Thursday, August 15, 2013

Marjorie Cameron, WORMWOOD STAR (Curtis Harrington, 1956)

Artist/Occultist Marjorie Cameron, The Scarlet Woman, appears in three seminal cult films. She is, appropriately & perhaps most famously, The Scarlet Woman (and Kali) in Kenneth Anger's Thelemic Passion Play Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), but also has a fascinating cameo as the Water Witch in Curtis Harrington's Lotophagian traum-film Night Tide (1961). While she appears very briefly as a blonde saloon singer in Rouben Mamoulian's 1937 Musical Western, High, Wide & Handsome, it is Harrington's short film, The Wormwood Star, that has remained elusive to most collectors of fringe cinema. This 10-minute gem is finally available from Flicker Alley/Drag City (along with four other haunting, oneiric Harrington works) & it will be especially interesting to devotees of Cameron's paintings & illustrations. 

Having been associated with such illustrious figures of the occult & art underground as Jack Parsons (to whom she was married), L. Ron Hubbard, Kenneth Anger, Wallace Berman & Aleister Crowley himself, it's impossible for Cameron to reveal herself simply as an artist, discarding the Stygian mystique that whorls around her. Harrington allows for the myth & the menace & presents this strange muse as nothing short of a demiurge, an ether-dweller captured for ten fleeting worshipful minutes among her creations, those dazzling spirographs of hers in which are embedded intricate otherworldly foci resourcefully cobbled from William Blake, Jean Cocteau, Odilon Redon & Aubrey Beardsley. 

While The Wormwood Star has often been described as a short documentary about Cameron's artwork, The Scarlet Woman's face, hands, feet, hair, eyes & mouth take up considerably more screen-time than her work. It's a wise choice on Harrington's part. Hers is a face & body so accustomed to the mantle of dubious 20th Century divinity that anyone with even a journeyman's appreciation of the occult will be fascinated by the tableaux vivant in which she is evocatively distilled & the colorful esoterica Harrington sets in magical orbit around her.