Weekend links 221

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Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) (1946) by Joseph Cornell.

• Having been a Bernard Szajner enthusiast for many years it’s good to see his music receiving some belated reappraisal. David McKenna talked to Szajner about his Visions Of Dune album (which is being reissued by InFiné next month), laser harps, The (Hypothetical) Prophets, and working with Howard Devoto.

• Priscilla Frank posts some big views of Marjorie Cameron’s occult paintings as a preview of the forthcoming exhibition at MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles.

• Fascinating reading in light of the recent kerfuffle over True Detective, Christopher Loring Knowles on the possible sources of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

Those who set up oppositions between the electronic technology and that of the printing press perpetuate Frollo’s fallacy. They want us to believe that the book—an instrument as perfect as the wheel or the knife, capable of holding memory and experience, an instrument that is truly interactive, allowing us to begin and end a text wherever we choose, to annotate in the margins, to give its reading a rhythm at will—should be discarded in favor of a newer tool. Such intransigent choices result in technocratic extremism. In an intelligent world, electronic devices and printed books share the space of our work desks and offer each of us different qualities and reading possibilities. Context, whether intellectual or material, matters, as most readers know.

Alberto Manguel, lucid as always, on the act and import of reading.

• “It’s time to give prog rock’s artist-in-residence Roger Dean his due,” says Amber Frost. No argument there, I did my bit in 2010.

• “Why do the covers of so many self-published books look like shit?” asks B. David Zarley.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 455 by Airhead, and Secret Thirteen mix 225 by Clock DVA.

• At Core77: Rain Noe chooses favourite skyscraper photos by Russian urban explorers.

• “O, Excellent Air Bag”: Mike Jay on the nitrous oxide fad of the early 19th century.

Nick Carr goes in search of Manhattan’s last remaining skybridges.

Lauren Bacall at Pinterest.

• Shaï Hulud (1979) by Zed (Bernard Szajner) | Welcome (To Death Row) (1980) by Bernard Szajner | Person To Person (1982) by The (Hypothetical) Prophets

More Songs for the Witch Woman

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This month I’ve been enjoying the latest quality publication from Fulgur, Songs for the Witch Woman, the centrepiece of which is a cover-to-cover reproduction of the book of occult poetry and art created by Jack Parsons and Marjorie Cameron in the early 1950s. It’s been a great pleasure in recent years seeing the welling of interest in Cameron’s work. In 2001 when I was compiling notes for an abandoned study of occult cinema, Cameron as artist, witch or mere human being was a shadowy presence about whom nothing substantial seemed to have been written; her art was impossible to see anywhere, all one had were fleeting references in books, and her appearances in The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide, a pair of films that only exaggerated her mystique. The intervening years have seen a lifting of successive veils so we’re now able to watch Curtis Harrington’s film portrait, The Wormwood Star, and see her work in books and exhibitions like this one (also titled Songs for the Witch Woman) which will be showing at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles from mid-October. As an early precursor to that there’s this feature by Robert Garrova at SPRC which includes comments about the exhibition from organisers Scott Hobbs and Yael Lipschutz.

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Pan: art by Cameron, poem by Parsons.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Songs for the Witch Woman
More Cameron
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition
The Wormwood Star
Street Fair, 1959
House of Harrington
Curtis Harrington, 1926–2007
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995

Songs for the Witch Woman

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It wasn’t so very long ago that occult artist Marjorie Cameron (1922–1995) was visible only as a silent and enigmatic presence in films by Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington. Previous posts here have catalogued the resurrection of interest in her life and work which now includes a book of poems by husband Jack Parsons, embellished by Cameron’s drawings and paintings. This is another quality production from Fulgur Esoterica who provided me with these page layouts. Details of the book follow. See this page at Fulgur for a few more pieces of artwork.

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Songs for the Witch Woman
A Romantic Tragedy filled with Magic

‘He’ll be back some time. Laughing at you’

Fulgur Esoterica has announced today the publication of a collection of poems by rocket scientist Jack Parsons’ illustrated by his wife and magical partner Marjorie Cameron. The drawings and poetry have been gathered by Cameron after her husband’s death and are here published together for the first time. The book is the first publication to mark 100 years from Parsons’s birth (1914).

Jack Parsons was not only the most influential Californian magician of his day but was also at the heart of the US rocketry programme as one of the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory before his untimely death at the early age of 37. He died in an explosion which was probably an accident but which has also been seen by some as either a result of his ‘Babalon Working’ or, by some occultists, as a direct result of tampering with dark forces.

Parsons’s wife Cameron continued to illustrate the poems he wrote for her years after his death. Cameron was an artist and actress who after Parsons’ death moved on to become one of most sought after faces in counter cultural Hollywood circles having appeared in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) and Curtis Harrington’s Wormwood Star as herself and having figured on the cover of Wallace Berman’s first issue for Semina (1955).

The collaboration presented here creates a unique insight into an intense and unique romantic tragedy. As stated by Parsons’s official biographer and contributor to Songs for the Witch Woman George Pendle, “A collection of uneasy love poems, the language and meter of Songs for the Witch Woman owe a considerable debt to the Romantic poets. Keats’ “Lamia”, Byron’s Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” are all referred to. […] But nothing is quite what it seems”. He further states that “many of the poems speak of entrapments and reversals, of women tricking or teasing men into their web to be devoured or eaten. And although a rich, pungent sensuousness overlays the poems, with datura and jasmine filling the lines with a somnolent musk, neurosis and fever, worry and sickness, never seem far away. In many ways the poems seem to act as a sort of testing ground for the emotions stirred up by the often masochistic relationship with the fiercely independent Cameron.”

The volume is complemented by critical essays and by a diary entry from Cameron’s magical diary. Some say this text constitutes the summoning of a magical entity while others looked at it as an invocation to her lost lover.

Price: Hardback £40.  Deluxe £140. Dimensions and info: large format (305mm x 240mm). 176 pages. Premium Italian Paper.

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Marjorie Cameron was born in Belle Plaine, Iowa in 1922. The fiery and uncompromising character for which she would later be known manifested from an early age. School friends and teachers alike saw her as a peculiar child who by nature looked at the world from a different angle. After the outbreak of the Second World War Cameron enrolled in the Navy and after a period of training became the cartographer for the Joints Chiefs of Staff. Discharged from the military in 1945, she joined her family in Pasadena where less than a year later she met the man who would change her life.

Cameron was twenty-four when she met Jack Parsons, a young and charismatic rocket scientist at the peak of his public career, associate founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and acting master of the  ‘Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templis Orientis’. For the following seven years Cameron and Parsons worked together in magick, love and art giving birth to one of the most legendary magico-artistic partnerships of the century. Firmly believing that Cameron’s appearance in his life was the result of an intense series of magical workings carried out in the weeks preceding the encounter, Parsons famously wrote to Aleister Crowley ‘I have found my Elemental’. Be it as it may, in the first years of their relationship Cameron was not only unaware of such goings-on but also uninterested in Jack’s spiritual path, preferring art and love over the practice of magic.

But as time went by Parsons assumed another function in Cameron’s life as he quickly became her magical mentor. He renamed her Candida, recommended books, prescribed rituals and meditative practices to deal with her depressions. When Jack Parsons died in an explosion at the age of thirty-seven, Cameron was left alone, wondering whether she was human or elemental.

A very dramatic period follows for Cameron. For a time she withdraws into the desert, where she attempts to connect with the spirit of her lost lover through a series of magical workings. A few years later she comes back to Los Angeles, where in 1954 she appeared in Kenneth Anger’s landmark film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. She also met the director Curtis Harrington, for whom she appeared as herself in the short film Wormwood Star. In 1955 she was featured on the cover of the first issue of Wallace Berman’s artistic and literary journal Semina, so marking her firm arrival in the Hollywood artistic counter-culture.

Cameron spent the last decades of her life in West Hollywood, painting, writing and mastering the art of Thai Chi. She died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 73.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
More Cameron
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition
The Wormwood Star
Street Fair, 1959
House of Harrington
Curtis Harrington, 1926–2007
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995

More Cameron

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Untitled (Peyote Vision), 1955, Cameron (from Semina journal, no. 1).

Thanks to Erik Davis for drawing my attention to a small online exhibition of Marjorie Cameron artwork and documentary material. Semina was the magazine founded by Cameron’s artist friend, Wallace Berman. The exhibition note tells us that:

Wallace Berman’s only exhibition at Ferus Gallery in 1957 was raided by the LAPD vice squad because of the small reproduction of this sexually graphic work by Cameron that was part of Berman’s assemblage, Temple.

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl successfully fought off an obscenity charge in the same year but the immediacy of visual art means it always fares less well with disapproving authorities. We can assume that Cameron had personal experience of peyote given some verse written by her husband, Jack Parsons, that Robert Anton Wilson quotes in Cosmic Trigger (1977):

I hight Don Quixote, I live on peyote,
marjuana, morphine and cocaine,
I never know sadness, but only a madness
that burns at the heart and the brain.

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On the same site is this wonderful still (or is it a location photo?) from the shooting of Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide in 1961. Seeing this makes me want to watch the film again.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Wormwood Star
Street Fair, 1959
House of Harrington
Curtis Harrington, 1926–2007
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition

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More Cameron, and her finest cinematic moment as she plays two roles—The Scarlet Woman and Kali—in Kenneth Anger’s erotic/psychedelic/thaumaturgic Bacchanal from 1954. Ordinarily there wouldn’t be much reason to draw attention to this, it’s been available on DVD and Blu-ray for several years, and various plunderings are scattered all over YouTube. The version here, however, gives an opportunity to experience the film as it was screened in the 1970s.

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Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, like many of Kenneth Anger’s films, existed in several different forms, with the tinkering and re-editing going on for years after the original footage had been captured. An early edit made in the 1950s was fashioned into a version known as “Sacred Mushroom Edition” which Anger screened to acid heads in the 1960s. I’ve never seen any mention of the soundtrack used for this version, or the other early editions, but in 1978 Anger released a new version with the film soundtracked by most of the Eldorado (1974) album by the Electric Light Orchestra. The note on the Vimeo page says the 1978 edition has only ever been publicly screened once but this isn’t the case. My first viewing of the film was in 1990 when the Magick Lantern Cycle was touring arts cinemas in the UK, and I very well remember sitting in the dark thinking “What the hell…is this the Electric Light Orchestra?” The version that’s seen today is soundtracked with Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass, a choice that seems much more suitable. For some time I’d thought of getting hold of the ELO album and running it with the film to remind myself of that initial viewing but there’s no need now that this version exists. The implication is that what you see here is the actual 1978 edit but the footage seems no different from the DVD version aside from missing a few seconds of credits at the beginning. The ELO album came with a cover photo showing Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, a detail that may explain why the Hollywood-obsessed Anger was drawn to the album in the first place.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally