Invocation of My Demon Brother

Critical Essay on Kenneth Anger's Invocation of My Demon Brother


Invocation of My Demon Brother was Kenneth Anger's return to filmmaking after a brief two year retirement from the business. He always dealt with controversial, provocative, and even taboo subjects and this film follows suit. The first image is of three white dots arranged in a pyramid on a black background. A white haired man is then shown raising his head and opening his eyes, like he is waking up. The shots then go back and forth between his gaze around the room he is in and the things or people he sees in the room, such as a cross-legged figure with a dagger, two boys lounging on a couch, and a tattoo that looks to be on his forearm. After he sees this he raises a clear stick of glass to his forehead. A shot of soldiers being deployed from a helicopter is shown, followed by a superimposition of the man's face, the tattoo, and an Egyptian eye, an image which is repeated many times during the film. A shot of a band is flashed on the screen, and then the cross-legged figures is shown again with his hand on his knees.

The scene and focus seems to change here. Now we see two men and a woman sharing a marijuana joint and smoking it out of a skull. The band is flashed again, as is a cat and a dog. Someone is then shown peering through the leaves of a plant, probably watching the smokers.

A man known as the Magus is introduced dressed in a long, decorated robe. This shot has fire falling from the sky superimposed on it. The Magus is played by Kenneth Anger himself, and is shown in accelerated motion performing some kind of ritual on stage. Some of the ritual scenes are overlapped with others, so you see two events happening at the same time. Images with the top half of the screen reflected upside down on the bottom half are introduced, one of which shows a man's torso and arms but ends up looking like there are eight arms swaying about.

A door is opened and a horned devil in a cape walks in with a skull which he places on the floor. Scenes of Hell's Angels bikers are superimposed over more scenes of the devil, as well as of the ritual.

another devil with brown curly hair is shown. The shots jump between the Magus and this new devil, juxtaposing the two.

The next phase of the film shows many repeated images from earlier in the film. It seems to contrast all the images at once, as well as introducing new ones like scenes of fans at a rock concert. The Egyptian eye is seen in many shots, most of which are superimpositions or altered in some way. The smokers from earlier are shown again walking down a flight of stairs followed by the members of the band. Shots of men and woman raising their arms and reaching out are overlapped over on another. Shots of the Rolling Stones performing are briefly edited in at the same time a man's face with a moire pattern projected on it. The final message of the film comes with a shot of the staircase again. This time a smoking mummy comes down the stairs with a sign that reads,"Zap. You're Pregnant. That's Witchcraft." This is followed by that all seeing Egyptian eye. The film ends with the moire pattern being projected this time on the man' s whole torso. He slowly raises his arms up over his head until his hands meet, then reaches them up high in a triumphant looking pose. The final image is of the three white dots again, this time arranged in an inverted pyramid.

The film seems very much like a montage of images with some central theme interrelating them. The shots change on average about every four to six seconds. Invocation is eleven minutes long and was filmed on 16mm color film. The soundtrack was done by Mick Jagger and features an electronic sound loop done on a Moog Synthesizer. Anger uses many techniques in this film such as accelerated motion in the ritual scenes and the mummy coming down the staircase, projected and superimposed images, and other forms of cineplastics. It could be argued that Anger displays a sense of narcissism by appearing in the film himself as the Magus.

Invocation is definitely a non-narrative film. It can be classified as categorical because it takes a particular subject( the occult, magic) and explores it. Specifically what the subject is difficult to decipher. The film can also be described as abstract. there are many unrealistic images in the film, such as the superimposed and projected images and the devils. All these things are representations of other things, such as the idea of magic or evil or of the devil himself. Abstract films are a selection from one's world of experience. These images are not from my world of experience or anyone else's that I know, but they were apparently part of Kenneth Anger's.

There is a theme which becomes evident early on in the film. The theme seems to be evil and the occult. The images seem to get more abstract and symbolic as the film goes on. The symbolism used throughout of devils, spiders, and tattoos are all associated by that theme. Repetition of images adds to the abstractness of the film. The white haired man in the beginning is shown again later as well as his tattoo. The helicopter with the Marines is shown twice during the film. The Magus is shown repeatedly throughout the film.Toward the end of the film the band members, who were flashed on the screen briefly twice before, are shown again walking down the staircase. The Egyptian eye in probably the most repeated image throughout the film.

The film's inner meaning is evidenced by the shot of the mummy coming down the stairs with the sign around its neck. The sign reads, "Zap. You're Pregnant. That's Witchcraft." I interpreted this to mean that Anger wants to instill his ideas and his theme into the viewer. The film is supposed to do that, which he interprets as a form of magic or witchcraft. You become pregnant with the images and ideas that Anger presents to you. They become part of your experience. The very first image in Invocation is of the three dots arranged in a pyramid form. The very last image is the same three dots in an inverted pyramid form. This can be interpreted as a sign of evil (2 horns on top of a head). You begin the film innocent, not knowing what you will see. Then, after seeing the images of the film, they get put into your experience and/or consciousness and you are transformed. The dots are symbolic of the viewer before they watch the film and then after, further evidence that Anger's goal was to transform his audience and work his form of magic through film on us.

The description Anger himself gives for Invocation of My Demon Brother is as follows:
The shadowing forth of Our Lord Lucifer, as the Powers of Darkness gather at a midnight mass. The dance of the Magus widdershins around the Swirling Spiral Force, the solar swastika, until the Bringer of Light- Lucifer- breaks through.

From this it may mean that the ritual being performed is a sort of seance to "invoke" the devil. In that interpretation, Anger is saying that the devil must be his other side, his alter-ego, his "demon brother."


-- Chris Morrison
CTA 298 Film & Video Art
11-9-95

Kenneth Anger Work