Brian Butler: Spell-Raiser
Don't expect Brian Butler to tell you anything about his life before he took up black magic. He's vague and evasive about his past, as are most apostles of the notorious occult leader Aleister Crowley, whom the British newspaper John Bull in 1923 dubbed "the wickedest man in the world."
Like Crowley, Butler doesn't like to talk about personal details or specifics. "It feels like a job interview," he says. But who exactly is Brian Butler, anyway?
Good question. He's a musician, artist, writer and filmmaker who also works in Anger Management. That is, with Kenneth Anger, author of the movie industry's two-volume gossip bible, Hollywood Babylon, and director of underground films such as Scorpio Rising (1964) and Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969), a "cinematic spell" that may, in fact, have summoned Butler himself.
The two met more than 10 years ago, when Butler was producing video segments for Disinformation, which aired on the U.K.'s Channel 4. He has proved himself a torchbearer to Anger's creative legacy, producing the octogenarian's newest works, most recently acting as creative director on a short film for Missoni's 2011 fall/winter campaign.
Butler also directed the short film Night of Pan, featuring Vincent Gallo, with a rare cameo by Anger, who reveals an impressive tattoo of the word Lucifer across his chest.
In addition to working together, Anger and Butler share an interest in "magick." Yes, that's magick with a "k," something Crowley added to distinguish the craft from stage shows.
Butler first became acquainted with Crowley after reading his book Magick in Theory and Practice. But he steers clear of other followers of Thelema, Crowley's surviving sect.
"I don't believe someone else can define good and evil for me," Butler says. "As soon as you define yourself, you limit yourself."
So instead of joining their society, Butler is content to resist its constraints, seeing people in groups as having a restricted view of the world.
By contrast, Butler's own form of "magick" gives him the freedom to experience a kind of fascination and excitement that are best translated on film, a medium he uses to cast visual spells over audiences. Recent projects include a music video for the Black Lips song "Modern Art," shot on location in New Orleans; and short film The Dove and the Serpent, an exploration of the alchemical process that was filmed in Normandy, France (its title is a reference to the hermetic principle "As above, so below").
But the real question: Is Butler ever surprised when his magick works?
"The results are maybe what you'd expect," he says, "but it's outside consciousness."
Don't try to categorize or define the nature of the unknown, because according to Brian Butler, it doesn't exist on the material plane.
"You don't think about how or why it's happening," he says. "Practicing magick is like living in a dream state. As soon as you think about it, it's gone."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.