TALK SHOW WITH HARPER SIMON | EPISODE 4
Brian Butler on Aleister Crowley Biopic and Collaborating with Kenneth Anger
Brian Butler is a Los Angeles based artist, filmmaker and musician. Butler’s interests and practices with mysticism function as the underlying narrative of works. Butler’s films and performances often extend to the ‘invisible’ ends of the spectrum utilizing devices such as orgone accumulators, paradoxical sound frequencies, atmospherical ionization, stroboscopic effects, and electrostatic generators. Films include Night of Pan (featuring Kenneth Anger and Vincent Gallo) and Union of Opposites. Butler has executed a series of ritualistic performances including The Bartzabel Working at L&M Arts and The BABALON Working at MOCA. He is a collaborator with Kenneth Anger in both Technicolor Skull as well as numerous film and exhibition projects.
His work has been included in For the Martian Chronicles at L&M Arts in Venice, CA; NOUVELLES VAGUES, Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and the Athens Biennale. As a musician, he has recorded and/or performed music with artists such as VON LMO and Rozz Williams (Christian Death)
Artist, filmmaker and musician Brian Butler discusses his fascination with renown occultist/writer Aleister Crowley – whom he plans to make a feature film about – and reveals his latest collaboration with filmmaker Kenneth Anger to screen his 1950s classicInauguration of the Pleasure Dome at the prestigious Art Basel show in Switzerland.
On working with Anger – a pioneer in underground experimental film – Butler said the two initially met through a mutual acquaintance, then became friends and began working together.
Anger’s short Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome originally premiered at Expo 58 at the world’s fair in 1958 in Brussels, and Butler is helping Anger exhibit the film at Art Basel in a three-screen format. “It’s not like Cinescope or widescreen, actually the screens play off of each other,” Butler explained. “It hasn’t really been done very much, so it’s been a lot of work, locating the elements, and sort of putting this together.”
He also collaborates musically with Anger and talks about a group they formed calledTechnicolor Skull, which has a show coming up next spring in Moscow.
Butler gives his thoughts on Aleister Crowley and rocket scientist Jack Parsons. “They’re two of the most famous musicians this century. And by Magic, I mean Magick, spelled with a “k,” which is sort of like Western occultism, it’s not like magic tricks. They were both very intelligent and prolific, and also innovative people.”
He explains that Parsons – who met a tragic end in 1952 when he was killed in an accidental explosion – was friends with Kenneth Anger. The two also knew Aleister Crowley, who was in England, and wanted to bring him over as well, but it didn’t work out before Crowley died in 1947. He said there was a home in Hollywood where these influential people would meet with each other and others to collaborate on various things.
Butler has optioned The Great Beast, the definitive biography of Aleister Crowley by author John Symonds, which he plans to develop into a feature film.
“I think it’s more about translating the energy or vibe, or the essence of what he was communicating,” he said about his approach to the project. “I’m not so concerned with teaching people the facts of his life, I think it’s more about what he did. And he had a sense of humor. A lot of the things he did were in humor, and I think it got lost obviously with a lot of people in the press.”
One example of Crowley’s prankster antics was when he faked his own death (a concocted story about suicide) in 1930, with the help of poet Fernando Pessoa, in Portugal. “He later reappeared in Berlin for an art opening,” Butler said. “He enjoyed the public – they were so reactionary to these things, and I think he got a laugh out of that.”
Butler explains that he’s currently experimenting with Cognitive Enhancement, which involves attaching electrodes to your head that send small electrical currents through the brain, which he says is supposed to make people smarter. “I found that it sort of speeds up reaching conclusions, or moments of insight, which is also represented by a light bulb,” he says about his own results with the therapy. “It is sort of an electrical storm in the brain when that happens.”
Butler says he’s even invented one of the devices and is testing it on himself, but he admitted the therapy has rather limited appeal. “I think, luckily, the people with money maybe do want to be smarter. But for the mainstream, it seems like they want to belong, it’s their highest value.” He also experiments with the device in studio with a dog.
Watch the full episode for more with Butler, including his exploration of Babylonian rituals and views on the Russian space program.