Within months after arriving in my new home, Mexico City, I was delighted to learn that Kenneth Anger would be speaking there at the Filmoteca of the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) He was scheduled to comment on projected extracts from Eisenstein’s unfinished masterpiece Que Viva Mexico in addition to speaking about his own work. Anger had worked on re-assembling the footage to Eisenstein’s film at the French Cinemateque together with its director Henri Langlois when he lived in Paris in the 1950s. He stated that day at the Filmoteca that the fact that Eisenstein was not able to finish Que Viva Mexico is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.
Given the importance (in my mind) of Anger’s presence in this metropolis I managed to interview him for an article later published in the Mexico City daily English language newspaper, The News. My title for the article was Anger in Mexico which didn’t go over well with the editor and it was changed to something more generic. In the interview I had brought up the fact that his first film Fireworks was considered one of the first underground films with a gay theme. I was surprised when he said the film was in fact inspired by the Zoot Suit riots in L.A. in the 1940s, which were a series of race riots in which US servicemen, off duty police and civilians attacked anyone wearing a zoot suit ie; blacks and latinos.
At the end of his presentation Anger kindly autographed a photogram from Scorpio Rising and I asked if I might accompany him back to his hotel a few blocks away. We were in the Centro Histórico and our walk took us past the Aztec temple of the winds now entombed under the cathedral and across the magnificent Zocalo or main square once the site of so many pagan rituals in pre Columbian Mexico. I had a super 8 camera with me and asked Kenneth If I could film him walking across the Zocalo. He replied “That isn’t necessary”.
I knew it wasn’t necessary but I brazenly filmed anyway. Resulting in an underexposed but unmistakable silhouette in the twilight. He told me how important it was to always travel with bottled water. I agreed and said in Mexico that was all we drank. We eventually said our goodbyes at the entrance to his hotel El Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico, around the corner from the Zocalo.
Our paths would cross again some 10 years later when old friend Elio Gelmini asked me to score his documentary on Kenneth Anger titled Anger Me. Elio had flown Kenneth from his home in LA to Toronto where he filmed hours of interviews with the filmaker. Sometime later Elio told me he would go to Aleister Crowley’s temple Thelema inCefalu, Sicilia near Palermo to film Kenneth on location and asked if I wanted to come along to help with the sound recording. As luck would have it I was in Europe at the time with Tuxedomoon and managed to change my plane ticket and fly to Milano where Elio picked me up in a rented car and we drove to Roma to pick up Kenneth Anger at Fiumicino Airport. I spotted him in the crowd of people coming out of the baggage claim. He was disoriented and walking in circles and I was reminded of a similar scene in one of his films.
We drove him to his hotel in the center of Roma near Colle Oppio near the coliseum. The next day we began the 10 hour drive to Palermo. For the entire trip Kenneth sat bolt upright in the back seat never uttering a word. Later Elio would tell me Kenneth was way beyond bipolar and had good days and bad. In Palermo we checked into the Hotel La Giara.
Crowley’s temple was a few km outside town. Elio knew the way and so we arrived at a non- descript wooden frame house overgrown with weeds near a parking lot. The word “Temple” seemed ludicrous. Kenneth had been there 50 years earlier when he worked at restoring the murals Crowley had painted on every surface of the houses interior. Anger is a life-long disciple of Crowley whom he called a “good travel companion through life”.
Elio had brought a small generator to provide light inside the dark temple to film Kenneth giving a tour. At the main entrance he explained that there had been a large magic circle inscribed on the floor, as this was a working temple for the O.T.O.
The floor is now covered in rubble and debris. The temple/monastery didn’t last long (1920-23) but was intended for the study of magick and meditation and yoga. It’s amusing to think that these last two subjects were once considered by many to be very exotic if not outright sinister and were the domain of people like Aleister Crowley. In La Chambre de Cauchemares, Crowley’s bedroom, there were still small parts of his murals visible, though most had been unfortunately painted over with green oil paint, and Anger explained it would be a major work to restore the original paintings beneath.
When he had come in 1955 he removed the whitewash from the murals, which the locals had painted and although it took several weeks, it was a far less arduous task. He said that at that time Alfred Kinsey the sexologist had come to see, at Kenneth’s invitation, the vivid sexual imagery in the paintings. As Elio filmed and I held the boom mic overheard, Kenneth commented on what little of the mural we could still see. Here was the Scarlet Woman, he said, Crowley’s mistress, engaging in a sexual act with a goat, now only the legs of the two were visible.
A line from a poem; “Stab your demonic smile to my brain fill me with cognac, xxxx, and cocaine”. Nearby a life-size black woman painted with a large phallus coming up between her legs, stands beneath a yellow cyclops Crowley called the “Eternal Idol”. There were heads called “dog faced demons” painted around the base of the wall and Kenneth explained that these would have watched over the edge of Crowley’s bed which lay close to the floor. Still visible is a coiled cobra, a sacred animal for Crowley. Anger pointed out the 6 toed blue foot, all that remains of Aiwass, Crowley’s guardian angel. Anger explained that Crowley had been inspired by Gauguin who had covered the interior of his house in Tahiti with painting. He said that there in the Temple of Thelema it must have been stunning to have seen the original murals throughout the house with their colourful fantastic creatures and magical incantations.
Crowley was expelled from Italia by Mussolini in 1923. Already in a sorry state in 2004 when we visited the temple, today the house is all but a ruin. It seems the local folk were never interested, or still too superstitious to preserve what could have been a potentially lucrative tourist attraction.
Kenneth is 95 years old and still active.
At the request of Kenneth, the short film of Kenneth Anger at the Abbey in Cefalu was not included in Elio Gelmini’s excellent documentary Anger Me (2006)
This page is dedicated to Grace de la Luna in gratitude for all her hard work in putting the elements of mystery together in a productive and magical way.