Revered and reviled in equal measure, Aleister Crowley was one of the most infamous characters of the 20th century, appearing as a recurring character in Alan Moore’s Prometheus, influencing musicians from The Doors to Marilyn Manson, his face even appearing on the cover of The Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper’s album. Yet short of his pop culture references, not a lot of people know about the man that was once referred to as ‘the wickedest man in the world’.
To scholars of alchemy and the occult, Crowley is one of the most influential individuals of all time. He is the creator of the magickal practice of Thelema, writer of many occult texts and grimoires, poet, writer, bisexual, sadomasochist, racist, rumoured murderer, and to paraphrase a good description of Lord Byron, the general consensus was that the guy was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know.’
But whatever you thought of the guy, he certainly lived an interesting existence …
Today occultism, alchemy and other forms of the magickal arts are sneered as the flights of fancy of people who liked Buffy and Charmed a little bit too much, but the truth is that these practices have shaped our world as much as art and science through the ages, and should not be dismissed so readily.
After all, man first looked at the stars and their movements, to connect with his gods, and learn to please them, so he might learn how to provide for his family, and get them through the unforgiving seasons. Science and alchemy were once one magickal process, the ultimate goal being to turn liquid into gold, or find the key to immortality. Taking taking control of ones own destiny is a powerful lure, and the secrets of the occult has always possessed a powerful attraction, for those who are feeling that the life they are living is not yielding the satisfaction they desire.
If you put it like that, it really doesn’t sound all that silly, really.
Chemical Wedding is the story of Crowley’s reincarnation into this brave new world, on the cusp of the Gore/Bush election, using the talents of a young programmer from Cal Tech on a visit to Crowley’s old stomping ground at Trinity College. Cue ensuing chaos, many nubile young females, meeting their maker, from a very camp angle …
First of all let me say that I am by no means his biggest fan, but Crowley was never proven to be a murderer, and was only known to have killed one animal (I believe it was a frog, but y’know, don’t crucify me if I’m wrong!), and this film really does make him out to be the Ted Bundy of Chaos magick. Every other person of the pagan ilk in the film seems to have been made out to be completely sexually deviant and idiotic to the extreme, which I know in reality, isn’t the case. None of the rituals carried out are explained, so to the average person, it would seem a little disjointed with a few orgies thrown in for a laugh. It wasn’t very respectful to the religion or the man, and even with the light hearted angle, sometimes you have to think about the way things are portrayed.
Secondly Bruce Dickinson’s script was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I feel like it ended up turning into Carry On Crowley half way through with all the lady lumps he went after, which yes, was a trait of his, but a film only has so long to impress you.
These things being said, Simon Callow’s Crowley was absolutely delicious, in it’s mischievousness and complete commitment to ‘The Beast’s icy determination, and focus on his goals and beliefs. It’s such a shame he didn’t have more to work with, as I really felt Callow could have been born to play this role.
The rest of the cast were strangely put together, some of them comfortable in their roles, while others seemed to be auditioning for a school play; the whole film was a spike chart of polished and amateur with every scene. This along with the poor sound editing, songs that just didn’t fit with the happenings on screen, made it feel very rushed and low budget in parts. It did impress me with it’s obvious background knowledge of quantum physics and chaos magick, and the intriguing take on the many worlds/Schrödinger’s cat theory, but I feel that some excellent ideas were just wasted, or forgotten about, during the messy journey to the end credits.
Simon Callow’s performance did make this worth the watch, but it did feel like a character assassination with a Bruce Dickinson soundtrack for far too much of the film for it to be anything other than something mildly amusing to pass the time.