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Kenneth Anger’s The Man We Want To Hang
“I like the colors.”
That’s the charitable response most people give when they’re exposed to the art of Aleister Crowley (more on him here). Admittedly his works are crude and naïve – if one didn’t know that the Beast 666 had created them one would assume it was just some outsider artist – but they have their certain charms, which we’ll get to below.
A late-90s exhibition – “An Old Master” – at London’s October gallery of A.C.’s art works is the subject of magickal experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s short film The Man We Want To Hang, the title of the film also the title of the notorious Sunday Express article which had denounced A.C. as the “Wickedest Man In The World.” The title is also a pun on art being hung on gallery walls, and a possible reference to The Hanged Man of the Tarot – who appears in the film a few times – although nothing jumped out at me as I looked over that entry in The Book of Thoth to back up that line of thought (but I’m sure those with well wore copies of 777 and The Book of Thoth and a knack for undoing and uncovering occult puzzles may have better luck that I did …)
The film (with a lively score by Liadov) generally consists of slow, generous shots of the gallery exhibits, the majority of them starting with a shot of the bottom of the painting or drawing and panning up to reveal the rest, the gaze ascending, the shot itself possibly a metaphor for the process of observation of the works, as the gaze at the esoteric art reveals symbols and meanings with a correspondent ascendance in consciousness.
The art works themselves – drawn of the collections of Keith Richmond, Jimmy Page and the Ordo Templi Orientis International – depict a variety of subjects. Simple landscapes of mountains, volcanoes and sea, serpents and malevolent beings from some daemonic reality, portraits of individuals familiar to those versed in A.C.’s biography – such as Gerald Yorke and various Scarlet Women – and self-portraits of A.C., some evoking grey aliens or Lam.
If this was the only output of an artist they would have at most been a curious and obscure art historical footnote, if even that. But when put into the context of A.C.‘s life they have more value.
Throughout his life A.C. expressed his higher nature in a multitude of ways. Poetry, painting, ritual magick, sexual athleticism, writing, mountaineering, exploring higher consciousness. While he was middling in such expressions as painting and poetry, his non-fictional magickal texts are genius, a Joyce or Fassbinder of occult and esoteric philosophy, and most of us would be extremely lucky to create a single work of genius over a lifetime, let alone a multi-volumed network of texts like A.C.’s.
Aside from his texts of magickal philosophy and ritual his other great work of art was his life, which encompassed the lowliest degradations and the highest and holiest exalted states. The art works provide a visual accompaniment to it – the settings, the personalities, the extraordinary experiences.
They also provide a reminder of A.C.’s role as a prototype of the type of current creative spirit, with his multiple means of expression (poetry, art, journalism, adept, etc.) a forerunner of the of the typical artist of today, who is just as likely to write a novel, play in a band, star in a porn, run a small business, blog, than lock themselves in one monolithic way of expressing creative currents.
He ran a preview of this social reality movie like all successful intelligence agents do.