Welcome to the pleasure dome

We met Marjorie Cameron just a few days ago. She was the wife of Jack Parsons, his “Scarlet Woman” with whom he hoped to conceive a “Moonchild” in accordance with the occult teachings of Aleister Crowley.

After Parsons’ death in 1952, Cameron pursued an idiosyncratic path, becoming an accomplished poet and artist, picking up on the studies she had pursued after the war. She was also an occasional actress, though her only major role in a feature film was in Curtis Harrington’s 1961 Night Tide, in which she appeared with the recently departed Dennis Hopper (she’s the one issuing an ominous warning in Greek):

But Cameron retains a special role in the history of experimental filmmaking for her part in Kenneth Anger’s 1954 work Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. An extraordinary, multi-levelled piece of film art, Inauguration represents a ritualistic parade of deities and archetypes. Cameron, draped in a shawl which once belonged to Rudolph Valentino, plays both the Scarlet Woman and the Hindu goddess Kali in the biggest false eyelashes you’ve ever seen.

Also along for the trip, besides Curtis Harrington and Anger himself, is French author Anaïs Nin, who had previously appeared in experimental films by her husband Hugh Parker Guiler and Maya Deren. She appears as the goddess Astarte in one of the film’s most arresting images, in which her head is framed both by a birdcage and a sickle moon.

At 38 minutes this is one of Anger’s longest works, and includes overlaid excerpts from his own film Puce Moment. The whole thing is set to Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (an incongruous choice given the film’s occult themes) and is most likely the closest any of us will get to seeing a drag Baroque opera in Hades.

Cameron died on this day 15 years ago; you can read more on her unique career here, while Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and all of Anger’s classic works can be found on the DVD The Complete Magick Lantern Cycle. There is also a compelling account of Harrington’s memorial service in 2007, where an emotional Anger predicted he would be dead the following year;  happily he is still with us.



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