Chemical Wedding

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

8 April

Aleister Crowley transcribes Chapter 1 of The Book of the Law, 1904

On this day in 1904, the British-born occultist Aleister Crowley was contacted by Aiwass, the messenger of the Egyptian god Horus, or so he claimed. Independently wealthy and the rebellious son of strict evangelical christians, the 32-year-old Crowley was in Egypt, having arrived there after an extensive world tour – he had already visited Mexico, Hawaii, San Francisco, Japan, Hong Kong, Ceylon, India and Paris. And en route he had climbed mountains (including the first attempt on K2), written a play based on Wagner’s Tannhäuser, written several books of poems, studied raja yoga and become a fixture on the Paris art scene, hanging out with the likes of Auguste Rodin and Somerset Maugham. So, a polymath. Or maybe just a dilettante. He had arrived in Cairo with his new wife, Rose, where they claimed to be a prince and princess and took apartments that suited their story. It was Rose who led him to Aiwass, claiming that the old Egyptian deities were waiting to make contact with him. Crowley wrote down everything the messenger told him and it became The Book of the Law, the foundational work of a new religion, Thelema, whose prophet was Crowley himself. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” was its dictum, and it chimed entirely both with the attitude of bohemian self-expression and of esoteric spirituality which were then asserting themselves.

Chemical Wedding (2008, dir: Julian Doyle)

Now then, what do we have here? A film about Aleister Crowley directed by a man, Julian Doyle, who once made a promo vid for metal rockers Iron Maiden. Doyle co-writes with Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of the selfsame outfit. And if you are now expecting a heavy metal nightmare, that is exactly what you get – shit, piss, cum and blood all featuring heavily in this fantastic pantomime examination of the occultist’s life.

John Shrapnel, over-acting madly, plays Crowley, and a fabulously ripe Simon Callow plays the professor who accidentally conjures the spirit back onto the earthly plane, only for Crowley’s ghost to take up residence in the mild-mannered academic’s body, thanks to a bit of postmodern computer jiggery pokery. Enough plot already. The style is sub-Hammer – very florid, exquisitely terrible – and Doyle has virtually no control over his actors who, with the exception of Callow, are lousy.

Callow is the reason to watch, as he puts on a booming one-man display of old school theatrical bombast. He’s fantastic, and coupled with a plot that is preposterousness itself, the entire effect is peculiarly bewitching. Dickinson and Doyle try to make a few serious points: about Einsteinian physics being the modern equivalent of alchemy. Schrödinger, the Uncertainty Principle, parallel universes and Stephen Hawking are all invoked too, more as window dressing than to prop up the plot. Did I mention the breasts? A film more in hock to the early 1970s than Crowley – required reading for any up-and-coming metaller back then – it does at least have a more enlightened attitude to nudity than you’d have got when Ozzy Osborne and his ilk were riding the pentagram. By which I mean that Callow takes his clothes off. Behold the belly of the beast!

Why Watch?

  • Add this to your list of cult nonsense
  • Another fabulous Simon Callow performance
  • How many heavy metallers can even write, never mind write a film?
  • Look out for Bruce Dickinson’s cameo

Chemical Wedding aka Crowley – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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