Mid-week Anger: Invocation of my Demon Brother - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mid-week Anger: Invocation of my Demon Brother

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The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

The real human centipedeIt was only one week ago I wrote of Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos and how much fun I was watching his movies.  I don’t know if you’d call it hubris, ironic, or revelatory but the joy I’ve processed in his movies was replaced by pain and nausea this week.  Invocation of My Demon Brother is as deeply unsettling an experience as I’ve had with movies, and in its own simultaneously hypnotic and off-putting fashion may be the best movie about the poison which infected America during the Vietnam War.

Anger primes us that Invocation, perhaps more than any of his previous work, is to be felt rather than intellectually processed.  That can mean so many nebulous things, so focus on the first two images is important.  We first see a trio of circles arranged in a pattern my religious upbringing instantly coded as father / son / holy spirit.  Then the devil arrives in a subtle fashion as the simplicity of the trinity gives way to a textured painting shot in a close up so tight we can see the individual mounds of paint on the canvas.Look it's just unsettling overallMy spirit engaged unconsciously, mind had to make the transition from symbol to paint, then I felt the pain on my fingertips.  Anger had me entirely with Invocation then set to work nauseating me in sound and image with a disquieting loop provided by Mick Jagger in what sounded like an irregular heartbeat.  Then those images – albino man, soldiers, albino marking himself, bored naked men, the devil at play, albino staring, more naked men, devil among the men, back to the soldiers.

I know I do not have the order correct, but the order matters less than the existence of the images and their repetition with the sound.  Whatever brother Anger is invoking with this repetition is not a brother of love and more the brother of Langston Hughes’ poem I,Too – the darker brother, the one who laughs, eats well, and grows strong.  As the images grew in power, the men entangled with one another, and the devil plays among them, there is an evolution into abject terror.  Eyes disconnected from bodies appear onscreen like the mythical third eye which opens with meditation and drugs.  But this isn’t a transcendent evolution, one where the bodies we recognize are no more, limbs function as though they have independent thought, and the individual barely stands out against darkness.

How to make sense of all this, particularly from the vantage point of 1969 when Invocation was released and Woodstock gathered so many in an expressions of peace and love?  I didn’t see peace or love in Invocation, just a group of self-interested parties expanding their minds and bodies while the repetition of violence continued on without their input.  It’s at one harmless and pitiful to see so many dance and fuse as one while soldiers continue to be deployed in that horrible soundtrack.  What good is all the peace, love, and evolution if it ignores the violence against the body of another?Pour that liquid evil all over meI received an answer in the form of a shot which in another setting would be mundane but removed from the collage of flesh was shocking.  There it was, the racist statue of a black mammy holding a hand-written note saying “Zap, you're pregnant with witchcraft.”  The darker sister spoke, we turned her into a caricature, and busy ourselves with satanic panic and protests while the cancer grew.

Invocation is not an indictment of any specific facet of American culture or involvement in Vietnam.  It’s  an emotional snapshot of the hollow “good vibes” of the hippie generation failing to end the cycle of violence as systemic problems stare at us so blatantly to be handed off to the next generation.  I was disturbed and constantly engaged because of Anger’s firm control over the parts of my mind I forgot can be manipulated.  Whether you enjoy Invocation or not I can’t say, but it’s as engaging and necessary a film as Anger seems capable of.

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Posted by Andrew

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