27 Feb

Can I Play With Madness? Crowley.

Posted by Bryan White | Friday February 27, 2009 | Reviews

crowleyI’m fascinated by Aleister Crowley. He exists in a unique span of time that was remarkably open to alternative spirituality.In this day and age we have plenty of wealthy and famous people tuning in to weird-ass cults like Scientology, and stars of stage and screen pledge devotion to the judaic mysticism of Kaballah but none of it has the air of menace or dangerous edge like an Aleister Crowley, Manly Palmer Hall or Jack Whiteside Parsons. Scientology exists solely to extort money from its followers and god knows what Kabbalists are up to. Crowley and the people who came in his wake were actually trying to achieve higher levels of consciousness and affect the bigger picture through sheer force of will. These are all very heady ideas, alive and well in this time, but without the outrageous characters that represented them in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Simply put, the occult just doesn’t seem nearly as fun. It just seems fucking weird.

And without the occult, where would heavy metal be? Would Stairway To Heaven be the enduring classic it is had Jimmy Page not bought the Boleskine house, former residence of Aleister Crowley? Would Ozzy Osbourne and King Diamond be the icons that they are without the rampant rumors of satanic worship? How about those photos of Venom’s Chronos mid-satanic ritual? The marriage of the occult and metal is like chocolate and peanut butter and horror has tried to pair the two up in the past with comical abortions like Rock and Roll Nightmare and Black Roses. So here comes Bruce Dickinson, the thinking man’s metalhead, a true renaissance man, frontman for one of the most important heavy metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden. He has teamed up with Maiden video director, Julian Doyle, and added to his impressive resume screen writing credits which probably sits somewhere on the list below licensed airline pilot or competitive fencer.

On Aleister Crowley’s last day alive he is visited by a young disciple who delivers the news that Crowley’s stateside protege, Jack Parsons has fallen off the path and under the influence of a “science fiction writer” (in actuality, L. Ron Hubbard). Together they have created a moon child (the central conceit of a novel by Crowley). Crowley dies. Flash forward to the present. Timid philosophy professor, Oliver Haddo secretly corrupts the mainframe operating system that controls an experimental supercomputer at Cambridge with a program that simulates every last detail of Aleister Crowley’s personality and life in order to experience the magus in a virtual reality setting. However, everything goes wrong and Haddo becomes possessed by the wild spirit of Crowley. He spends the next three days running wild on Cambridge, corrupting everyone he crosses paths with.

The premise that a virtual reality experiment transforms a timid Masonic wannabe into a brilliant, bold occultist sounded a little too Lawnmower Man for me to take upon initial inspection. But let it be known that as ridiculous as it is, and for all the faux science quantum physics jargon that Dickinson’s script slings in a casual attempt to explain the far fetched plot this is an arrestingly entertaining affair. I know a bit about Crowley and the things that he did and for all the misunderstandings that lead to people labelling him a satanist, Dickinson seems to know far more about the life and ritual of Aleister Crowley than most and his script is particularly well written and researched. Those looking for your usual horror movie representations of blood drinking and child sacrifices will be disappointed as Crowley’s actual thelemic rituals are presented here to the best of their cinematic ability. There are also more Iron Maiden references than you can shake a stick at which either goes to show that Dickinson plays host to some tremendous ego or that many of his lyrics were influenced by the work of early twentieth century occultists.

All clever scripting and research aside, though, the entire film is floated on Simon Callow’s wild portrayal of The Beast. I would imagine that playing a part like this must be a lot of fun because you get to yell and gesture wildly in the interest of entertainment. As Crowley’s personality was noted for a magnetic charisma, so too is Callow’s characterization. Yet the film falters in several key places. It’s fun to watch Callow’s performance but there are other things going on in the film. An American chaos mathematician serves as Crowley’s opponent, a completely boring plot element that insists on going back to the computer lab and slinging more crazy-ass jargon at us.

Doyle’s direction is also not exactly what it could be, often employing wild angles, lights and smoke in places that are completely inappropriate. The general aesthetic of the movie brings to mind old direct to video features or late 80′s music videos. It’s jarring and weird. A steadier hand would have delivered a more solid product. But Doyle is actually best known for editing Monty Python movies and Crowley represenents Doyle’s third shot at directing. It’s a tight cut, to be sure, but technical savvy does nothing to rescue it from its shortcomings of plot and acting.

Dickinson’s script eventually winds up careening wildly from one scene to the next, topping Crowley’s excessive antics as the film progresses but none of it seems to matter. It’s a horror movie but Crowley’s motivation to do what he does loses credibility with each passing second. One can only suspend their disbelief so far before it all becomes silly. If only he could have put as much research into the science presented here as he did the life of Aleister Crowley. The pseudo science wouldn’t have been so hard to listen to.

Sure, Callow is awesome as Aleister Crowley but what I’m wondering is if a feature about the actual life of Crowley would have been better than this exploitative horror movie. Bruce Dickinson isn’t exactly a screen writer but he does okay and is able to add another wildly divergent activity to his reputation as the most active man in metal. But Crowley’s ultimate problem is that it just doesn’t make much sense. There are hints of a plot that could have been throughout as the relationship of Jack Parsons and Crowley is explored through themes of reincarnation but there are some insane departures throughout that interrupt the proceedings time and time again and the ultimate tweest in the final act almost qualifies as the crime of the century. A plot device so shitty that it’s hard to believe anyone would even try and pass it off these days.

5 Comments 

  1. March 27, 2009 1:38 pm

    Paul Freedman

    You know a lot of Crowley’s mumbo jumbo *is* debased kabbalah. Don’t get your notion of what kabbalah is from the latest pop star or her supporters or your notiions of mysticism from a nihilistic occultist hack like Crowley. Of course evil appears interesting on the surface but anybody can fall off a cliff drunk, flap their arms, and shout out “I’m flying on the dark side”–all goes well until the inevitable splat.

    Far more difficult to be grounded, to be functional, to be at peace with the physical world around you but to be open precisely through that groundedness to the highest levels of Gods grace. This is what kabbalah is and does plus it gives you the math behind the balance if you are of a geek frame of mind and wish to study the source code.

  2. March 27, 2009 2:28 pm

    Nate

    While you are correct in asserting the Crowley’s work is derivative of Kaballah ( as is the majority of Western Occultism ), your usage of the word “evil” strikes me as profound ignorance of the subject. I am certainly no Thelemite, but I have studied Crowley at length and have come to the conclusion that such knee jerk reactions are the result of a refusal to separate Crowley’s body of work from how he chose to live. Was the man a detestable lout? All evidence certainly points to that claim being fact. Is Thelema “evil?” Thorough reading on the subject fails to prove the veracity of such a claim. Perhaps you could explain what it is about Thelema that you find so repulsive?

  3. March 27, 2009 2:55 pm

    Nate

    While we are on the subject:

    ni⋅hil⋅ism

    –noun
    1. total rejection of established laws and institutions.
    2. anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity.
    3. total and absolute destructiveness, esp. toward the world at large and including oneself: the power-mad nihilism that marked Hitler’s last years.
    4. Philosophy.
    a. an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.
    b. nothingness or nonexistence.
    5. (sometimes initial capital letter) the principles of a Russian revolutionary group, active in the latter half of the 19th century, holding that existing social and political institutions must be destroyed in order to clear the way for a new state of society and employing extreme measures, including terrorism and assassination.
    6. annihilation of the self, or the individual consciousness, esp. as an aspect of mystical experience.

    Save for broad applications of definitions 1 and 6, how exactly does Thelema fit into a Nihilistic worldview?

  4. March 27, 2009 8:55 pm

    Paul Freedman

    We disagree that the elevation of will (do what thou wilst) can mean anything other in the final analysis of its application to elevation of the ego and not to an inner calling and in its wider macrocosmic incarnation the overlordship of those who are stronger not in analytical or magical power but in brute strength. That is not to say that there will not be much of interest in the deliberate syncretistic fabricature of a Thelamic network of references. So my answer is that the 6. ends up being annulment of the individual being of the other if the radical subjectivity of doing what “thou wilst” programmatically is posited as the replacement for all those conventional boundaries.

    It has been remarked, and this is to be taken cautiously Nate, that to some degree (if tragically) in the inner eye of the Creator there is no difference between his Self and the external projected garbs of creation, nor between his prescriptions and his proscriptions. This is however, an ontic truth as regards Hisself and what is appropriate to Adam Ha Kadmon is not a recipe for success for even the First Primordial Adam much less his progenitive offspring, and, as regards the very Crown of Adam the Old Father, there is the suggestion of a shadow or fissure. Leo Strauss has written quite sympathetically of the role of the Serpent in Human freedom even though, at days end, the prescription remains the same, the Serpent is elevated through binding it as a garter above the waist whereupon it is converted to its truer nature as a Screen, very un-Crowley admittedly but that is the recommended Way.

    Recommended introductions into the right-handed path are:
    http://www.kabbalah.info/eng/content/view/frame/2373?/eng/&main

    Introduction to the Book of Zohar and The Science of Kabbalah are free downloads and are own personal to do list as is the free Zohar download found here:
    http://www.kabbalah.info/engkab/learning-center/learning-center

  5. March 28, 2009 5:19 am

    Nate

    The phrase “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” is very troubling to many people, but I find that in context the Will in question is most certainly not the Ego…especially when one considers that a great deal of Thelemic practice centered around ego dissolution. If one really wanted to make Pseudo-Niezschean Ego worship into a supposed “Occult” practice, one would drop $200, join the Church of Satan, and loudly proclaim ones Godhood against all evidence to the contrary. In this case, one would simply be a shmuck short of the necessary self-discipline and, in this case, $200 better spent on a nice meal.

    I’ve had discussion with Lon Milo Duquette wherein many of the same questions were raised and the answer was simply to act with a higher purpose. In effect, to Will what one does in accordance with ones higher purpose. The Ego serves a base purpose, so in this context the Ego can not possibly be the “True Will” posited in Thelema.

    An aside, do I detect allusions to the Qlippoth in your response? While I do appreciate the inclusion of the links, I already count the source material as pieces in my personal library…and I find the polarization of magic to be very pointless indeed. Those who seek to know the All and through such endeavors come to know the Self attain mastery. Those who shrink from a challenge attain nothing save for the illusion of knowledge. It is very romantic to believe in a static formula behind all that is, but reality shifts.


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