April 16, 2011

Subliminal helicopters

Helicopters in movies: also the C roll of Kenneth Anger's Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969). Assembled from scraps of Haight-Ashbury-era occultism originally intended for Lucifer Rising, mixed in with footage of the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park (plus their grim accomplices: Pallenberg, Faithfull, Hells Angels) and set to an abrasive Moog soundtrack by Mick Jagger -- seemingly replaced by Italian post-rock band Larsen on current internet versions (Anger's own doing? He has been known to alter the soundtracks -- when he toured Magick Lantern Cycle in New Zealand in 1993, the Janacek soundtrack to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome had been replaced by ELO's album Eldorado), Invocation seemed in hindsight to condense all the chaotic energy of the late 60s into 11 minutes, with its associations somehow anticipating both the Manson story and Altamont. The first time I saw it, about 20 years ago now at a Wellington Film Society screening, I was convinced I saw helicopters all through it; specifically, an image of a US helicopter discharging marines into a field in Vietnam, with the movement of the marines synched with the stuttering forward-motion of Jagger's Moog soundtrack. The next time I saw the film, the image of helicopters was barely there. This is why:
New techniques for undermining conscious control are introduced [in Invocation of My Demon Brother]. The most striking of these is Vietnam footage of a helicopter setting down a troop of marines. Here, Anger printed one continuous loop of film on a C roll played simultaneously to the other two rolls. He has suggested that this image, which we only consciously register twice, is visible throughout the film with the help of infra-red glasses. The footage is intended to heighten the viewer's anxiety. Anger believes that audiences will sense the flow of men through the film, even when they are unable to see them.
-- Anna Powell, from "A Torch for Lucifer" in Moonchild: The Films of Kenneth Anger, edited by Jack Hunter. Creation Books, 2002.