Back in the Summer of ’69

Jimi Hendrix performs “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York, 1969. You can hear the bombs, screams and ear-splitting jetfire of Vietnam in that guitar.

At first, I just figured I’d take a minute to mark the occasion of this country’s birth with the above clip of Hendrix’s string/mind/soul-bending rendition of the U.S. National Anthem.  It’s been almost exactly 40 years since the footage was shot at Woodstock, during late summer, in the astoundingly eventful year of 1969.

Then I got to thinking a bit more about 1969. Egads, what a dense historical American nerve cluster! Over the course of those twelve months, one seriously heavy, snaking cultural current swept humanity in some exhilarating and alarming directions. Countless aspects of life as we now know it were irrevocably changed, and it all happened overnight.

In a piece written recently for USA Today, cultural anthropologist Jeremy Wallach called 1969 “the apotheosis and decline of the counterculture” and Rob Kirkpatrick, author of 1969: The Year Everything Changed said: “I don’t think it’s even debatable. There’s an America before ’69, and an America after ’69.”

To give me and mah feller ‘Merkins something to chew on today besides corn on the cob, here’s a list of just a few of the country’s more momentous occurrences, circa 1969:

The whole world watched, breathless, as the lunar module Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon.  Dr. Denton Cooley successfully implanted the first temporary artificial heart in Texas. Four months after Woodstock, the infamously violent, miserable Altamont Free Concert was held at the Altamont Speedway in northern California, ostensibly bringing an end to the idealistic sixties. In NYC, the Stonewall riots kicked off the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.  Members of the Manson Family cult committed the Tate/LaBianca murders, horrifying Los Angeles and goading a prurient media circus. The first message was sent over ARPANET between UCLA and Stanford.  L. Ron Hubbard had his organization’s name officially changed to The Church of Scientology, and they started litigating. Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography and the Thoth Tarot Deck were both republished, and Kenneth Anger shot his lesser known –but deeply resonant– film Invocation of My Demon Brother. Barred from reentering the states to hold their planned New York City “Bed-In”, John Lennon and Yoko Ono relocated the event to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Quebec, where they recorded “Give Peace a Chance”.  Everybody got nekkid in the Broadway muscial production, Hair…

Dictionnaire Infernal (Demonographia)

Belzebuth (aka Belzebub, Beelzebuth), whose name means “lord of the flies” is prince of demons according to the Scriptures. Milton calls him foremost in power and crime after Satan, and most demonographers call him supreme chief of hell. Belzebuth is also known to rid harvests of flies. His favorite color is chartreuse.

Even if you’re not remotely interested in the occult, chances are you’ve been exposed to at least a few of the critters compiled in that hugely influential Dover collection, Treasury of Fantastic and Mythological Creatures; it’s been kicking around for decades. Several of the most fascinating and grotesque beasts contained therein are from a series of 19th century illustrations produced for Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy‘s Dictionnaire Infernal, aka, Demonographia. Louis Breton drew the set of 69 illustrations of various demons as described by Collin de Plancy, which were then engraved by one M. Jarrault.

Did you know that in addition to vomiting flames and commanding forty legions (most of these dudes seem to command an awful lot of legions… or, alternately, inflict lesions), the Egyptian deity Amon has the power to reconcile differences between friends? Or that Ukobach the Inferior, a lesser minion who maintains the oil in the infernal boilers of hell, also probably invented deep-frying? Is that wild? That is wild! Did you know that? I did not know that. Weird, wild stuff.

For a while, proper reprints of the grimoire were very difficult to obtain. In fact, they’re still pretty pricey, but you can download the entire book in PDF form (in fairly good quality).

Furfur: a count of hell who rules 26 legions. He appears as an angel or a stag with a flaming tail and speaks only lies unless enclosed in a triangle. He speaks in a raucous voice. Furfur sustains marriage, can cause thunderstorms, and speaks on abstract things. He has also been known, on occasion, to “get Yiffy wid’ it.”

Several more frisky demons and (paraphrased) descriptions from Demonographia after the jump.

LA: Win Three Tickets to Kenneth Anger Tonight!

The film above, Rabbits’ Moon, was Kenneth Anger’s 1979 tribute to classic themes of love and folly, as influenced by Kabuki theater as well as commedia dell’arte. Japanese folklore’s Moon Rabbit is a symbol of self-sacrifice, not unlike Pierrot The Fool. Pierrot suffers at the whims of Columbine while Harlequin enjoys the show. This seven-minute film took twenty years to complete and its original score included music from The Capris, Mary Wells and Jamie Cullum among others. Anger, [Lucifer Rising, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, author of Hollywood Babylon] one of the world’s greatest experimental filmmakers, is presenting five of his films tonight at the very intimate RedCat Theater.

A towering figure of American avant-garde cinema since the mid-1940s, Kenneth Anger has posited himself at the junction of pop and underground culture, occultism and rock music. Tonight’s screening presents an array of works in which Anger subjects different ideologies and subcultures to his incisive vision and the uncanny re(de)constructive power of his editing skills. Ich Will (2008, 35 min.) montages newsreels from the Nazi era to Bruckner’s music. Mouse Heaven (2005, 12 min.) “does for Mickey Mouse what Scorpio Rising did for neo-Nazi biker gangs,” according to the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Elliott’s Suicide (2007, 15 min.) is an elegy for the late Elliott Smith, while I’ll Be Watching You (2007, 4:52 min.) and Foreplay (2008, 7 min.) explore two different forms of male bonding: sex in an underground parking structure and a soccer team’s training session. The program concludes with the seminal Scorpio Rising (1963, 29 min., 35mm), whose hallucinatory and campy communing with pop culture fetishes (chrome-trimmed choppers, James Dean, zippers, Jesus) has been an enduring avant-garde crowd pleaser.

I have three two [all gone, sorry peeps!] complimentary tickets available to the first three humans to write me with their emails titled “Anger!”. The presentation begins at 8:30 pm – don’t delay!

The Dunwich Horror: Sweet… Horrendipity?

Quoth the Kaoru: it’s almost Halloween, which is basically Goth Christmas. Well, in that case, we’d better start dishing out the holiday goodies. First up, a heaping, tentacular helping of The Dunwich Horror:

Ganked from the excellent Nightchillers site, thanks.

If you’ve never seen this campy Corman-produced adaptation of Lovecraft’s famous tale, you might want to Netflix it in time for your pumpkin-carving party.* Produced and shot in 1969 in the immediate wake of Manson Family shenanigans, it’s often pooh-poohed by Lovecraft purists for being too cornball. But in my opinion, Dunwich Horror is actually one of the better adaptations of old Howard P’s oeuvre** with its sumptuous matte paintings, capable-if-hokey performances from the cast, a beautiful score by Les Baxter, and a couple of genuinely creepy moments. Lovecraft stories lend themselves really well to the pyschedelic era.

Yes, he really did just say “horrendipity.”

Starring Dean “Uh Oh, Sam” Stockwell in his most brooding role short of Yueh in Dune, a rather weary-faced-but-supposedly-virginal Sandra Dee, and the even wearier-faced Ed Begley (his final role, R.I.P.), Dunwich Horror is worth renting for the gorgeous animated title sequence alone. Other highlights: the sight of young, yog-sothothelytizing Stockwell’s torso covered in pseudo-runic sharpie scribbles, Sam Jaffe’s “GET OFF MY LAWN” geezerdom, and Gidget clenching her butt in the throes of orgasm on the altar at Devil’s Hopyard.

Other Coilhouse posts of possible interest:

*Or if you’re really cheap, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.
**Not that that’s saying much, really. Other than ReAnimator, what’ve we got that’s not just crotch-punchingly horrid? Hmmm, let’s see… actually, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at any of these: The Resurrected, Die Monster Die, The Unnameable, that Night Gallery episode Pickman’s Model, and the amazing Call of Cthulhu indie movie that came out recently. Can you guys think of any others? A great suggestion from commenter Jack: Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome’s Surreal Ritual

Above is Kenneth Anger‘s 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome in its entirety. A film critic friend pointed me to it, with the simple statement “it’s weird, you’ll like it.” This came up along with news that Anger, 81, is terminally ill.

In some ways this seems a film out of time. It presages ’60s psychedelica (and would be re-released in a “sacred mushroom” version in 1966), yet the style is enmeshed in the occult revival of the fin de siècle. Watching it the first time, I couldn’t but see it as a glimpse into an alternate universe where the silent film era never ended and Aleister Crowley took the world by storm instead of dying in a flophouse.

With its lush array of images and allusions, Pleasure Dome is made to be unraveled – and indeed, there’s plenty of theories about it out there. Filmmaker Maximilian Le Cain sees communion, and writes “the movement of the film is essentially the passing of the gifts from one guest to another as they advance into a state of transpersonal ecstasy.” But film critic Doug Pratt perceives a hollow heart in the same revels: “an appropriately decorated Hindu-like myth re-enactment, with its spiritual core utterly rotted away; a disturbed revelry of desperate souls clinging to the outdated fashions and orgiastic memories of their lost time.”

Which is it? The absurdity’s there. Yes, that’s Anais Nin with a birdcage on her head. Yes, the Scarlet Woman gets her cigarette lit in the middle of the damn thing. Yes, jewelry gets guzzled in copious amounts.

But like any good ritual experience, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Turn the lights off, watch deeply, let the images pile up and hear Janá?ek’s Glagolitic Mass swell in the background: the whole scene takes on a strange, unexpected power.

The works of Kenneth Anger on Amazon

Aleister Crowley – Grandfather of George Bush?

George W. Bush’s grandmother, Pauline Pierce, was a remarkable woman known for her “extravagant tastes.” In the 1920s, she adventured in France with writers Frank Harris and Aleister “The Wickedest Man in the World” Crowley; this much, we know, is fact.

During this time period, Crowley was dealing in sex magick – really, when wasn’t he? – and in 1924, possibly with Pauline at his side, he underwent “the Supreme Ordeal,” an important and mysterious rite which, clues from his diary suggest, may have been an orgiastic extravaganza of carnal debauchery. That same year, Pauline returned to the United States. In 1925, she gave birth to Barbara Bush. That’s the short version of the story. Read the long one, complete with diary excerpts from Crowley, here (via Jerem).

I want to believe!

EDIT: Aww, as Mr. Dowson points out in the comments, this was an April Fools’ Hoax! And thus, George W. Crowley-Bush rides unicornback into the Sunset of Too-Good-To-Be-True, where feejee mermaids, Cottingley fairies, and Milli Vanilli wave to him in greeting. Granpaw Crowley is there too; he buys him balloons and together they go to watch The Big Donor Show on the telly. All is well.

The Wisdom of Madeline von Foerster

“In The Garden” by Madeline von Foerster

I believe there is still time to make a new myth. There is still a chance for imagination to rise to power.
~Madeline von Foerster

The mystical paintings of Madeline von Foerster invoke names like Van Eyck, Brueghel, Bosch, Remedios Varo, Ernst Fuchs. It’s vibrant, multi-layered work, filled with Occult and Medieval symbolism and rendered in the painstaking egg tempera oil tradition of the Flemish Old Masters. Ageless, yet thematically timely, scholarly but always deeply personal, hers is simply some of the most moving work in the medium that I’ve seen from anyone of my generation.

I remember the first time I viewed the following self-portrait at a gallery showing in midtown NYC:

“Self Portrait (Trepanation)” 2005 by Madeline von Foerster

It’s a fairly large piece, 34″ x 42″ (not including the lavish frame, which she constructed and painted as well). If you’re familiar with the technique of egg tempera, closely examining a painting like this can be mind-boggling… all of those smoothly-placed, minuscule brush strokes, patiently layered, culminating in subjects that can only be described as having an unearthly inner glow. The enigmatic subject matter of trepanation thrilled me as well.

It was your typical overcrowded NYC gallery opening. Plenty of cheap wine and fabulously dressed people, all talking a little too loudly over one another. Then there was Madeline, standing off to one side, as gracious, elegant and mysterious as one of her paintings. Since that time, I’ve come to know her as one of those exceedingly rare examples of a person whose life reflects purely in their art.

Some of her recent work is currently up in a group show at the Strychnin Gallery in London. Take a peek at it and some other pieces behind the cut.