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Maya Deren in At Land

Maya Deren in At Land

Initially, Deren starred in her own films with Sasha Hammid as cinematographer. Although James Agee found Deren’s acting “solemnly, arrogantly, distressingly pretentious and arty,” the majority of critics disagree. At any rate, the director soon reached the limits imposed by the one-actor film. In her opinion, professional actors were devoid of personality. For this reason and also to suit her nonexistent budget, the later films used amateur actors recruited from the ranks of her acquaintances. She would phone friends to demand their presence in Central Park, Skid Row, or Yonkers at seven o’clock the next morning, promising to pay the taxi fares with money they both knew she didn’t have.

The making of Ritual in Transfigured Time was a grueling ordeal for the impromptu cast. Deren kept a large crowd under the lights for twelve hours, simulating a party scene, until many were exhausted and on the verge of hysteria. After all this effort, Anais Nin was shocked at the result, which she found grotesque, meaningless, alienating, and an artistic failure. She blamed “Maya’s ruthlessness with people” for rendering her vision cruel and distorted. Gore Vidal, also a cast member, says the bottom line is that “Maya made Anais look old.” To the protests of all her disappointed friends, Deren’s reply was, “That is why I made you sign a release. You will get over it.”

Another incident described by Nin also served to turn former supporters against their director. Volunteer actor Frank Westbrook was a professional ballet dancer. Deren insisted on footage of him performing dangerous leaps among the rocks of Central Park, which could have led to a broken leg and the ruin of his entire career. Nin and the others encouraged Westbrook to refuse, but Deren’s iron will, and the threat of cutting him out of the film, prevailed, and the rebellion was quashed.

Besides, she did some pretty dangerous stuff herself, like hanging backwards out a window over stone steps. Nin also recalled an old memory, from before she and Deren had met. Strolling on the beach at Amagansett, Nin had seen “two men, one filming a woman who repeatedly went out in the waves and got washed in.” This of course was Deren, in search of the perfect shot. She didn’t ask others to do more than she would do herself.

But it wasn’t all whips and chains. Toward the end of 1945, Nin wrote,

Maya has stopped working on her film, temporarily. We all live on pins and needles for fear of catastrophe, a quarrel or anything else that will spoil it….We all live breathlessly, hoping she will find someone to pacify her so that filming may go on. We may have to draw lots: Now you, Number Nine, go to Maya and make love to her and make her happy, for the sake of the film.

Nin was fascinated by Deren’s wild gypsy look and her “need to seduce everyone.” Whether these references to seduction and lovemaking are meant literally or metaphorically is not clear. Deren has certainly become an icon among the lesbian creative community, despite being straight. In At Land (1944) she caresses two women, but the purpose is to put them off guard so she can steal something. Make of that what you will.

No stranger to temper tantrums, Deren is reported by a reliable witness (Stan Brakhage) to have once thrown a full-size refrigerator across a kitchen. Her friends never tired of discussing her tyrannical, obstinate, manipulative and inhuman ways. They asked themselves, and each other, why they sacrificed themselves to her relentless will, but they did it anyway. Their belief in her work outweighed the aggro, and they honored art-world custom by hosting screening parties and inviting their influential contacts.

She imposed her will on the viewers of her films, going up against the prevailing climate of preference for white people. The focus of A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) was Talley Beatty, a black dancer and choreographer who studied with Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham. Meditation on Violence featured the Wu-tang and Shaolin styles of boxing as performed by Chao-Li Chi (who had really strange eyes). Deren really hit her stride when she went to Haiti to study and document voudoun .

How much of Maya Deren’s personality was intrinsic, and how much resulted from being a speed freak? This is not known, but she died at the shocking age of 44 from a brain hemorrhage supposedly brought on by amphetamines and malnutrition. Her ashes were scattered in Japan at Mount Fuji.

Photo courtesy of Nova deViator via this Creative Commons license

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Maya Deren: What, How, Why

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maya deren' as performed in KinoDvor nov/2007

see note at end of text

In her most technically complex work, Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946), Deren tackled the problem of using dancers effectively. Meditation on Violence (1948), which depicts traditional Chinese boxing, was constructed according to an elaborate abstract plan based on a parabolic curve. These later, less symbolic films were experiments with space and time, movement, rhythm and form, in which Georges Sadoul sees her as developing “a kind of cine-choreography that eventually reached the commercial screen in e.g. West Side Story.”

She was one of the earliest directors to employ the subjective camera, where the camera is the “first person,” presenting the story from the viewpoint of the main character. Since then, the technique has been used so extensively as to be utterly unremarkable, but at the time it was fresh and daring. Another innovation credited to Deren is the “radical extension of the trance film in the direction of the architectonic film, which did not actually come into its own as a form until the 1960s.”( P. Adams Sitney )

Though Deren openly admitted the enormous debt she owed Alexander (or Sasha) Hammid, who taught her the mechanics of filmmaking, her own creative path was inextricably bound up with her complicated philosophical position. Although she had studied French symbolist poetry, and some claimed to detect a Cocteau influence, Deren herself steadfastly denied all symbolism, and attacked Surrealism for being as deficient in its own way as realism. Rebelling against all psychological interpretations, she nevertheless presented truly unconscious dream material in a new way, with no artificial effects. As Anais Nin expressed it,

The dream resembles realism. The objects are not altered…there is nothing to indicate that one is dreaming or free-associating. A curious prosaic quality is imposed upon the imagination.

In Ritual in Transfigured Time, the editing technique involved extensive fragmentation. Deren saw the self as composed of different bodies, and translated this concept into filmic terms by “cutting on motion,” so that one actor’s gesture appears as the continuation of another’s – a trick picked up by many subsequent filmmakers. This results in an “evocative ambivalence of identity and a sense of mysterious, perpetual metamorphosis” (Sitney). Such abstruse technique calls for exquisite planning beforehand, as did the complicated montage of At Land which involved cutting on action across disjunctive spaces. As Deren described it to Anais Nin,

The Universe assumes the initiative of movement and confronts the individual with a continuous fluidity toward which, as a constant identity, he seeks to relate himself.

Deren believed the duty of art is not merely to record or reconstruct chronology, but to evaluate and manipulate these elements or “celluloid memories” in order to illustrate new relationships between them, and thus create new realities. Although she talked a lot about technique, it troubled her that some believed technique was her primary consideration. She was concerned with much greater issues. As she wrote of Meditation on Violence, it wasn’t just about photographing the movements, but “an equivalent conversion, into filmic terms, of these metaphysical principles.” In another context Deren wrote of her rapid recovery from emergency surgery. In less than a month, she was dancing, “overwhelmed with the most wondrous gratitude for the marvelous persistence of the life force.”

She connected this incident with her filmmaking, calling the joyful dance

this most primitive, most instinctive of all gestures: to make it move to make it live. So I had always been doing with my camera, nudging an ever-increasing area of the world, making it move, animating it, making it live.

Photo courtesy of Nova deViator via this Creative Commons license. Its caption reads, “this is a script for the live [cinema] performance ‘retrospections/oziranja: maya deren’ as performed in KinoDvor nov/2007”

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Maya Deren in Meshes of the Afternoon

Maya Deren in Meshes of the Afternoon

The situation of American film in the early 1940s approached stagnation. The last major creative advance in the cinematic art had been the introduction of sound in the Twenties, and for a time it seemed as if Hollywood would rest content with endlessly repeating the same tried and true formulas. On the commercial side, newcomers were not welcome. The film industry was all but closed to young men and, except for actresses, nearly impenetrable to women of all ages. The divisions of function among writer, director, producer, etc. were jealously guarded. “Hyphenate” talent, except for a few towering figures like Chaplin, was virtually unheard of. Innovation was to be found only in the theoretical writings of male Europeans who had done their own most ambitious work nearly two decades before.

A gust of fresh air blew in when independent filmmakers, often at great personal sacrifice and with no prospect of recouping their investment, began to produce a radically different type of film. A maker of purposely non-commercial experimental films was the only American equivalent of the true auteur in the European sense: the single guiding force whose vision molds every aspect of the work.

Here’s where Maya Deren comes in: as the founding mother of both the avant-garde movement and the underground film. She was the first to perceive that, in the words of Gerald Mast, “a non-commercial, personal film could do something other than make a series of shapes dance around the screen.”

Deren’s first work, the short Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), is universally acknowledged as seminal. At Land (1944) is about the same length. Taken together, these two silent films, with a total running time of 29 minutes, signified the renaissance of the American experimental film. Anais Nin, in a March 1946 journal entry, described a screening where a large crowd gathered outside, causing a police officer to ask if a demonstration was going on. “It is not a demonstration,” yelled someone in the crowd, “it is a revolution.”

Noted critic P. Adams Sitney went so far as to declare that Deren’s first four films “rehearse in general outline the subsequent evolution of forms within the American avant-garde cinema over the following two decades.” She is credited with influencing all those early Fifties guys: Brakhage, Breer, Clarke, Conner, Anger, Markopoulos, Mekas and the Kuchars. We have the word of Anais Nin that Curtis Harrington was “devoted to” Maya Deren. She has never gone out of style. One generation after another, cinephiles and novice filmmakers have looked to her. In 1961, when the epoch-making Last Year at Marienbad was released, the Deren influence was remarked upon. In the 1990’s, Milla Jovovich’s music video, “Gentleman Who Fell,” paid unmistakable homage to Meshes of the Afternoon. And as with other silent films, contemporary bands persist in re-scoring Deren’s works with new music, preferably their own.

Meshes of the Afternoon is a psychodrama which Deren described as “concerned with the inner realities of an individual and with the way in which the subconscious will develop an apparently casual occurrence into a critical emotional experience.” Gerald Mast says of this film that it serves as a clear bridge between the prototypical Surrealist work Un Chien Andalou and the much later films of such directors as Resnais, Fellini, and Bergman.

Deren’s contribution to the theory of cinematic art consists of a coherent body of writings including pamphlets, program notes, essays in trade publications, columns in The Village Voice, and her significant book on aesthetics, An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film.

The director’s energetic and indomitable temperament served her well, allowing her to leapfrog over obstacles of traditionalism and sexism. Her determination enabled her to ignore anyone who, to use her metaphor, thought a woman’s presuming to speak of technical matters as improper as a man’s analysis of the price of yard goods in a department store. She was, after all, a successful commercial photographer whose work appeared in several popular slick magazines and art journals. Harper’s Bazaar used a still from one of her films to illustrate an excerpt from Nin’s novel Ladders to Fire. When living in New York, both Deren and her husband Sasha Hammid were active in the Trotskyite movement. In the late Fifties she iconoclastically founded an anti-Bergman fan club.

Deren’s early training was in art and the dance, and her unfinished works included a film on Marcel Duchamp and a theoretical book on modern dance. Acting as secretary to the Katherine Dunham Dancers, she accompanied the troupe to Haiti where she became deeply involved with voodoo, this interest resulting in another unfinished film. Ritual in Transfigured Time was intended as the first of several cinematic investigations of ritual, and it won her the first Guggenheim Fellowship ever awarded for film work. With the aim of filming rituals and dances she returned to Haiti and produced instead a book on indigenous magic, Divine Horsemen (1952). She was also awarded prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Her huge top-floor studio in Greenwich Village was filled with ornaments, furs, drums, mobiles and photographs, and exotic artifacts collected in her travels.

Maya Deren fought for her work. She arranged screenings at such places as the Bleeker Street Theatre and Provincetown Playhouse, and lectured at summer workshops in Woodstock, tirelessly explaining and defending the experimental cinema. Anais Nin once arrived for a lecture date at Goddard College, where Deren had been the previous visiting speaker. She found the students full of resentment because Deren “had insisted on talking about her films first, as if to make sure they would look at them in her way.” An indefatigable promoter of not only her own work but that of other avant-garde filmmakers as well, she helped found two support groups for their endeavors, Cinema Sixteen and the Creative Film Foundation.

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Did Harry Partch, as has been reported in various places, actually score the first version Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome? Yes and no. The consensus seems to be that he was an unwilling participant. Anger may have edited the film to the rhythms of Partch’s Plectra and Percussion Dances, but when the composer was approached for permission he refused to be associated with the project, and Anger had to make another plan. Here are some miscellaneous remarks about it.

Underground Film by P. Adams Sitney mentions the four different versions of the film. “The first, which no one to my knowledge has seen, was edited to a sound track by Harry Partch.”

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome of 1954 was originally meant to have a soundtrack by the eccentric avant-garde composer Harry Partch, who then withdrew the permission to use it.” Phil Johnson said this in a 2001 article in The Independent, although nobody else seems to be saying that any permission had ever been given in the first place.

Thomas Draschan says the film was “initially conceived by Anger as having the music of Harry Partch …Partch, however, did not give Anger permission to use his Plectra and Percussion Dances as the film’s soundtrack. Anaïs Nin tried to persuade her musician friend that there was a close affinity between the film and his music, but it was no use.” Draschan says Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass was what Anger “eventually ended up choosing to fill the space left by Partch’s refusal.”

According to Bob Gilmore’s biography of Harry Partch, in the spring of 1954 there was correspondence between him and Kenneth Anger on this topic. Partch, with reluctance that might have been based on the subject matter or might have been more general, said no, and backed it up with a legalistic letter to Anger from someone associated with the trust fund that had been established to finance Partch’s work.

In an interview with Scott McDonald, filmmaker Stan Brakhage said, “I was involved in the attempts that Kenneth made to have Harry Partch do the sound track for Inauguration. But Harry was just so offended by the movie.” For more information on this failure to connect, see Cinema 16: Documents toward a history of the Film Society, pages 227 – 234

Philip Blackburn, the major chronicler of Partch’s life, says of Partch, “His singular vision and aesthetic led to notorious spats with the likes of… Kenneth Anger. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome misappropriated Partch’s Plectra and Percussion Dances in 1954.” In another context Blackburn says, “…film efforts that appropriated Partch’s music without honoring his total concept of integration met with stern warnings, as producers Kenneth Anger and Ian Hugo found out.”

RELATED: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

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Cameron as the Scarlet Woman in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Cameron as the Scarlet Woman in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

One would probably not guess that this woman had joined the Navy in World War II, gone through boot camp, and made maps for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Marjorie Cameron, who preferred to be known as Cameron, was a visual artist, an actress, and a certified, practicing witch. Jack Parsons believed she was an “elemental,” having learned about such creatures from Aleister Crowley’s circle of warlocks, the Ordo Templar Orientis. Parsons was an interesting guy, a Caltech rocket scientist and a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as Aerojet Corporation. He was a pioneering genius whose work with solid fuel and other aspects of rocketry made the US space program possible.

Parsons wanted to bring a divine being, a goddess, into a human body, and thus change the course of history. Fortunately, the Crowley brand of magick provides a technique for just such a purpose. The magickal process is called a “Babalon Working.” (That’s Babalon with an A, no connection with Babylon the legendary city. Two entirely different things.) It’s powerful, difficult magick and requires some help, so Parsons was aided in making the invocations by another black magick aficionado, L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, that L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology guy.

The spells worked, and Cameron came into Jack Parsons’s life. They got married, and were both up to their eyeballs in Thelema . Parsons also corresponded with Anton LaVey and helped found the Church of Satan. It’s doubtful, today, whether anyone with such an unconventional personal life would be allowed in the defense industry, no matter how much of a genius. But the Jet Propulsion Laboratory employed not only Parsons and Cameron, but four of her relatives, which was nepotism on a grand scale.

The couple lived in Pasadena in a communal household full of occult practices and sexual irregularities, very unlike what the staid local citizens were accustomed to. One source indicates that Cameron traveled some during the marriage, for instance, to Switzerland, where she is said to have hung out at a convent, and to San Miguel Allende in Mexico. In 1952, Jack Parsons was killed by an explosion at their home, an accident which has been called mysterious and possibly not accidental. After her husband’s death, Cameron went to the desert to grieve and seek a vision.

Apparently she next lived in Malibu, and in 1954, along came the opportunity to be in Kenneth Anger’s film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Cameron played the roles of The Scarlet Woman (aka the Great Mother; the Mother of Abominations) and Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and change, including destruction and death.

Cameron in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Cameron in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Cameron led fellow artist Wallace Berman to the study of kaballah and the occult. He founded the very influential zine, Semina. In 1957, Berman’s art was shown at the Ferus Gallery. The show was closed by the police and Berman was arrested, but not for any artwork of his. The installation included stuff strewn about on the floor. One of Cameron’s drawings, which appeared in Semina, was found to be obscene. Tripping on peyote, she’d depicted in Beardsley-esque style a woman being taken from behind by a demonic or alien creature.

Cameron also apparently went by the name Moonchild, although that’s a little confusing, because it seems the Moonchild was supposed to be the magical being that she and Parsons would parent together. Artist George Herms was also influenced by Cameron, saying that she had “molded and formed” him. Joseph Campbell is said to have been Cameron’s mentor, but there doesn’t seem to be much information about that.

Dennis Hopper is said to have found her frightening. They co-starred in Night Tide, a black and white film made by Curtis Harrington in 1960. (Harrington was also in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.) Night Tide is described as a “supernatural thriller” in which Cameron portrayed a sea witch, which must have been not much of a stretch.


She remarried, and in the late 1950s torched most of her paintings in a gesture of symbolic suicide. This happened, it is said, when she and husband Sherif Kimmil had both been awake for several days, on speed, and it is also said that he slit his wrists as the artwork burned.

In early 2007 the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery mounted an exhibition of Cameron’s work. Many of those pieces can be seen at the gallery’s website under “Past Exhibitions.”

Here’s a very detailed bio of Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel.

In 1955 Curtis Harrington made a film about her art, The Wormwood Star.

NOTES:

Art historian John Perreault says,

If you have the patience to find out what Parsons might have had to do with the Philadelphia Experiment, the so-called Montauk Project and what this time/space shift, real or not, actually was, then you will be driven totally over the edge.

How did I miss this? There was an exhibit of Cameron’s work at the MOCA in Los Angeles.

RELATED: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Samson De Brier

 

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Disclaimer:

Go ahead and read this article if you want, but since it was first posted, several things have come to my attention. You might want to wait for the extensive rewrite. For the moment, the only change is to put a space between De and Brier in the subject’s name. Even though you find more instances of it in a search engine with no space, I’m assured by one who knows that there actually should be a space. But that’s the least of it. There is a great mystery here, and quite a few minor inconsistencies too.

Pat Hartman, August 8, 2008

*******************************************************************

The consensus seems to be that Samson De Brier was 90% poseur and 10% original eccentric, with the ability to attract and create synergy among people where that equation is reversed – people like Jack Nicholson, for instance. But that was later.

Nazimova and DeBrier in Salome

Nazimova and De Brier (?) in Salome

The early history of Samson De Brier was lived as Arthur Jasmine, the name under which he appeared in more than 20 films in the 1910s and 1920s. In one, he played an Eskimo who pursued his wife and her lover over the ice. In 1922, he appeared in the vanity production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a black and white silent film starring the vamp known as Nazimova. It’s unclear whether Jasmine played Herodias or one of Herodias’s servants, but experts seem to agree that it was an all-gay cast. The sets and costumes were designed to resemble Aubrey Beardsley’s spectacular illustrations of the play’s print edition. Glenn Erickson says,

Proving once and for all that bizarre artsiness in film didn’t begin with 40s experiments, or exist only in elitist European circles, Salomé is a home-grown attempt to raise the artistic level of American films.

Then, in another phase of life, Arthur Jasmine was Samson De Brier, who is best remembered for his appearance in Kenneth Anger’s 1954 experimental film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. It was filmed in De Brier’s house, with props and costumes supplied largely by him, and he played five roles: Lord Shiva, Osiris, Cagliostro, Nero, and the Great Beast 666.

Samson De Brier as Shiva

It is said that De Brier was a male witch, and liked to dress as a silent film star (presumably a female one), and was called La Perversa by his intimates. He wore a favorite antique necklace formed like a dragon, and was a great fan of Mary Miles Minter. In the Fifties, Sixties and possibly the early Seventies, he held salons which attracted both the prominent and the marginal. Gavin Lambert (author of Inside Daisy Clover, among other books and screenplays) was introduced to De Brier by filmmaker Curtis Harrington. One of the features of these gatherings was the reading of Tarot cards, long before the Sixties revival of their popularity.

Mary Miles Minter

Mary Miles Minter

Several undergrounds intersected at the point where De Brier held court – not only the shadowy world of occult Hollywood, but the gay network, the drug scene, and who knows what else. We get a personal glimpse from Lambert, who noted in his journal a visit with De Brier:

Sly eyes flashing up at me, he quickly brought up two names, waiting for their effect: J.E. and M. (lost lovers). I didn’t mind. He’s not really malicious, just can’t resist little barbs at everybody.

Lambert notes that De Brier’s mystic-flavored gatherings might include such creative types as “…the sculptor who had modeled James Dean, the astrologer who had written to Jung and received a reply….” James Dean himself also supposedly showed up at the notorious get-togethers, as did Marlon Brando, Vampira, Steve McQueen, Sally Kellerman, and Richard Burton.

In Jack Nicholson’s 1972 Playboy interview, he talked about De Brier, although whoever transcribed it dropped the ball and put the name down as DeVreer. Nicholson said,

He had a sort of a running open house for crazos over there, all the local eccentrics…Every once in a while Samson would turn off all the lights and read from his memoirs. I didn’t know many people who had been Andre Gide’s lover, so it was very exotic to me.

De Brier is said to have resented the strangers who called him up asking to be invited just because it was the stylish thing to do.

DeBrier at 78

De Brier at 78

The picture above was clipped from another magazine, where it accompanied a small piece about De Brier at the age of 78. It says his life as a gentleman of leisure and a collector of movie memorabilia was made possible through a real estate investment he had once made. The house he owned was usually rented out, and he lived in a smaller rear building. But there must have been more real estate, or something, because another source says that when De Brier died, his bank account contained $5 million, despite the fact that he lived like a miser and a scrounger.

Supposedly, the many volumes of his diary, detailing his love affairs and a lot more, were to be published after his death. Why some of the fortune he left behind wasn’t used for the publication is a mystery. Maybe he just never got around to organizing it. A 2008 memoir by David del Valle throws a different light on things:

Samson De Brier is of course a character, not a real person, rather the invention of an aging, self-styled Hollywood courtesan who knew only too well that time was always on his side, especially if you start outliving all the witnesses to your life.

This seems to be a reference to the Gide claim, among other suspected prevarications. Del Valle says De Brier had no life of his own but was only a reflection of other people. He also implies that De Brier bit the hands that fed him. (Although del Valle doesn’t use it, there is an appropriate British expression – he was a tuft-hunter, or what would now be called a star-fucker.) He calls De Brier self-centered and out of touch, although longing to hang out with the hippest set of people. But when he had a chance to meet Quentin Crisp, a personage on a whole different level, De Brier chickened out.

DeBrier cavorting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

De Brier cavorting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Del Valle discusses the animosity between Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington, the flames of which De Brier enjoyed fanning in all the ways open to a gossipy social climber. Apparently, Anger rented a house from De Brier; extensively redecorated by, among other things, painting all the rooms different colors; and then moved out, much to De Brier’s dissatisfaction. But this sounds like what might have been done for the sake of filming Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, if it was indeed the same house, so presumably De Brier would have know what was going on.

The building out back where De Brier actually lived, del Valle calls a shack, and characterizes its kitchen as being the most filthy he had ever seen. Elsewhere, a woman called Eris Andys wrote about being taken to De Brier’s by Jack Nicholson in the 1960s. She was told, and apparently believed, that the hundreds of bottles strewn about the kitchen each contained an imp or small demon.

Del Valle goes on to say,

There were antiques to be sure, but everything was covered in dust and grime, things piled on top of one another. Samson really did live like a bag lady, even clipping coupons and always dining out on everybody else. He slept in a small bedroom off from the parlor in a red and gold Chinese frame bed.

When De Brier died in 1995, he had occupied the property for fifty years, and had not cleaned the interior since he stopped hosting salons in the early Seventies. Maybe he was following the housekeeping philosophy of Quentin Crisp, who once noted that after the first three years, the dust doesn’t get any deeper.

The house, at 6026 Barton Ave., Los Angeles 90038 (between Vine and El Centro) was last offered for sale in the autumn of 2007, described as “Former home of the infamous celebrity warlock, Samson De Brier. Check out this relic from Hollywood’s pre-hippy LA Freak show history.”

In 1979, De Brier published an article titled “On the Filming of The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” in Film Culture, No. 67-69. In The Sewing Circle, by Axel Madsen, he is named as a major source of information about the lesbians of old Hollywood. There’s something about him in Richard Lamparski’s Hollywood Diary, and a nice photo of him with director Paul Mazursky and some other folks on this website. Someone even put up a Samson De Brier page on MySpace, but the most recent login is 2006 and there’s nothing on it except the still from the Salome film.

RELATED: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Cameron: Artist and Witch

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One frame from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

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.)

Samson (or Sampson) De Brier as Lord Shiva

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.

Left, Cameron, the real-life witch, and Samson De Brier as the Great Beast

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.

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