Reviews / December 19, 2018
After many years of dabbling in snippets, I finally watched all 29 minutes of Kenneth Anger’s cult occult film Lucifer Rising. Shot between 1966 and 1972 but not distributed until 1980, the short is about, according to the director in 1966, “the Rebel Angel behind what’s happening in the world today,” and the inception of a liberatory new age founded on Aleister Crowley’s maxim that “the Key of Joy is Disobedience.” While there are a number of striking images in Lucifer Rising—Anger is a founding figure in independent, experimental, and gay cinema—the most compelling feature of the film is its soundtrack. In keeping with the satanic theme, it was composed by former Manson Family member and convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil while in prison.
Briefly, here is how it all happened. Anger originally offered Beausoleil the role of Lucifer, and Beausoleil accepted, under the condition that he be able to score the soundtrack. Anger agreed, and filming began in 1966, while Beausoleil was living with the director in a ramshackle Victorian house on Haight-Ashbury. The two had a falling out in 1967, and Beausoleil moved to Los Angeles. Anger went off to London shortly thereafter, where he met Mick Jagger and asked him to play Lucifer. Jagger passed, but did write a soundtrack one night using his new Moog. Both Jagger’s score and the extant footage of Beausoleil were used in Anger’s 11-minute Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969). Jagger’s brother Chris, at Mick’s suggestion, ended up being cast as “the bringer of light,” and Lucifer Rising was shot, haphazardly, between 1970 and 1972.
Once again, however, Anger had no music. But in 1973 he met Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page at a Sotheby’s auction in London, where both were bidding on an Aleister Crowley manuscript (or personal item; the story changes). The two got along, Anger asked him to do the soundtrack, and Page started working on some ideas at his home studio in Scotland’s secluded Boleskine House, Crowley’s former residence. By 1976, Page still had no complete film to view, and Anger, who had been kicked out of Page’s London home by the musician’s girlfriend, Charlotte Martin, accused Page publicly of being washed up. (The Page soundtrack, a droning ambient affair, was first released in 1987.) There are different versions of what happened next, but the most likely scenario is that Beausoleil learned about the break with Page, which was publicized in the music press, and wrote Anger from Tracy Prison in Northern California offering to complete the job he had wanted all along. Anger gave him $3000, and the soundtrack was completed in 1979. A limited release LP containing Beausoleil’s complete recordings followed in 1980.
While Lucifer Rising (and all of the Anger films I’ve seen) contains a great deal of kitsch and ostentation, Beausoleil’s music has a sinister, ethereal, interdimensional majesty that is entirely convincing, despite a few sloppy moments that are inevitable given the limited and regimented practice time (a number of his fellow inmates contributed to the project; Beausoleil called them the Freedom Orchestra). In effect, it’s the music, not the film, that delivers on Anger’s revolutionary premise. Beausoleil ended up building much of the equipment and many of the instruments himself, and devised some extraordinary sounds combining processed guitar, EBow, keyboards, and effects pedals. While clearly drawn from the harmonic minor psych-rock of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd, particularly 1972’s Live at Pompeii, there are jazz and ambient flourishes as well, including brilliant use of trumpet and the Fender Rhodes.
Beasoleil, writing in 2014, described his mindset during the experience:
When I composed and recorded the soundtrack for a re-conceptualized Lucifer Rising a decade later I drew upon my own life experiences to tell the story in music evocative of the mythical Lucifer awakening from his pit of despair, rekindling his torch, and rising like a phoenix from the ashes of his own unmaking.
One of the life experiences he’s referring to is the torture and murder of a music teacher and his former roommate, Gary Hinman. When Beausoleil moved out of Anger’s San Francisco pad in 1967, he traveled south and got involved with Manson and his cult in Los Angeles, playing guitar on what would become Manson’s first LP, 1970’s LIE: The Love and Terror Cult. On July 25, 1969, Manson sent Beausoleil to Hinman’s Topanga Canyon home, either to recoup $1,000 for bad drugs or steal a rumored inheritance. Beausoleil held him hostage and beat him for three days while Hinman repeatedly insisted that he had no money. At one point, Manson arrived briefly with a sword, slashing Hinman’s face and nearly cutting his ear in two. Manson gave the order on late Sunday, and Beausoleil stabbed Hinman twice in the heart with a Bowie knife, wrote “POLITICAL PIGGY” on the wall in Hinman’s blood (an attempt to implicate the Black Panthers), and fled in one of Hinman’s cars. He was picked up a week later by the police, passed out in the same car.
“I killed a man by the name of Gary Hinman by stabbing him twice,” Beausoleil told the commissioner at his 2008 parole hearing. “That’s the bare bones facts of it. I didn’t have a very good reason. In fact, the reason that I had that seemed so important at the time was petty. It’s selfish.” This was the first murder attributed to the Manson Family, who he has defended since his conviction. He believes—and he may be right—that the eight murders Manson subsequently ordered were meant to avert suspicion from Beausoleil.
Probably it’s a coincidence, but there is a scene in Lucifer Rising where a High Priest (Chris Jagger, who Anger fired mid-production) spears and kills a woman running through a forest, and is afterwards seen clutching a dagger drenched and dripping with blood. (An organ shimmers, cymbals pile, a guitar flange oscillates like a theremin.) He is naked, and blood smears his body. Blankly, he climbs into a bathtub, lays down, and plunges himself under the water. He is then reborn (The darkly melodic theme resounds on the low register of Beausoleil’s guitar) into a High Priestess (Marianne Faithfull), who summons Lucifer. The “birthday party for the Aquarian Age,” the “age of the child,” the age of selfish disobedience, has begun.