Flickhead
Soundtrack Review
By Ray Young

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Lucifer Rising

Bobby BeauSoleil’s Original Soundtrack

Now on CD

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cover_hiAA.jpgOriginal motion picture soundtrack of a film by Kenneth Anger. Music by Bobby BeauSoleil & the Freedom Orchestra. Bobby BeauSoleil (electric guitar, bass), Richard Sutton (electric keyboard, Fender-Rhodes piano), Steve Grogan (electric guitar), Chuck Gordon (bass), Randall Chalton (drums), Andy Thurston (drums), Tim Wills (Fender-Rhodes piano), Herbie Rascone (trumpet), Robert Gadbury (“sparks”). A two-disc set with booklet. More information from Arcanum, or order from White Dog Music.

For over a decade, the creation of Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1970/81) became a legend of the underground, and the multiplying accounts and rumors threatened to dwarf the film itself. Footage shot in 1967 in and around California had reportedly vanished. The film’s star and soundtrack composer Bobby BeauSoleil had problems of his own: soured drug deals and an association with Charles Manson found him arrested and incarcerated before the picture was finished. Meanwhile, the utopian daydreams of ‘the Sixties’ came undone and Anger left America for Europe, saying ‘goodbye’ in a mock obituary he sent in to a newspaper. A few years later he resumed Lucifer Rising, and approached Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to do the music. But he was unhappy with Page’s contribution and looked up BeauSoleil to compose and recorded the music from behind bars. In 1980, nearly fourteen years after it began production, Lucifer Rising had its opening at the Whitney Museum.

    It is a reflection of the ‘Age of Aquarius’ that was once so fashionable in the days of Hair, and Anger, living in San Francisco during 1967’s fabled Summer of Love, was inspired to make a film that would welcome ‘Lucifer, the LightGod’ to the simmering battle that was dividing generations and cultures. At the same time, his earlier movies were just beginning to work their way from museum showings to universities and revival theatres. Scorpio Rising (1963) became a cult movie and had a modest release on a double-bill paired with Robert Downey’s Chafed Elbows (1966; see the original poster art here). And perhaps most famous of all, Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon, his scathing exposé of golden-age Tinsel Town dirt, was making heads spin. After tinkering away on arcane, barely-screened experimental pictures for twenty years, Anger was now the focal point of the underground press and the unlikeliest media darling you could imagine.

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Myriam Gibril in
Lucifer Rising
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    It’s tempting to assume Lucifer Rising was a reaction to the times and his critics. He had certainly never made anything as epic before (or since), filming in exotic lands — Karnak, Luxor, Avebury, and Stonehenge — using tones and textures to blend primitive and contemporary images, building his way to a futuristic crescendo in which a coral-colored UFO hovers above ancient Egypt. Sedate and painterly if compared to the pace and character of most of his 60’s films, Lucifer Rising appears as a heartfelt, reverent celebration of creation and the act of worship. The less erudite (re: this viewer) may have to fall back on crib notes to distinguish the film’s characters and functions. We’re told that the scenario traces “the ascension of Lucifer (Horus), Bringer of Light, invoked by Isis, Osiris, Lucifer’s Adept, Lilith and the Magus.” (For further explanation, click here.) Color me mundane. To these eyes, Anger’s flat-out showmanship has never been more striking.
    Music has always been an integral part of his films, from Vivaldi in Eaux d’artifice (1953) to the perpetual juke box of Scorpio Rising and Mick Jagger’s pulsating electronic cacophony underlining Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969). He has gambled with blatant disparity to separate aural from visual — an extreme case was Andy Arthur’s shrill 70’s pop tune juxtaposed with the classic beauty of Rabbit’s Moon (1950/79) — and believes that these films cast spells. Most all of the music was culled from preexisting tracks, methodically selected and deliberately unsettling.
    Commissioning an original score for Lucifer Rising was a smart decision. His colorful introduction to Bobby BeauSoleil, running up to the musician after a show proclaiming “You are Lucifer!” is detailed in an account written by Michael Moynihan for an attractive, informative booklet included with the new, 2-CD Lucifer Rising soundtrack. Other than capturing the mood(swings) and sense of abandon prevailing in and around the Haight/Ashbury during the late-60’s, when the young musician was in the Bay Area bands The Orkustra and The Magick Powerhouse of Oz, Moynihan has a clear appreciation of his music. (You can read portions of their extensive interview sessions online.)
    Composed and recorded in prison between 1977 and 1979, BeauSoleil worked in a makeshift studio on bare bones equipment with an ensemble of fellow inmates. Collectors have circulated bootlegs of the sessions for years, copied from the limited vinyl pressing BeauSoleil once made for family and friends. But this new edition — authorized by BeauSoleil and Anger — has been cleaned up and digitally mastered. Tight budgets and antiquated technology notwithstanding, the music now has the breadth of a major studio recording. All things considered, this could be the most important soundtrack release of the year.

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Donald Cammell in
Lucifer Rising
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    The complete soundtrack runs nearly forty minutes on one disc, and the second CD serves up stages of its evolution. Tapes thought to be lost (or nonexistent) were tracked down, including two unexpectedly clear instrumentals by The Orkustra. There’s also a 1967 session of the Magick Powerhouse of Oz doing an embryonic Lucifer Rising that shows the influence of jazz fusion, and rehearsal tapes of the Freedom Orchestra recorded ten years later, that occasionally drift into vibrant solo improvisations.
    Performed on mostly electric instruments by non-professionals, the music has a palpable organic texture and is rooted in the blues. The film could ask for no better accompaniment, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine Anger’s vision working as well as it does without this sound. “It not only perfectly suits the mood of Anger’s film,” wrote Michael Moynihan, “but even seems to have been scored precisely to coincide with certain visual images that occur onscreen.” This is either good fortune or symmetry with the gods, because there wasn’t a finished print of the film to work off of. BeauSoleil had to rely on description and a partial slash print. He supplies a few buoyant passages that invite movie Mickey Mousing (such as the playful “Part IV”), but the rejection here of Hollywood cliché is a given. (In the film, this piece accompanies Marianne Faithfull’s ascension of Star Mountain.) Offsetting the electronic foundation, a lone trumpet is used in moderation adding an underlying sense of melancholy — and brought to mind Ennio Morricone’s work of the 60’s. Most of the score revolves around a predominant riff, an infectious cascading chord progression that has the cyclical flow of an acid trip churning toward its peak.
    It may be nostalgia for some (it all bears a superficial resemblance to the late 60’s Pink Floyd of A Saucerful of Secrets), but these ears found the twenty-five-year-old music vital and alive . . . and prompted the question, whatever became of BeauSoleil? An interesting man with an interesting story, he continues to compose and record, and has managed to build something of a small recording career from prison. The samples of his work that can be heard for free online sound like mini-scores for films yet to be made, and are on a par with, if not superior to, most of the material now written for the movies.