‘Rabbit’s Moon’ and ‘Invocation of My Demon Brother’
Anger originally shot Rabbit’s Moon in 1950 during a brief stay in Paris following the huge success (and ensuing controversy and backlash) of his breakthrough homoerotic short, Fireworks (1947), however, due to logistical and financial constraints it would not be until the early 1970s that he returned to retrieve his footage and finish the film. The film itself draws its narrative and aesthetic from the traditions of Renaissance pantomime and Commedia dell’arte theatre (and indeed the set was borrowed from French film-noir director, Jean-Pierre Melville), while the notion of a rabbit in the moon is a subject found in many Japanese/Buddhist and Aztec mythological writings, where the rabbit is believed to represent charity and virtue, and whose image was placed on the moon so that we all may observe and learn from it.
The film’s original soundtrack is comprised of carefully selected 1950’s Doo-Wop hits, whose lyrics tenuously offer a sense of narration, which becomes increasingly interspersed with what appear to be field recordings of gamelan music as the film progresses. This evening’s re-imagined soundtrack, however, draws more consciously from the images of the oriental and the sensual, placid palette of the picture, leading the musicians to take inspiration from the traditional Japanese music, Gagaku, as their main aesthetic stimuli.
Gagaku is a music traditionally used in formal court events, Buddhist ceremonies and activities and, until the 11th century, as a form of entertainment for court nobles and peers. Recent epochs have seen this tradition change, with its native practitioners becoming increasingly aware of the practices and rudiments of Western Art music (a point which perhaps softens the liberty taken in its use within this evening’s performance), and also a culture-wide tendency towards decreasing tempi, although the latter imbues this already meditative music with a more ruminative character, as opposed to ponderous.
As scholar, Robert Garfas, states: ‘[Gagaku] is an art which makes use of graduations in gravity and broadness of tempo to a degree that a western trained ear may not be able to differentiate’. As such, this re-imagination does not stick rigidly to the conventions of Gagaku, but rather borrows some of its key features as an aesthetic starting point, namely a precomposed drone (which does provide a subtle narration within tonight’s soundtrack), melodies derived from ancient Japanese scales/modes, rhythmic frameworks found in some examples of court music, and the act of performers interacting and structuring their improvisations according to their breathing patterns, live in performance.
One should consider this soundtrack as the production of an accompanying sonic environment which acts as a quasi-instantaneous thematic response, as opposed to a direct aural narration.
Invocation Of My Demon Brother (1969)
When the hippy movement of the late 1960s emerged and began to truly take form, Anger saw it as the perfect opportunity to use his films as explorations of the hallucinogenic drugs that had entered contemporaneous mainstream consumption, and which he himself had been a frequent user of for many years previously. This resulted in some of his most successful, impenetrable, and ultimately disturbing films, most notably a re-released “Sacred Mushroom Edition” of his 1954 film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1966) and this evening’s short, Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969).
It is questioned how premeditated the film itself was, as it is comprised entirely of old or left over footage Anger had produced during the initial filming of later picture, Lucifer Rising (1970-1980), however the footage’s collage and rearrangement shows clear intent. Anger makes extended use of montage editing, with each cut burdening the viewer with homoerotic images, scenes of implied occult ritual, full-frontal and sordid nudity, sadomasochism, swastikas, and C₂₀H₂₅N₃O lighting effects. It comes then as no surprise that Invocation Of My Demon Brother is a non-narrative film, and rather uses overarching thematic material, repetition, and the progression of its colour palette to lead and taunt its audience through a tripartite structure, which is defined by an evocation of connotation.
Passive and contemplative blues give way to scenes which juxtapose reds and blacks in ominous exchanges, testing even modern sensibilities and rhythms of being (interestingly, it is red colour washes rather than red objects which appear here). These colours eventually capitulate into a magickal green, implying the ritual has been successful rather than reached its culmination. As film scholar, Deborah Allison, observes: ‘When combined, these colours generate the pure white light that can be seen to represent Lucifer, god of light, and the demon brother with which he is identified’.
The film’s original soundtrack was composed (quasi-amusingly) by none other than Mick Jagger, and consists almost entirely of a repeating two second Moog synthesiser loop which has an angular, ambiguous character. The loop gradually disintegrates and re-emerges throughout the film, subtly morphing but never losing any of its abrasive persistence. Anger scholar, Adam Scovell, best describes it as ‘an attack on the sensorium’ and an ‘obtuse and uncomfortable presence’. Tonight’s soundtrack will be explored using similar approaches and will be fully improvised, taking advantage of the temporal ambiguity of the imagery and its implied stasis. Using as yet unprescribed instruments, short acoustic samples will be processed beyond all recognition and disintegrated until merely noise remains, at which point parameters such as volume and intensity become of a much higher importance, as short repeating cells goad and unsettle the audience.
Should one allow it to (as were Anger’s intentions), Invocation Of My Demon Brother ultimately performs a ritual itself, where, rather than merely depicting one, it induces a state of hypnosis in the viewer, making them more suggestible and receptive to the occult imagery. Overall it offers an insight into the film maker’s perverse imagination, a world where swastikas and debauchery (as well as a self-destructing soundtrack) act as a tangible comment on a decaying society.
Words from William Crosby