Friday, December 18, 2009

Ambrose Horne meets Aleister Crowley

From the journal of Ambrose Horne. Undated entry.Among the less salubrious characters to have crossed my path over the years, but certainly one of the most fascinating as well, was a gentleman known to modern infamy as Aleister Crowley.

How our mighty Empire quaked and trembled at the pronouncements he made – “the wickedest man in England,” he was called, and it was a styling that he tried devilishly hard (pun intended) to justify. Indeed, in death as much as life, “Old Badger Jowels,” as he was known to many of his acquaintances, has exerted so malign and malevolent an influence on the culture of our country that I was fascinated to learn that a moving picture presentation of his posthumous activities had been prepared by Julian Doyle, the great cinematographic impresario; and intrigued to discover that the Actor Simon Cowell was to play Crowley.

Intrigued, because Mr Cowell is possessed of a voice of almost Dickensian sonority and strength. Whereas, even in the prime of youth, Crowley was saddled with a thin, nasally voice, that of an ancient man towards the end of his life still trying to fill his listeners with dread and awe, but actually sounding more like a little old lady buying cat food at the marketplace. “I’ll have three pounds of tripe, please, and by the way, I am the beast.”

It was all a long, long way from the commanding tone of his literary work.

The Chemical Wedding, or Crowley as it was retitled for distribution in the American colonies, has been roundly abused in Thelemic (and beyond) circles for offering up an utterly flawed portrait of Mr Beast and his doings. Which to my mind is a worthy response, although when one considers the circumstances of his manifestation in the first place (an American scientist relocates to Cambridge University with a machine capable of transplanting the personality of one man into the body of another), surely the nature of that personality is one of the last things one should worry oneself about?

In fact, the writers… one of whom is Bruce Dickinson, vocalist with the popular singing troupe Iron Maiden… do have a reasonable understanding of the basics of Crowley, which they combine with a pronounced taste for some of his more esoteric rituals and habits. The ferocious blood letting and debauchery that follows the man’s “reincarnation” certainly slots into the personal mythos that Crowley himself was responsible for. As any fool could inform you, if you tell enough people that you’re the most evil man in the world (or the greatest Baker Street-based detective, for that matter) and you’re always going to find a imbecilic few who believe you. The fact that Crowley was also a keen mountaineer and an avid chess player do not enter into that particular equation… although the latter is included among the plethora of minor visual and nomenclatural puns that litter the presentation.

The plot itself is largely concerned with the search for the Scarlet Woman who will complete Crowley’s reincarnation within the body of a blundering, stutter-prone academic – a reference, of course, to Crowley’s own Goddess of Abominations, Babalon. Some time, and several false alarms bedevil him before he successfully encounters her, although it is the most damnable misfortune that sees him select a woman who has just fallen into the arms of the same resourceful American scientist who invented the machine in the first place. So the end of the movie is rarely in doubt, but for 107 minutes beforehand, we revel in a swirlingly chaotic blend of Crowleyana in all its muddled madness, black humor jousting with sadistic nastiness, and enough historical in-jokes to fill a box of fortune cookies. Which, I fear, will never be enough to satisfy the appetites of the Thelemic community but like or loathe the end result, we take solace from one immutable fact. They wouldn’t have correctly recreated his voice, either.

Saturday, November 21, 2009