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Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman

Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art has announced the mounting of 91 artworks and ephemera relating to the life’s work of the eccentric LA bohemian legend Marjorie Cameron. The show goes up on October 11 at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center annex and will close on January 11, 2015. “Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman” will feature paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, poetry and correspondence between Cameron and her husband rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons, and with the great mythologist Joseph Campbell.

In recent years Cameron’s work has begun to be reassessed by the art world, in part inspired by her close association with artists like Wallace Berman and George Herms, actor Dennis Hopper and underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. As interest in their work increased, so has curiosity about the odd, flaming haired creature from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Sadly much of her work was deliberately burned by the artist herself in the 50s and can only be glimpsed at in Curtis Harrington’s short cinematic portrait of Cameron, “Wormwood Star.” (See below)

The show will highlight the recent publication of Songs for the Witch Woman, an absolutely stunning coffee table art book / facsimile reproduction of Cameron’s drawings and watercolors along with Parsons’ metaphysical and occult poetry produced by Fulgur Esoterica. (The book was printed in a very limited edition, and is available now. If this seems like the kind of item that you would like to own—it’s a knockout, finely published at a very high quality—buy it now instead of waiting until next year when it’ll be selling for $500 on eBay. If you like this kind of thing, I’ll say it again, it’s particularly nice. There’s a beautifully composed foreword by the OTO’s WIlliam Breeze, who knew Cameron, to recommend it as well.)

The exhibition is being organized by guest curator Yael Lipschutz with MOCA’s senior curator Alma Ruiz along with the Cameron-Parsons Foundation. The museum will produce a full color catalogue with 75 illustrations for the exhibit.

Below, Curtis Harrington’s “Wormwood Star.” Heartbreaking to consider how many of these paintings are gone forever.

And speaking of Cameron, her biographer, Spencer Kansa sent me this curious piece of 60s experimental filmmaking that Cameron was involved with:

Za is an early-70s cinepoem by Elias Romero, the underground filmmaker, and one of the main pioneers of the liquid light shows that he began projecting in the late-50s in San Francisco and at Ben Shapiro’s Renaissance Club on the Sunset Strip. Za was filmed in Big Sur and features the movie actress Diane Varsi, portraying an alchemist cum poet. Varsi had already runaway from the superficiality of Hollywood by the time this was filmed, in order to pursue a more artistic and meaningful life. And, interestingly, the raggy dayglo outfits she wears in the film were created by Cameron, no less. Cameron and Elias were old friends by the time this film was made. He had been married to Cameron’s confidante, the poetess Aya. In Wormwood Star Aya admits that: “For years, Cameron never forgave me for splitting up with Elias.”

Watching it today, the film is, er, interesting. I guess back then it probably helped that most of its original viewers were heavily dosed-up.


Thank you Lyvia Filotico!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Kenneth Anger and Marjorie Cameron discuss Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard

In 1987 artist/occultist Marjorie Cameron and Kenneth Anger took part in a BBC Radio 4 documentary titled “Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L. Ron Hubbard.” Bohemian weirdo Cameron was a participant in the infamous “Babalon Working” sex magic rituals conducted by her husband rock scientist Jack Parsons and the future founder of Scientology.

The interview is referenced in Spencer Kansa’s Cameron biography Wormwood Star The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron:

In August 1987, Cameron was featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary entitled Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L. Ron Hubbard. The decidedly suspect programme was researched and narrated by Margaret Percy, who interviewed Cameron earlier that year at her home. Kenneth Anger also contributed to the documentary and, for a while at any rate, the two appeared to have settled into a brother-sister type of relationship, with all the ensuing ups and downs. They were even talking about collaborating on another film together.

It was Anger who put the BBC researcher in contact with Cameron, and when Percy sat down with her host at her home on Genesee, she could still detect a vestige of beauty in her, despite the wrinkles and ravages of age: “I thought she must’ve been stunning when she was younger,” Percy attests. One standout memory from their meeting came when Percy asked a couple of questions that seemed to make Cameron uncomfortable and on both times, as if on cue, her dove Pax began cooing in the background. “It was an eerie experience,” Percy recalls.

Back in 1969, the British Sunday Times ran an expose on Hubbard’s participation with Jack in The Babalon Working and cited Aleister Crowley as a catalytic influence on Hubbard’s teachings. To counter this claim, Hubbard issued a cover story in which he painted himself as a cloak-and dagger intelligence agent, sent in to the Fleming mansion on South Orange Grove, to rescue his future wife Betty from the evil clutches of Jack Parsons’ black magic ring. This dubious scenario played hard and fast with the facts, yet in the subsequent radio broadcast Cameron, surprisingly, gave credence to this line, musing how Hubbard, “may have been an agent – as he claims.”

In discussions with [the OTO’s] William Breeze she also reconsidered the circumstances surrounding her own initial involvement with Jack: “She would space-out and say, ‘Maybe I was sent in there’ (to Jack’s house on Orange Grove) ‘maybe I was an intelligence drone.’”

It was clear that over recent years there’d been a sea change in Cameron’s view of L. Ron Hubbard, as Breeze explains: “She may have reached some sort of accord with the Scientologists. She was approached by them and knew some people in LA – that’s how she got Jack’s FBI file. She wasn’t down on them and she wasn’t down on Hubbard anymore. She actually liked Ron. She thought he was charming.”

Over the decades, The Church of Scientology had grown into a multimillion dollar empire, boasting movie star converts, but one person whose low opinion of Hubbard had decidedly not wavered, and had only grown more virulent over time, was Kenneth Anger. To a perennial Hollywood-watcher like him, Scientology’s foothold in Tinseltown only added fuel to his ire, and during his own interview for the same radio documentary he made his feelings abundantly clear, describing Hubbard as an “elemental demon.” Even though she’d never been a member of either organizations, Cameron believed that due to her rich history, she had earned a rightful place in the highest echelons of both the O.T.O. and Church of Scientology.

The newly revised edition of Kansa’s Wormwood Star The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron has just been published and features over 20 new images, including rare stills of Cameron and Jack Parsons taken from a 1947 home movie that Kansa uncovered. Wormwood Star is now available on the Amazon Kindle for the first time.

Interest in this once obscure artist continues to grow; Fulgur is publishing Songs for the Witch Woman by Cameron and Jack Parsons and “Song for the Witch Woman: The Art of Marjorie Cameron”—the first full-scale exhibit of her work—will be mounted in Los Angeles in October.

Listen to “Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L. Ron Hubbard” by clicking here.
Below, artist George Herms, filmmaker Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger discuss Marjorie Cameron in “Cinderella of the Wastelands”:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Wormwood Star: Extraordinarily freaky cinematic portrait of occult artist Marjorie Cameron

It’s certainly no slight to the late director Curtis Harrington to describe The Wormwood Star, his visually arresting 1955 portrait of occult artist/beatnik weirdo Marjorie Cameron as being “Anger-esque” considering that he’d served as the cinematographer for Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment and that it stars Cameron, one of Anger’s most well-known cinematic avatars (Cameron famously played “The Scarlet Woman” in Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome and Harrington himself portrayed “Cesare the Somnambulist” in that film. Additionally, Paul Mathison, who played “Pan” in Anger’s druggy occult vision was the art director of The Wormwood Star).

Until The Wormwood Star came out on DVD and Blu-ray recently via Drag City/Flicker Alley as part of The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection, it was very, very scarce and very difficult to see. You either had to be a friend of Curtis Harrington, probably, or have had a mutual friend with the late director (that’s how I saw it) or maybe see it in a museum. Now it’s on YouTube, of course.

So we’ve established that’s it’s, er, Angery, meaning that there’s more than a fair share of visual flair, drama and a hefty dollop of authentic occult creepiness. Cameron, for those who don’t know, was the wife of rocket scientist/wannabe Antichrist Jack Parsons and a participant in the infamous “Babalon Working” magical rite that also involved future Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. She was a dedicated follower of Aleister Crowley and his occult philosophy of Thelema (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”).

Curtis Harrington told Cameron biographer Spencer Kansa in his book, Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron:

Before I made the film I’d heard from Renate [referring here to painter Renate Druks] that Cameron had spent some time in the desert trying, through magical means, to conceive a child by the spirit of Jack Parsons without success.  Cameron never spoke of Jack directly, but I do remember feeling sometimes when I talked to her, of her going off into a realm that I didn’t understand at all. It was sort of an apocalyptic thing and it’s there in her poetry.

What you should know as you watch this is that the vast majority of Marjorie Cameron’s paintings were destroyed by her—burned—in an act of ritualized suicide. There are very few pieces by Cameron that have survived—a few paintings and some sketches—and The Wormwood Star is the only record of most of them (outside of the astral plane, natch. What does survive of her estate is represented by longtime New York gallerist Nicole Klagsbrun). Cameron has long been a figure of fascination for many people and I think I can say with confidence that this film meets or even far exceeds any expectations you might have for it.

As with Anger’s films, I deeply appreciate the careful aesthetic balance between beauty and evil and, as such, it’s an extraordinary document of both Marjorie Cameron Parsons’ very essence as a human being and of her creative output. As cinema, it’s a mini-masterpiece that can stand alongside any of Anger’s films, Ira Cohen’s magnificently freaky Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda, Jack Smith’s Normal Love or Yayoi Kusama’s Self-Obliteration.

Below, the seldom-seen short film, The Wormwood Star. If it looks this good on YouTube, it must look really amazing on Blu-ray. Order The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection on Amazon (I just did).

Curtis Harrington and Cameron would work together again on 1961’s Night Tide, one of Dennis Hopper’s first starring roles. Her role as the “Water Witch” was brief, but oh so memorable…

Thank you Spencer Kansa, author of Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron

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Life with Kenneth Anger and ‘Charlie’s Angels’: The memoirs of Curtis Harrington
11:28 pm


Marjorie Cameron
Curtis Harrington

I’ve been an admirer of Curtis Harrington’s film making ever since discovering Night Tide (starring Dennis Hopper) many years ago. Night Tide has an eerie surreal quality that recalls the films of Val Lewton and B-movie mindfuckers like Carnival Of Souls. It’s an experimental movie in the guise of a horror film in which the horror doesn’t manifest in overt shocks as much as is in the unsettling sensation of the senses deranged.

Harrington’s film work has been getting increased attention over the years as critics and film buffs have come to the revelation that his vision was unique, compelling and subversively avant-garde. It was with great relish that I opened up the pages of his posthumous memoir, Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood, which is being released on June 18 by Drag City. It’s a fascinating read that anyone who has tried to maintain their integrity and sanity while working within a corporate-controlled art medium will find both amusing and painfully familiar.

Here’s some background on Harrington from Drag City’s bio:

What other film director has a) created avant-garde films and was part of Kenneth Anger’s inner circle, b) directed critically acclaimed and cult-adored horror films like Night Tide and Games, and c) directed episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty? The answer can only be Curtis Harrington.

Starting in the midst of film’s 1940s avant-garde heyday, Harrington made two deeply intuitive and evocative films: Fragment of Seeking, and Picnic, which were heralded by the likes of Maya Deren and Christopher Isherwood. He became a Hollywood insider, working as assistant for Jerry Wald while still keeping a foot in the world of experimental film, collaborating with Kenneth Anger on Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. As a director, he made the cult classic Night Tide, worked in the Roger Corman stable, and helmed several distinctive horror films including Games and What’s the Matter With Helen? In the 1980s he began what he called his descent down the “slippery slope” of television work and soon found himself directing episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty. [I think they mean the 1970s]

His career was a constant struggle between his belief in the art of film and the demands of the movie business. He was one of the only directors who survived both worlds and lived to tell the tale.

For more info on Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood check out Drag City’s website.

In this episode of 1980’s cable TV show Sinister Image (aka Cult People), film historian David Del Valle interviews Curtis Harrington.

And here’s the wonderfully wacked-out Night Tide with a semi-dazed Dennis Hopper wrestling with all kinds of mumbo-jumbo. In glorious black and white and featuring Marjorie Cameron in an extremely creepy cameo role.

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Antichrist Superstar: Jack Parsons on film

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the death of rocket scientist and occultist John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons. In addition to being a pioneer in the filed of rocketry—at the age of 25, Parson was part of the first US Government’s first official rocket group. He later invented the formulation of the solid rocket fuel that eventually put man on the moon—Parsons was a follower of Aleister Crowley, a one-time associate of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and a self-proclaimed Antichrist.

From the bio on the Cameron-Parsons Foundation’s website:

MARVEL WHITESIDE PARSONS, always know as Jack, was born October 2, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. A chemical engineer and explosives expert, he was a principal scientist in the experimental rocket research group attached to the California Institute of Technology during the 1930’s. Their testing range in the area of Devil’s Gate Dam above Pasadena has since grown to become the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Parsons was also a co-founder of the Aerojet General Corporation.

Together with his first wife, Helen Parsons Smith, Parsons joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) in 1941, the same year as his most successful scientific achievement, Jet Assisted Take-Off (JATO). He was very much the young lion of the occult Order and, under the tutelage of Aleister Crowley, briefly served as the acting master of Agape Lodge. His now famous invocation, “The Babalon Working,” was first performed in 1946, with former WAVE Marjorie Cameron serving as Scarlett Woman and L. Ron Hubbard, future founder of the Church of Scientology, channeling words from the ether as Scribe while Jack performed as Priest.

The “Working” reset the course of Parsons’ life, ending his relationship with Aleister Crowley and the O.T.O. In his surviving essays and polemical writings, Parsons anticipated by many years the ethical, moral, religious and social dilemmas of the future.

Parsons died in an explosion of mysterious origin at his chemical laboratory at home in Pasadena on June 17, 1952. His second wife and collaborator, the artist Cameron, preserved and carried on his work until her death in 1995. In 1972 the International Astronomical Union named a crater on the moon (37°N 171°W) after Parsons in recognition of his pivotal role in developing the solid fuel rocket.


Painting of Jack Parsons by his widow, Marjorie Cameron

Additional reading:
Rocket Man by Scott Hobbes

The Crying of Liber 49: Jack Parsons, Antichrist Superstar (From my Book of Lies anthology)

Short film of Jack Parsons and others at March Field in Southern California, August, 1941, for the first successful test of jet-assisted takeoff (JATO). (YouTube)

More film footage of Jack Parsons after the jump

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Master: New look at PT Anderson’s upcoming L. Ron Hubbard film

The marketing campaign for director Paul Thomas Anderson’s fictionalized L.Ron Hubbard flick, The Master, is starting to heat up. Yesterday a mysterious trailer with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix was released and it looks like this is going to be a fascinating film.

Here’s all it says on IMDB at present:

“A 1950s-set drama centered on the relationship between a charismatic intellectual known as “the Master” whose faith-based organization begins to catch on in America, and a young drifter who becomes his right-hand man.”

Hoffman as Hubbard is an inspired bit of casting (although I think the ultimate portrayal of Hubbard will come one day from The Mighty Boosh‘s Rich Fulcher) but are Adams and Phoenix supposed to be based on Marjorie Cameron and Jack Parsons? It kinda looks that way.

One of the film’s producer, JoAnne Sellar, denied any connection to Hubbard or Scientology: “It’s a World War II drama. It’s about a drifter after World War II.”

Yeah, right…

With a tense soundtrack from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. The Master is scheduled for release on “Crowleymass,” October 12th. I wonder if that is a co-incidence or deliberate?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Marjorie Cameron: The Wormwood Star

Writing a book is an heroic process, it really is, but even more so when it comes to biographies. Especially these days when so few people bother to read books anymore and the rewards are seldom very remunerative for most authors. In the case of biographers, it’s a different kind of satisfaction. It takes a real sense of purpose and desire to see someone’s story told properly; to get things down as accurately as possible for history’s sake before the participants are picked off by time. In this sense, there is often a very real race against the clock. 

I’m quite partial to biographies. I have a pretty sizable personal library, and by far the largest part of the books I own are life histories, especially the tales of cult figures or rebellious type people (Beats, Lenny Bruce, Leary, Crowley, Dali, Warhol, etc). There is a special fondness I have for books about extremely marginal personalities (Andy Milligan, Charles Hawtrey, Charles Ludlam) and I appreciate the effort, the true labor of love, that goes into such obscure endeavors. The more obsessive, the better.

Marjorie Cameron (1922-1995) was a “witchy woman” and Beatnik artist known widely in several overlapping Los Angeles bohemian circles, but she was hardly famous. Since her death, there has been a gradually growing public awareness of Cameron’s art, or at least what’s left of her work, that the artist herself did not destroy in a moment of mental instability. Her paintings, now highly sought after by collectors, can sell for in the tens of thousands of dollars. In recent memory, her work has been exhibited in major museums (The Whitney’s “Beat Culture” show and the the excellent “Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle” exhibit) and the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in NYC published a gorgeous monograph of her work in 2007.

Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron by Spencer Kansa is a fascinating and very, very well-researched look into Cameron’s perplexingly strange life. The title refers to Cameron’s belief that she was the end-times “Whore of Babalon” prophesied in the Book of Revelations, in the flesh, This was a result, she thought, of a black magic ritual performed to summon or “conjure” her by her future husband, rocket scientist Jack Parsons, and L. Ron Hubbard, in his pre-Scientology days.

Cameron’s often wobbly orbit in life saw her cross paths with significant cultural players like underground filmmaker Kennth Anger, who cast her as “The Scarlet Woman” (typecasting!) in his 1956 film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, which also featured author Anais Nin. (Anger was Cameron’s roommate at several points over the decades they knew one another). She was certainly a part of Wallace Berman’s intimates and co-starred in. Night Tide a low-budget horror film with Dennis Hopper (who recounts a brief period of sexual intimacy with the older woman). Crisscrossing the country and tracking down all of the various characters the author spoke to must have been quite a chore, and as a reader and longtime admirer of Cameron’s work, I’m grateful for the attention Kansa paid to detail.

Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron is one of those books that’s obviously not for everyone, but me, I’ve probably read Wormwood Star three times in the past month. If it sounds like something that might interest you, well, it probably is.

Below, one of Cameron’s brief, but memorable, scenes in Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Dennis Hopper stars in creepy 60s Beatnik cult film, ‘Night Tide’

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The Alchemy of Things Unknown: Occult Art at Khastoo Gallery in Los Angeles

Jason Gelt posts at Brand X:

“The Alchemy of Things Unknown” exhibit intends examines individual works of art in relation to theosophy, sacred traditions and devotional practice. From William Blake’s illuminated works of divine imagination to Carl Gustav Young’s drawings of collective symbolic unconscious, the artists in this exhibition sought after or seek spiritual truths through art making.

Artists include Paul Laffoley, Harry Smith, Marjorie Cameron, Willian Blake, Austin Ossman Spare, Scoli Acosta, Kenneth Anger, Aleister Crowley, Zach Harris, Susan Hiller, Alfred Jenson, Angus MacLise, JFC Fuller, and Marilyn Manson.

Khastoo Gallery, 7556 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-472-6498

Image: “Kwaw”: an undated self-portrait by English occultist Aleister Crowley done in the 1920s, part of the exhibit at Khastoo Gallery through July 31. Courtesy William Breeze.

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