In Search Of The Great Beast 666

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I was expecting to hate this. There’s no point denying it. The advance publicity was awful. The DVD would, the YouTube teasers proclaimed, ask such pressing questions as: Was Crowley the grandfather of George Bush? What was the connection between Crowley and Jack The Ripper? And the incidental music? Well, that was being provided by Rick Wakeman who, despite his involvement in the Chakra release all those years ago, was now reinforcing his Christian principles by describing Crowley as “wicked” and “one of the most evil men that walked this earth” – all the while, mis-spelling AC’s chosen first name. So, yes, I was expecting to hate it. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! Actually, talking of its cover, the presentation of this 120 minute documentary about the life of Aleister Crowley is really rather splendid. Its professionally produced, with some expert use of Photoshop. It won’t look out of place in your local video store. The documentary itself, directed by Robert Garofalo, is presented in 16:9 widescreen, PAL Region 0 and with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Again, all very nice and professional. Garofalo, by the way, isn’t new to this sort of thing: he’s an accomplished director focusing on music performances including, interestingly enough, ‘Rick Wakeman: Live in Buenos Aires’. The “Special Features” advertised on the site do not appear on the DVD in order to “ensure maximum sound and visual quality in the transfer”: the viewer is directed to the website although, at the time of writing, there’s little there beyond mouse-mat and T-shirt merchandising and a couple of trailers. So, what of the film itself? Well, the narration is provided with typical workmanlike skill by Joss Ackland. Rather than following the usual dry format, the time flies past as a result of some really rather impressive reconstructed period interview: actors playing some of the most significant parts. This is so much more watchable than the usual voiceover extracts and works rather well. Stand-out “reconstructions” are provided by a delightful 1940s Crowley (sensitively portrayed by Thomas Bewley), Allen Bennett (Neil Charnaud) and Rose Kelly (played with touching simplicity by Heather Darcy). Where this approach is less successful is where pronunciations vary (there are multiple versions of Crowley, Boleskine and Cefalu, for example) and some of the props seem a little anachronistic. And the less said about the performances of those portraying Bishop and Hirsig, the better. But these are trivial complaints. Another, rather more serious concern, is that it’s not always clear which images are “authentic”. Characters appear on-screen in apparently aged photographs, only for the same faces to appear in the guise of actors. Likewise, streets and rooms appear with nothing to indicate whether they are actual photographs of the places described or representative ‘library’ images. Given the documentary’s fondness for Photoshop masking of cracked and peeling plaster over most of the still image rostrum work, this becomes occasionally confusing and content is sometimes obscured unnecessarily. Some modern footage is rather impressive, including a lovely zoom across Loch Ness into the always-striking Boleskine House. There’s a substantial sequence of footage from Cefalu, which, as usual, is both atmospheric and, due to the state of the building, rather depressing. The Golden Dawn debacle is discussed in significant and accurate detail and this sequence incorporates a re-enactment of one of the rituals, to good effect. A similar approach is taken to the Gnostic Mass that features brief nudity that is entirely relevant but still surprising in a DVD that announces that it is “Exempt from Classification”. Perhaps not quite as surprising as some of the ‘White Stains’ extracts it chooses to show on-screen, though! Especially good is the account of the events leading up to the reception of Liber AL and the attempted ascents of K2 and Kangchenjunga. The Caxton Hall performances of the Rites of Eleusis are described with good attention to detail, although the account of the desert ritual associated with the 10th Aethyr is rather more confused. It’ll give some indication of the detail incorporated in this documentary when I say that the Ab-Ul-Diz Working is discussed and correctly connected with the writing of ‘Book 4’. It’s in the account of the Paris Working that the documentary takes its greatest liberties, though, with Crowley describing the notorious “violation of a willing victim” taken out of context and appearing to condone or promote what is generally regarded as dubious historical statement or dark fantasy. The documentary includes some interesting extracts from Crowley’s writings regarding his attainment of the grade of Ipsissimus, although its linked with an inappropriate and unrelated extract from ‘De Arte Magica’. There are no interviews with “experts” – not necessarily a bad thing – and the documentary terminates with the death of Crowley. There is therefore no coverage of the squabbling that has marred so much of Crowley’s legacy: to that extent, this is an honest documentary. To summarise, then, this is a fact-packed documentary that I would not hesitate from recommending to newcomers to the subject. Sure, it’s tone is generally – but not disturbingly – “anti-Crowley”, whose name doesn’t seem to be used without the usual “Satanic”, “evil” or “notorious” prefixes. But it’s nothing like as inaccurate as much that you will already have read or seen, it stays essentially on-track without needless distractions, it’s very watchable and, thank goodness, it doesn’t repeat the usual “shit-eating goat-shagging” stories. I enjoyed it and recommend it.

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