Repetition And Occultism Of Invocation Of My Demon Brother (1969) – Kenneth Anger.

There exist volumes of academic research and work surrounding the role of repetition in religious and cultural practices.  Repeated actions of any type, creating an easily recognisable mimesis, seems almost an aesthetic by-word for a normalised analytical framework of cultural activities, especially musically.  From prayer to mantra, the idea of repetition is stretched to form (or conform) belief patterns, as if deliberately signposting theological culture in a handy way for anthropologists and academics to almost be literally advertised at.  It is within (and outside) of this cultural context where Kenneth Anger’s 1969 film, Invocation Of My Demon Brother,  sits as well as its musical score by Mick Jagger; it uses several variations of repetitive techniques but to such an effect that it is impossible to gloss over the teleological difference created in contrast to the anthropological and ethnographical argued norms.

Invocation is a short, non-narrative film built around a collection of footage shot by Anger at different points and events.  Some of it is staged in a very typical narrative sense but other shots seem to be from performances of rituals by the director himself as well as footage from the free Rolling Stones gig at Hyde Park in honour of Brian Jones’ death.  In a matter of mere minutes, Anger presents the boiling pot of 1969 counter-culture in a writhing microcosm but its ritualistic affect and effects present themselves in a two-tier system.

The film opens with the strange image of three yellow circles organised in a triangle formation.  By the end of the film (which, as a total artwork or gesamtkunstwerk, is itself a ritualistic object though also showcases rituals and ritualistic tendencies diegetically) this triangle has been inverted; the preceding ten minutes having been refracted into a mimetic symmetry that is ominously occult in style.  In other words, some great change has come over these symbols: shapes and images which are simplistic enough to define so much but also be ambiguous enough to be open to interpretation.

In his writing on the films of Kenneth Anger, Gary Lachman suggests that “The aim of Anger’s quick cuts, sudden split-second imagery and other subliminal techniques is to circumvent ‘the Cartesian Unconscious’.”  He later goes on to argue that Invocation features the perfect example of this where “…Anger includes a continuous loop showing a US military helicopter unloading soldiers in Vietnam.  The image is registered consciously only twice, but Anger believes its presence is felt unconsciously throughout the film, and adds to the viewers’ anxiety.” (2011, p.12, Kenneth Anger: The Crowned and Conquering Child).

This begins to hint towards the quality and mystery surrounding Anger’s emphasis on repetition within the film’s aesthetic, especially in regards to Jagger’s score which at first seems determined to defy any sort of interpretation by being an obtuse and uncomfortable presence.  The aesthetics of the film editing itself is designed to counteract the typical smooth transition associated with a ritual form (i.e. it is not building so much to a crescendo as constantly ebbing back and forth in an almost sexual tease).  The music highlights this fluidity in the oddest and most innovative of ways.

In Gilles Delueze’s work on repetition, he believes (in the Kantian transcendental sense and against the simplified a priori judgement) that “Repetition, by contrast, is represented outside the concept, as though it were a difference without concept, but always with the presupposition of an identical concept.  Thus, repetition occurs when things are distinguished in numero, in space and time, while the concept remains the same.  In the same movement, therefore, the identity of the concept in representation includes difference and is extended to repetition.” (1997, p.339, Difference and Repetition).  While this is concerning the arguments surrounding the very perception of repetition and knowledge of objects, it helps in identifying why Jagger’s music still works in spite of being simultaneously ritualistic and anti-ritualistic.

The soundtrack for the film begins with electronic hisses and hums.  It only begins to build away the same three note hits and then the slide down on the fourth note once the film has set out the previously mentioned images of Vietnam.  It could said to be functioning as a vague leitmotif, its use later accounting for Anger’s insistence that the themes of Vietnam continue even when the film has moved on into more obvious occult territory.  The “…identity of the concept in representation includes difference…” so to speak.  When the music does change, the evolution forms the more ritualistic identity, the sound becoming catastrophic and distorted as visuals show Anger performing his own Crowley-esque ritual.

Though the film is littered with symbols and images of various Devil worship, it is the score that is the most occult object in the film.  It’s understandable why Anger wanted Jagger to originally play Lucifer in Lucifer Rising before he became nervous of the whole movement after Altamont and left the occultism to Anger (and Donald Cammell).  Interestingly, Invocation‘s score shows the polar opposite of Pythagoras’ conception of mathematical magic as Eliphas Lévi suggests:

Pythagoras defined God as a living and absolute truth clothed in light; he defined the Word as number manifested by form; and he derived all things from the Tetractys – that is to say, the tetrad. He said also that God is supreme music, the nature of which is harmony (1913, p.92, The History Of Magic).

If all things godly are to be found in harmony, then the logic of what is found in dissonance is easily distinguished and plays nicely off the triangular forms shown at the beginning of the film and subverted at its close as seen in the stills below:

1 2a

Jagger’s music plays around with the sounds of a rising, being incomprehensible as both a musical and audio-visual artefact.  When applied to Anger’s visuals, which were already channelling the darkest elements of 1960s popular culture, the final clash is achieved.  The ritual/anti-ritual form created is at once different to Anger’s other work, especially the follow-up, Lucifer Rising, which largely traverses the ritual pattern of rising crescendos and lacks the confrontation of symbols (pentagrams vs. circles vs. swastikas).  Invocation therefore stands as a rebellious piece, built from aesthetic in-fighting between its desire to sacrifice to the greater evil, and its joy in ignoring even this higher power to be something truly devilish in itself.

Adam Scovell

4 thoughts on “Repetition And Occultism Of Invocation Of My Demon Brother (1969) – Kenneth Anger.

  1. Hey there! fantastic article – I am a fan of KA and his weird little movies. Your article is one of the more thoughtful bits I have read an Anger, and specifically ‘Invocation of my Demon brother’ (which is one of my favorites… partly due to the amazing shit Jagger threw down… what, almost 50 years ago now :)) – Anyhow. I am launching a new site/blog that is mostly an opportunity for me and my mates to talk about shit we like – as well as explore writing, film making, art, etc. – site is up and I am starting to fill it up with posts and links – I will put the word out on 8/1/16 – my hope is it will gather a small but dedicated following – no aspirations beyond that.

    Anyhow, I am writing a small highly uneducated bit on ‘Invocation..’ and I was hoping to link to your article with a note about what you and your blog (which is quite nice btw… just lurked a bit and I like the little scene you are creating here). Let me know what you think?

    Best – BJK

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