With classics, the thing to keep in mind is: what looks like a cliché, today, was once fresh as the morning dew. It’s also a cliché to poke fun at vintage film, for being terminally old-school. Yes, the temptation is almost irresistible. But Anger and Deren and Harrington and filmmakers of their ilk were the cutting edge. They invented some special effects that had never been done before, and did many things for the very first time; and to get the full effect, you need the first-time eye. The key to real appreciation of this material is, surrender to it like a virgin. Roll one, and let yourself sink into the celluloid weirdness.
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, for instance, is definitely a stoner movie. It goes slow for the modern audience, but it’s a trip. Kenneth Anger made this 38-minute film in 1954, financed by an inheritance. One of its interesting aspects is the numerous incarnations it has gone through. Some people think the first sound track was by Harry Partch, but it wasn’t, really. The second version, distributed through 1966, was synched to the Glagolitic Mass by Leos Janacek. This version can be seen and heard via Google Video. YouTube offers another version with different music than what Anger used, and the title, for some inexplicable reason, changed to Inauguration of the Crushed Velvet Pleasure Dome. Yet another source mentions seeing the film at a screening with sound by the Electric Light Orchestra. One edition carries a dedication to Aleister Crowley, and the revised 1966 version is known as the Sacred Mushroom edition. During what are called the Sixties, it was popular on or near university campuses.
Subtitled “Lord Shiva’s Dream,” the film was conceived at a costume party thrown by Renate Druks, a friend of Anais Nin (of incestuous and erotic literature fame, though she did so much more.) The theme of the bash was “come as your madness,” and director Kenneth Anger was so inspired, he brought several of the participants to the home of a friend who not only had the space to play around with, but owned a houseful of costumes and props. In the film, Druks plays Lilith, and Nin plays Astarte, with her head in a birdcage. (Don’t ask.)
The owner of the house, sets, props, and outfits was Samson De Brier (or Sampson, as he is credited in the film), and he portrays five of the iconic, mythological characters. Kenneth Anger himself appears, in a female role (Hecate) and fellow filmmaker Curtis Harrington is the slave, which seems to be the guy in whiteface who passes out the party favors. There’s a blond youth so smoothly and coldly handsome, he could be an android. This may be the character called Ganymede, or the one called Pan, or both, or neither. Even with some scholarly application, it’s hard to figure out who is what.
Two roles are played by the strange and dangerous woman known as Cameron. She was one of those people who seem to show up in unexpected places, and to be absent from expected places.
The 1960s edit is said to have been accomplished with the help of Bobby Beausoleil, who is said to have been Anger’s housemate in the flourishing Haight-Ashbury days. Beausoleil means “beautiful sun” and he was a memorably angelic specimen of young manhood. He went on to become a follower of Charlie Manson and was imprisoned for life after he killed a music teacher. Beausoleil’s own music, however, carried on. Ten years later, he scored Anger’s film Lucifer Rising. This was remarkable for two reasons, the first being that Beausoleil managed to record the sound track in a studio inside a penitentiary. Also, before going to prison, he had stolen and destroyed most of the footage Anger had shot for Lucifer Rising, and the filmmaker had to start all over again. But ten years later, the old friends made up and Beausoleil wrote and performed the music.
Anger’s whole crowd was heavily into witchcraft, warlockism, magic, magick, and conjuring. Later on, he became known for his influence over the hearts and minds of the Rolling Stones, whose 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request resulted from that intellectual and spiritual collaboration.