Invoking Magical Resurrections: Two mystical films by Jaimz Asmundson

In order to analyze Jaimz Asmundson’s film The Magus (2010), it is worthwhile discussing its predecessor Drawing Genesis (2006). Drawing Genesis was a film made for the WNDX One Take Super 8 Event – an annual event where filmmakers shoot a single reel of Super 8 which then premieres to an audience without the filmmakers seeing their work beforehand. This film is the first time Asmundson visually referenced Kenneth Anger and it is also the first time that Asmundson collaborated with his father, painter C. Graham Asmundson. The film makes use of Ektachrome 64T Color Reversal Film, time-lapse and lens distortion in order to document the rituals performed by his father while painting. With its lush psychedelic colours, this visceral film looks as though it could have been shot in the 60s. The Asmundsons’ personal exploration and research into the occult and occult rituals makes the film a totally authentic viewing experience – even the costumes look as though they come directly from an occult séance. Like many of Anger’s films, Asmundson’s film is a trance film1, involves occult symbolism, makes use of rapid montage and makes reference to the phallus. In addition, the film uses a synthesizer soundtrack that is reminiscent of the Mick Jagger soundtrack for Invocation Of My Demon Brother (Kenneth Anger, 1969). As a filmmaker, Asmundson took many risks making Drawing Genesis since it would have been impossible to determine what many of the shots would look like before processing the film due to all of the lens effects that Asmundson was using. With this being said, Asmundson captured Anger remarkably well, in fact, the films only fault might be that it is too Anger-esque.

The Magus is Jaimz’ second film which references Anger, however, this film is no longer simply just an appropriation of Anger’s style. The Magus refers to first trump card in most Tarot decks, however, it also refers to Anger’s character in Invocation of My Demon Brother. In addition, the film itself could be read as a metaphor for Anger’s magickal2 re-birth.

On October 26, 1967 the Village Voice ran an ad saying “In Memoriam of Kenneth Anger.” A few days later Anger arrived in New York with many cans containing his films.

He showed Jonas Mekas and Leslie Trumbull, the Secretary of the Film-Makers Cooperative, the cans of his unreleased films, some made before Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, 1947) and some, primarily unfinished, made afterwords. As he unreeled the yards of film for burning, Mekas tried to persuade him to allow a copy of everything to be saved for scholars. When his arguments failed, Mekas left, unable to bear the sight of that much destruction. How much and what Anger burned that day I do not know.3

It appears that Anger did not destroy these films for public attention; Anger destroyed the work as part of a magickal resurrection or as part of what is referred to as “a change of order”4.

Asmundson’s film similarly is divided into three acts: birth, death and resurrection. The Magus begins with painter Graham Asmundson going through his daily morning routine – making coffee, smoking, showering, etc. After these routines are completed, Asmundon takes a surreal walk to the studio which consists of walking through the streets of Winnipeg, taking various flights of stairs and walking down tunnels filmed in the catacombs in Paris, and in an old abandoned German War Fortress just outside of Cologne, Germany. There are various numerological interpretations for these events, however, every audience member will feel the tension built while traversing the tunnels. At the end of the tunnels lies the painters destination – every painters wet dream – four well-lit white walls. On these walls Asmundson creates four large scale intricate paintings – one on each wall – filmed in time-lapse over a period of 5 months. The paintings are based on the four elements, namely, earth, air, fire, and water. The filmmaker never allows the paintings to become static objects. Through editing and compositional choices, these paintings themselves take on a new dynamic life.

Once the paintings are completed, their metaphysical death occurs. In real life, Asmundson would often talk about the ephemeral nature of his paintings, however, this film forces him to put his money where his mouth is. It is also worth noting a local ‘art enthusiast’ threatened to burn down the filmmakers house over this event. Furthermore, this same enthusiast offered Asmundson thousands of dollars for his paintings.

The Magus is constructed using rigorous research into magick and numerology, however, it is not only accessible to magicians who have performed the Invocation of the Holy Fire. In fact, the film is much richer without being privy to this information since it becomes much more open to personal interpretation. That being said, the film benefits greatly from this research since the film takes on an internal consistency which is immediately apparent to any viewer. The last act of the film – the resurrection – begins with the building of four sculptural pentagrams made with mirrors, laser beams and mathematical precision. Asmundson then summons his paintings back to life through a magickal – and aesthetically pleasing – ritual. When the paintings come back to life, they come with a new life and with a new entity, a horned fire ‘spirit’ – fire dancer Kyle Fehr – who is able to move freely between the paintings. The re-birth itself takes on many different and rich interpretations due to the ambiguous symbols used in the ritual itself. For instance, does the painter become a powerful new magickal being able to create paintings through the mere waving of his hand? Does this ritual allow him to become a God in the flesh? The ritual releases another being which lives within the painting realm. Is this a magickal being at Asmundson’s control or did he release some sort of psychological or spiritual demon into the world? Does this ritual allow the painter to finally remove the physical barrier between him and his paintings?

The film effectively makes use of multiple formats including Super 8, 16mm and HD. These formats are not only used for aesthetic reasons, they also take on an indicative role. Asmundson blends the formats seamlessly, in fact, so seamlessly that if the formats didn’t change you might not even realize that there had been a cut. The sound design and musical composition, a tribal ambient psych-folk score by Jeremy Pillipow, creates an oneiric state in the viewer and it complements the work perfectly. Asmundson use of editing5 as alchemy creates a stylized, hyper-kinetic, cinematic manifestation of the occult experience. This being said, the strength of the film does not lie in its glittery production values – the strength of the film ultimately lies in the atmosphere it creates and in its many possible interpretations.

1 The term “trance film” was coined by P. Adams Sitney in Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). The films themselves are often oneiric, mythopoeic, ritualistic and tend to deny specific interpretation.
2 This is the spelling preferred by occult master Aleister Crowley.
3 P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 93
4 Ibid., 94
5 I must confess that I am generously credited as editing assistant. For this film, my contributions only consisted of critical discussions concerning pacing, internal structure and aesthetic considerations.

– Clint Enns

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~ by cineflyer on February 17, 2011.

3 Responses to “Invoking Magical Resurrections: Two mystical films by Jaimz Asmundson”

  1. Great description, but it is not the first and second film by Jaimz on C.Graham Asmundson. The first one is a simple documentary on the roots of Grahams work and shows how the artists path in understanding may be at the beginning of creative process not knowing to where it will lead in the future. You can feel the understanding of the artist but not the enforcement of power he will get.

    • I think the documentary you are referring to was part of The Artist Series. This was not directed by Jaimz, it was a public access television show from 1988 (Jaimz was only 6 at the time). On that note, this documentary is totally worth checking out:

  2. […] Enns has a completely excellent review of Jaimz Asmundson’s phenomenal short film The Magus, cluing us in on many of the fine magickal details that I wasn’t aware of when I reviewed it. […]

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