Based on John Geiger’s book Chapel of Extreme Experience, Nik Sheehan’s FLicKeR is a fascinating voyage into the life of artist and mystic Brion Gysin and his legendary invention the dream machine, a device that projects stroboscopic light, provoking a “drugless high” and cinematic hallucinations. In this Hot Docs world premiere Sheehan captures the dynamic, supernatural world of Gysin, the queer cultural terrorist who fused science, magic and art to expand human consciousness and transcend material reality.
Gysin’s biography is difficult to condense, but he grew up in Edmonton before reinventing himself as a bohemian globetrotter who went on to become the unacknowledged genius behind some of the most interesting developments in the 20th-century avant-garde. He died in 1986. Sheehan casts him as a radical artist intent on harnessing “the visionary potential of light” (as Geiger puts it) to revolutionary ends. Gysin was not a man but, like the machine, a way of perceiving the world — pure energy. He even tried to make himself invisible.
“It’s incredible that nobody’s made this film before,” says Sheehan, whose previous credits include God’s Fool about writer Scott Symons and the groundbreaking AIDS documentary No Sad Songs.
“I was surprised how anxious people were to open up and talk about Gysin because people have so many different views of him.” What is so compelling about FLicKeR is that Gysin remains mysterious and ephemeral throughout, no amount of talking could ever explain him.
Sheehan’s film is populated with a who’s who of pundits, countercultural figures and Gysin confidantes, reminding you that rock ‘n’ roll has always gone hand in hand with the most out-there shit: Marianne Faithfull, Iggy Pop, Kenneth Anger and Genesis P-Orridge all wax poetic on Gysin, magic and their most memorable trips, as do younger devotees like Lee Ranaldo and DJ Spooky. How did Sheehan land all these stellar interviewees? “That’s the magical question,” quips Sheehan. “It’s a very interesting group; they go back a long time. And because they’re cult figures they’ve obviously built up all these defences. So it was a very complicated and long and dedicated effort to bring everybody online.”
The film is also chock full of brilliant archival footage, particularly of Gysin, his art and his intensely fruitful and influential collaborations with William S Burroughs. We visit the “Beat Hotel” in Paris where these seditious kooks built a poor-man’s lab to transform the world through all manner of strange experiments in perception. “That’s one of the things about Gysin and Burroughs and these guys, it’s this combination of the silly and the sublime,” Sheehan says. “We have to remember how incredibly brave they were. They did not accept what society was offering — it was all lies. And they were very moral, good people in their way. With Nazi Germany they saw what could happen to a government [if] we get a little too trusting.
“That element of rebellion has something really serious.”
Sheehan feels Gysin’s gayness was fundamental. “A shaman to me is always a pansexual being,” says the gay Canadian filmmaker. “These guys all came out of that period where queer was really hardcore, it was part of their radical art — and of course it was illegal.”
Sheehan says his film “wasn’t so much a biography of Gysin or a story of the dream machine as a story of the dream machine as a biography of Gysin — the way the two fuse together. I think [the producers] were expecting it was just going to be this cute story about this spinning little machine, not these crazy queer mystics.
“The dream machine is [Gysin’s] ultimate work, this end-of-art thing that went beyond something you made to something you created individually in your own head.”
One challenge that Sheehan encountered was how to represent this internal, neurological phenomenon on screen, so there are many shots of people pressed up close to the device, eyes closed, narrating their experiences in ecstatic tones. It calls to mind Eric Emerson in Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls who just “groove[s] on myself” as coloured lights play over his body, a transcendence through narcissism. The dream machine isn’t much to look at — sort of like a twirling lampshade — so you have to take people’s word for it. But whether you can imagine what they are seeing or not, the ideas behind the machine are what matter.
“One of the things I really wanted to do is put things in the present tense, to give it some relevance,” says Sheehan. “The idea of trying to build a machine to change your world, we’re doing that all the time, aren’t we?
“The Beats came to fruition in the late ‘50s in the Eisenhower years where the world was petrified by the bomb and conformity was everything. Well, where are we now? We live in this time when we recently had this rightwing American government, which turned into a torture state. There are weird parallels. It was the old message: Don’t trust the man, he doesn’t always have your best interests at heart. And the dream machine is the perfect metaphor for this: Get rid of television, get rid of cinema, make your own inner movie, be your own person.”
In its enthusiasm for this long-gone cultural moment and its most beguiling catalyst, FLicKeR has great poignancy. At one point P-Orridge suggests that the control that Gysin and his comrades were fighting against is now diffuse and all-pervasive, and that rather than deserving to be liberated by the ultimate mind trip, the inert public now “deserve to have their bottoms smacked.”
“In fact” says Spare, “I’m almost a ghost myself. However, the bones go last.”
“There is more truth in our erotic zones, than in the whole of religions and mathematics.”
“I Believe What I Will and Will What I Believe”
“Spare Places” is a Psychogeographical film by Jamie Gregory. Made in 2006, “Spare Places” takes us to where Spare lived and breathed, exploring the history of those areas and in doing so offering glimpses into possible inspirations for Spare’s life and works. The film highlights the creativity, diversity and ever changing face of of South London. Layers of fascinating history shudder behind grey buildings as Jamie’s jerky digital lense probes for traces of Austin.
“And remember, you shall suffer all things and again suffer: until you have sufficient sufferance to accept all things.”
For the Los Angeles artist Brian Butler, magic (or “magick,” as the case may be) is as modern as technology. Certain teachings may be ancient, he notes, but that doesn’t make them any less relevant. “In the modern world of computers, the same energies are still operating,” he says.
Butler was premiering his film, “The Dove and the Serpent,” at the LAXART Annex in Hollywood last year, and a gritty, glamorous crowd had gathered to watch a live musical performance featuring the legendary underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger.
Initially drawn together by a shared interest in Aleister Crowley and the occult, Butler and Anger have worked together for more than a decade, Butler producing Anger’s last few films and acting as creative director of the trippy short he made for Missoni’s fall 2010 campaign. Anger appears with Vincent Gallo in Butler’s film “Night of Pan,” and the two also formed the band Technicolor Skull.
The Dove and the Serpent is a meditation on alchemy; the title references the Hermetic principle “as above, so below.” Filmed at a castle in Normandy, France, with some friends he rounded up during Paris fashion week last fall, including Dash Snow’s sister Caroline and the cinematographer Edouard Plongeon, whose family provided the locale, the two-and-a-half minute piece is beautiful, hypnotic and vaguely sinister.
Shadowy figures shape-shift and meld with the elements, occult symbols flash and fade, and there is some covetable fashion on display, including a Masonic robe and an ivory silk gown by the London designer Qasimi.
The Bartzabel Working is a performance based on a ceremonial evocation of the spirit of Mars, first written and performed in London in 1910 by Crowley, the ritual later became part of Los Angeles history in 1946 when Jack Parsons conducted his own version of this rite with the intention of placing a Martial curse on a pre-scientology L. Ron Hubbard.
For his reinterpretation of this historical performance, Butler conjures Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, evoking on the site that was once home to late sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and currently comprises L&M Gallery. And bellow is also a little gem of a video by Mr. Butler for The Black Lips…
Degaussing is the process of decreasing or eliminating a persistent magnetic field generated by a permanent magnet. It is named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, an early researcher in the field of magnetism. Due to magnetic hysteresis it is generally not possible to reduce a magnetic field completely to zero, so degaussing typically induces a very small “known” field referred to as bias. Degaussing was originally applied to reduce ships’ magnetic signatures during WWII. Degaussing is also used to reduce magnetic fields in CRT monitors and to erase magnetic media.
When a degausser is placed over the VCR as a VHS tape plays, the image and audio are erased and distorted in real time. As information is wiped and rearranged on the tapes, interesting wobbly distortions, discolorations and frame overlaps occur. The distortions are permanent.
Hunter Longe is an emerging San Francisco artist inspired by the visual by-products of magnetic data erasure or degaussing. He investigates the idea of destruction as a medium for creation. Obscuration, negation, distortion and dematerialization become the formal and conceptual residue of his meta-magnetic, process-reveling creations. Hunter is also a founding member of Drone Dungeon Collective.
Originally formed by the spontaneous convergence of _______ and _______, the group has evolved to include other like-minded individuals such as _______, and _______. Primarily harnessing video, installation, and new media, their output is a constant dialogue between obscurity and clarity. The collective work hints at a new form of Brechtian distancing through the application of a degraded aesthetic, the destruction of traditional narrative, and removal of original context. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Drone Dungeon patiently awaits the day of the unionization of their minds and your soul (Now).
Against all odds, one of the most talked about soundtracks in movie history rose to the surface in 2002. Believed for years to be lost, destroyed or even buried deep beneath a motorway, this disc contains Paul Giovanni’s original music to The Wicker Man. These historic recordings had, up until then, only been heard by a select few.
Based on the themes of fertile pre-Christian practices of pagan Britain, The Wicker Man did not follow the predictable formula of 1960’s British horror movies. The equally non-formulaic music score was provided by talented songwriter Paul Giovanni, and his assistant Gary Carpenter.
With only six weeks allotted to write, research and record the soundtrack, Paul draws on the rich traditions of Celtic music to present a brilliant collection of eclectic folk songs underpinned with aeons-old verse.
The album itself is a highlight…each track paints a picture of psychological intrigue as clues are absorbed within each spilling over with music. A must have for all “film-score-buffs”, even if you’ve never seen the film.
This CD stands on it’s own two “wicker-feet”…collection of music for missing persons is brought on by the composers unusual and unsettling themes “Fire Leap” and “Willow”, as an island populated by missing girl’s is surrounded by pagan rituals. One can only hope this will open the doors of more to come within the vaults of Silva Screen Records.
In Fireworks are released, all the explosive pyrotechnics of a dream. The inflammable desires, dampened by day under the cold water of consciousness, are ignited at night by the libertarian matches of sleep, and burst forth in showers of shimmering incandescence. These imaginary displays provide a temporary relief.
FIREWORKS was first publicly screened in a version with no opening titles. A title sequence and narrated prologue were later added. In 1966 Anger exhibited a version with hand-painting, the only copy of which was subsequently lost in a fire. A later version featured a new title sequence and was printed with a blue cast.
UCLA has preserved the first two release versions in 35mm from surviving early 16mm prints, and is preserving the final version in 16mm from the reconstructed 16mm color and black-and-white A/B rolls.
This print is the version containing Anger’s prologue.
Ritual is a horror novel by British actor and author David Pinner, first published in 1967. The protagonist of Ritual is an English police officer named David Hanlin. A puritanical Christian, Hanlin is requested to investigate what appears to be the ritualistic murder of a local child in an enclosed rural Cornish village. During his short stay, Hanlin deals with psychological trickery, sexual seduction, ancient religious practices and nightmarish sacrificial rituals.
Shrouded in the same brand of mystery and contradiction that forms its tangled plot, Ritual, the 1967 debut by RADA-trained playwright David Pinner is commonly recognised by cult cinema fanatics as the original seed that grew into the towering movie enigma The Wicker Man.
As a result of the film’s popularity, Ritual became a much sought-after collector’s item, and was being sold for £400 to £500 on eBay. It was not until the 2011 reprint that the novel became widely available.
Watch below the documentary “Burnt Offering — The Cult of the Wicker Man” where the cast and main players in the crew come together to discuss the making of cult British horror film The Wicker Man. They discuss the adaptation of the source material, the casting process and the difficult shoot which dealt with everything from a summer film being shot in late autumn and the troubles of the actual wicker man itself.