball" created by the rocket-body of Soviet satellite Cosmos 749 re-entered Earth's atmosphere around the same time. Indeed, it was subsequently revealed that twelve satellites decayed during the week of this particular UFO flap.

Daniel Simpson - who made the squatter-horror SPIDERHOLE in 2010 - filmed THE RENDLESHAM UFO INCIDENT without a formal script as HANGAR 10. The picture is shot in found footage style, following metal detector enthusiasts Gus (Robert Curtis) and Sally (Abbie Salt) in their quest for Saxon gold. Their expedition is shot by Jake (Danny Shayler), who captures incredible UFO footage while the three drift increasingly lost into MoD land. Eventually stumbling upon a disused military complex and linking tunnels, mutations of a spiky viral-fungus are revealed, and alien life itself. Found footage pictures are thematically disadvantaged by generic characters and sluggish pace; THE RENDLESHAM UFO INCIDENT suffers from both these factors, but is saved by its sound design (metallic groanings and aircraft screeches) and SPFX (allegedly achieved by Simpson on his laptop) which are refreshingly non-obscured and genuinely eerie. The sheer vastness of the forest is photographed effectively with washed-out tones, but Ufologists expecting a film steeped in Rendlesham folklore will be disappointed. Its triptych of protagonists, disillusioning movement and foreboding are more direct lifts from the picture's real inspiration, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.