Greater and Lesser Magic: Occult Films for Halloween

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 (7:30pm)
5213 Grays Ave. Rm. 228

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome by Kenneth Anger

This Halloween, join us at Nightletter for an evening of films that plumb the depths of the esoteric from Aleister Crowley and witchcraft to satanic panic and illusion. The occult has been integral to cinema since its emergence at the height of 19th Century Spiritualism. And it came pre-packaged with all the ingredients for magik: a ritual in darkness, the illusions of sound, color and editing, and the conjuring of light.

Greater and Lesser Magic begins with Maya Deren’s Witch’s Cradle which was unfinished at the time of her death and then revived and completed from beyond the grave. Featuring Marcel Duchamp, the film makes common cause between the modernist disruption of dominant cultural values and the witchcraft beloved by the Haitian Voodoo trained filmmaker.

Brakhage’s Cat’s Cradle presents a sexual ritual featuring Carolee Schneemann, James Tenney, bathed in a ghostly reddish light. As if from the perspective of a black cat as spirit medium, the result is a sensory overload of rapid editing.

Kenneth Anger’s and Curtis Harrington’s films are platforms for Marjorie Cameron who, in the Los Angeles coven of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema movement, was destined to carry the reincarnated Whore of Babylon to term. The group, whose fingerprints are all over one-time member L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, performed sexual masquerade rituals which are dramatized in Anger’s film. Its frenzied colors and costuming vacillates between the best of Hollywood cinematography and complete abstraction. The Wormwood Star is a more straightforward spell, documenting Cameron in statuesque still lives as well as her symbolist paintings while her voiceover acts as a sort of incantation.

The program will also include a short selection of illusionist films by Georges Méliès.

The Wormwood Star was preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

Witch’s Cradle / Maya Deren / 1943 / 12 min / 16mm
Cat’s Cradle / Stan Brakhage / 1959 / 6 min / 16mm
The Wormwood Star / Curtis Harrington / 1956 / 10 min / 16mm
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome / Kenneth Anger / 1954 / 38 min / 16mm

Doors: 7:00pm.
Tickets: $8-10 at the door.