Tag Archives: psychedelics

Transcendental style in film Part Two: The Ecstatic Aesthetic

Part one introduced the concept of ‘transcendental style’ in cinema. It showed how various critics- most prominently a pre-filmmaking Paul Schrader- described a formal style in the works of Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer designed to put the viewer into a contemplative state. In short: films that are really slow and no-one explains anything and so that makes you think about the spiritual meaning of the film instead of how shitty the CGI is and whatnot The key stylistic choices of this mode of transcendental style are slowness, stillness and precision.

I am going to argue that a second mode of transcendental style in film exists. Why am i going to argue that? A) because I think it might be interesting and B) because I don’t get out much anymore. But anyway, much as in religious practices there are many roads to transcendence, so in cinematic style. The films of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer might perhaps be likened to the spiritual practices of the monk or nun. An “ascetic aesthetic“. a slow life, based on contemplation, quietness, simplicity. In the history of spiritual practices this ascetic trend was countered (complimented isn’t quite accurate) by those schools which emphasized states of ecstasy as the road to enlightenment. In cinema this ‘ecstatic aesthetic‘  repeatedly manifests itself in psychedelic vistas of the cosmos. A Dionysian alternative to the Apollonian order of the first style. If Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer want to open your mind, the film makers who use the second mode want to blow it. It’s probably worth noting that this is not a clean break from the other style. Jonathan Rosenbaum cites a few letters and interviews in which Dreyer, responding to criticisms that the miracle that ends Ordet was simply a retreat into archiac religiosity, mentioned,  “recent psychic research, represented by pioneers like Rhine, Ouspensky, Dunne, Aldous Huxley, and so forth,”  and elsewhere stated that

The new science that followed Einstein’s theory of relativity had supplied that outside the three-dimensional world which we can grasp with our senses, there is a fourth dimension—–the dimension of time—–as well as a fifth dimension—–the dimension of the psychic that proves that it is possible to live events that have not yet happened. New perspectives are opened up that make one realize an intimate connection between exact science and intuitive religion. The new science brings us toward a more intimate understanding of the divine power and is even beginning to give us a natural explanation to things of the supernatural.

This melange of science, psychical research, higher dimensions, Ouspensky, Huxley and so on points towards the counterculture of the 1960s and the  emergence of new age spiritualities which sought to reconcile science and religion. Also, they did a shit load of psychedelics. As such, the ecstatic aesthetic, our second mode of transcendental style, works by trying to immerse the audience in the transcendental experience itself. Continue reading


Comics are Magic 6: Jodorowsky, Gurdjieff, Morrison and The Flash#54

Hello you.

Welcome to the sixth edition of Comics are Magic (click link for the archives). This is just a short one because its been a while. It concerns the magical influence of classic Silver Age story The Flash Stakes His Life On You! from The Flash#54 by way of two modern magicians and comics creators.

The first, Alejandro Jodorowsky is probably best known for his films, the alchemical allegories El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. For those unfamiliar with his work here’s the trailer for  his masterpiece The Holy Mountain. That’s subjective of course, and they are all stunning, mind-warping films, but The Holy Mountain is I think clearest in its alchemical intent.

Jodorowsky started out as in theatre, co-founding the Panic Movement in 1962 which drew on Antoin Artaud’s Theatre of  Cruelty and staged violent and surreal performance pieces. From wikipedia:

The movement’s violent theatrical events were designed to be shocking,[2] and to release destructive energies in search of peace and beauty. One four-hour performance known as Sacramental Melodrama was staged in May 1965 at the Paris Festival of Free Expression. The “happening” starred Jodorowsky dressed in motorcyclist leather and featured him slitting the throats of two geese, taping two snakes to his chest and having himself stripped and whipped. Other scenes included “naked women covered in honey, a crucified chicken, the staged murder of a rabbi, a giant vagina, the throwing of live turtles into the audience, and canned apricots.”

In his excellent memoir The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky he describes how he moved to Mexico to undergo initiation with a number of female shamans. Like Alan Moore, Jodorowsky views art and magic as inseparable. He later combined theatre, magic and psychotherapy in his practice of psychomagic where the patient’s personality and family tree are studied to come up with symbolic performances to be acted out, based on the principle that the unconscious mind accepts symbolic acts as fact. Here is one example of many from his book on the subject (page 132):

A young Chantal, at four years old, found herself placed in a school directed by the sister of the mother of her mother…The great-aunt sadistically tyrannized the child. In working with me, Chantal discovered all the hate she held towards to this woman. She could not forgive her, and she had no way to avenge her because the torturer was no longer in this world. So I advised her to go to the grave of this woman and, once there, give free rein to this hate: that she kick, scream, piss, and defecate on the tomb, but provided that she dedicate herself to paying close attention to her subsequent reactions to her demonstrations of vengeance. She followed my advice, and after letting off some steam atop the sepulcher, she felt a deep desire to clean it up and cover it with flowers. And, little by little, she couldn’t help but surrender to the evidence that she, in fact, felt love for her great-aunt.

A true polymath, Jodorowsky has also developed his own reconstruction of the Tarot of Marseilles, which he summarises in the video below:

Jodorowsky has worked regularly in the comics medium. His earliest comics work included the strip Fabulas Panicas, which debuted in 1967 (and ran to 1973) in the Mexican newspaper El Heraldo de México. Below is one of these strips. There are many, many more over at fabulaspanicas.blogspot.co.uk, dedicated entirely to reproducing the strip and well worth your time. Even if  like me you don’t speak Spanish.

Fabulas panicas

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Tales from the Sphinx: An Interview with John Thompson

DEADBIRDSONG- John Thompson, 1969

Some time ago Nth Mind published a series of articles about Robert Anton Wilson, the final on of which, Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the Comix Underground (click on the title to read it) discussed the work of John Thompson, artist for Cosmic Trigger and co-founder of the comix anthology The Yellow Dog. In the time since publishing that article I have been able to contact Thompson who had some very kind words about the original article. Moreover, John was good enough to agree to an interview as a follow-up to that article, the final version of which is presented below. I hope this interview encourages readers to follow the links included within, find out more about John’s (and his wife Judy’s) extraordinary art and contribute, as always, to keeping the cosmic trigger happy.

So settle down, get comfortable, and we’ll begin.

NTH MIND: When did your interest in art begin?

JOHN THOMPSON: As a small child I was drawn to some forms of Gnostic Christianity and a few schools of Buddhism, and can recall past lives where I illustrated and copied manuscripts. So as a little boy I tried to draw and write like I once did, and was frustrated that my abilities had not yet matured to do this. Then in Fifth Grade my books full of strange words and detailed drawings evolved, thanks to my teacher Mr. Sciara (Greek). Past life memories always have me in a loving family, in cultures without currency or fame or even signing pages, cultures involving Luang Prabang circa 1830, Languedoc/Provence 1200s, and rural hills of Western Sichuan . In these places my happy childhood involved copying books and illustrating them. Also ancient Miwoks of the Central Sierras, S E England’s Six Celtic Clans, and Greco-Alexandrian culture.

NTH MIND: Who were/are your artistic influences?

JOHN THOMPSON: Seeing Blake’s works was one of my happiest childhood memories.

NTH MIND: In Art in Time you list astrological symbolism of the Hellenist Greeks, Pythagorean Revival ideas mixed with celtic lore and Jewish mysticism, Swedenborg, Walt Whitman and Nyingma Buddhism as influences on your work. Also you wrote to me that, “In Edinburgh 1970 I researched my ancestral home, and in London studied Dr Dee & The Golden Dawn etc, so I’m a big fan of British esoteric lit & art.” When did you first become interested/initiated into esoteric ideas?

JOHN THOMPSON: Behavioral Psychologists agree that most children develop cognitive patterns the first six years of life, so I’ve been “thinking” like this since being born here in Carmel in 1945, surrounded by natural beauty of this coast. Such thoughts may seem esoteric to those who think differently, but not to like-minded people.

NTH MIND: At what point did you start including these ideas in your art?

JOHN THOMPSON: As soon as my hand held a pencil and my mouth could form words. Continue reading


Reclaiming psychedelics for the intelligentsia…

There used to be a time, not too long ago, when psychedelic drugs were a subject of fascination among intellectuals. This of course was before they became adopted by the sixties counterculture and swiftly demonized and legislated against. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for the sixties counterculture and the psychedelic philosophies of people like Leary and Wilson. However, in our rose-tinted nostalgic fascination with the sixties the earlier intellectual interest in these drugs is often forgotten. This is not to say that thinkers such as Leary and Wilson weren’t intellectuals, in fact I would argue that they are two of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. They were just a little early. What I mean to say is that prior to that movement there was a time when people who were effectively buttoned-up were experimenting with these drugs. There was a time when the media reported on psychedelics with a measured and fascinated tone. There was a time when discussing the psychedelic experience was inches away from being an acceptable activity.

It was in 1954, a decade before the Summer of Love, or the Beatles White Album, or Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, that the author Aldous Huxley declared in The Doors of Perception that:

To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large—this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.

Now this is not only beautifully written but it is also a world away from sixties sloganeering “Turn On, Tune in, and Drop Out” (valuable as that advice might also be). The notion that such an experience might be of “inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual” seems downright radical in the modern era which is sadly lacking intellectuals willing or able to articulate the value of the psychedelic experience never mind arguing for its adoption on a wide scale (bar a few notable exceptions we will address later on). If Huxley’s book introduced the psychedelic experience to a serious, literary audience a widely read 1957 article in Life magazine published by the ‘New York banker’ Gordon Wasson entitled Seeking the Magic Mushroom (available here) introduced it to a wide popular readership. As Wikipedia points out, this article had repercussions far beyond the edification and entertainment of the general audience it was intended for:

In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, the vice president of J.P.Morgan, published an article in Life extolling the virtues of magic mushrooms.This prompted Albert Hofmann to isolate psilocybin in 1958 for distribution by Sandoz alongside LSD in the U.S., further raising interest in LSD in the mass media. Following Wasson’s report, Timothy Leary visited Mexico to experience the mushrooms.

To get an even clearer idea of how psychedelic drugs were an intellectual-dare we even say ‘middle class’- object of fascination in the fifties there is no more convincing (and retrospectively amusing) evidence than the video below from 1955 of Conservative (!!!) MP Christopher Mayhew under the influence of 400 mgs of mescaline for BBC’s Panorama. For anyone wanting to follow this up this version of the clip is taken from the longer BBC documentary Hoffman’s Potion, which can be watched here.

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