The Conjuration (2017) Director Gary Parsons talks to us about Aleistair Crowley and strange goings on at the Abbey of Thelema
The Hothouse is a regular at Billy Chainsaw’s Nova Nights, London’s top transgressive film club for everything that is weird and wonderful. At April’s Nova Night Billy introduced us to London based filmmaker Gary Parsons and Thelema Films with a showing of Gary’s latest short The Conjuration. Soon to be released as a limited edition DVD, which also features some of Gary’s earlier films, The Conjuration is about modern magick, but also connects with magick’s ancient roots through location shooting at Avebury, Glastonbury, Pompeii and Oslo. Viewing The Conjuration, especially with a like-minded group of friends is a deeply moving and spiritual experience.
Gary’s films are beautiful and contain elements of surrealism, eroticism and the occult, so naturally we wanted to find out more about him and what got him interested in making movies:
‘It took me a long time to get started with film. Originally I was a musician playing in various bands over the years. I always had an interest in film and film making but at that time is was very expensive to go to film school to learn your art. So years later when the opportunity came along I went to study film making and theory and at the moment I hold an MA in film from Goldsmiths. But it took a long time to get to that point.
I’ve always been a big fan of surrealist cinema and avant-garde cinema so I tended to draw from directors like Maya Derren, Luis Bunnuel, Jan Svankmajer and Kenneth Anger. There was something about that type of cinema that spoke to me because its so full of images that turn your idea of reality on its head. Also I’m a massive horror movie fan of stuff from the 60’s and 70’s, things like old Hammer movies or the work of Jean Rollin still seem incredibly beautiful to me. Especially people like Jess Franco and Rollin who doing some marvellous work on tiny or no budgets. I was never a fan of the ‘blockbuster’ style movies and even today those kind of films leave me cold. I always feel that film should have an element of magic about it, something that speaks to our subconscious, this is why I don’t use any narrative in my films, I want the images to speak for themselves and say something different to each person who watches them.’
So why do both magick and eroticism play such a big part in Gary’s films? Gary continued
‘Growing up in the 70’s things about magic and the occult were almost rammed down your throat on a regular basis. Children’s TV was littered with it, so trying to find out about it all became an obsession with me. I went to the library and devoured as many books as I could find on it. So its something that’s stayed with me ever since. I discovered the work of Aleister Crowley at this time and for a long period that took over my life trying to understand his magickal system, his beliefs and also finding out as much as possible about the man.
With the eroticism that grew out of my love for 70’s cinema, especially horror cinema, but also because Crowley’s magickal system contains a lot of sexual elements within it. So when I started making the films I thought that this should be represented in some way on screen, I didn’t want to do a sanitized version of it all. I certainly didn’t use any eroticism or esoteric ideas in my first couple of movies it was only when I made Thelema (2008) that these images became more overt in my film making. This has been a blessing in the fact that I always try to stick to my own inner vision, but also a curse in getting the films shown publicly some times. With magick you can’t really have one element without the other, my eroticism is always in context to what the film is trying to say and never shoe horned in for no good reason, I hope that comes across when you view the movies?
In 2007 Gary went to Sicily where he shot some footage later used in Thelema at Aleistair Crowley’s abandoned home on the island, we were unable to resist asking if anything strange happened while he was there.
‘On my first trip there we arrived early evening and went to a restaurant, the owner was very friendly to us and my friend told him we going to the Abbey of Thelema, at which he told us to pay and leave. It was like something from an old Hammer movie. We then had trouble finding the place and finally asked these stoner looking teens if they knew, they called it ‘the devil house’ and pointed a way up to it between some houses. As we made our way up on either side of us massive dogs started barking and growling at us, like Cerebus guarding the gates of hell. When we reached the place it was dark so we managed to get inside by climbing through a window (the only way you can enter) we had a couple of torches with us and we put them on as we stumbled into the room. The room that you enter is the famous ‘chamber of nightmares’ with Crowley’s murals over the wall, these (at that time) were quite stunning. The place has a strange atmosphere especially after dark. It still retains an element of magick about it. Shadows seem to grow from nowhere and noises feel accentuated there. But at the same time it fills you full of a strange energy, that’s hard to put in to words.
Going back recently to shoot some footage for my next film was a different experience. For one thing the path I had used to get there had now been blocked off and I couldn’t really find a way to get to the building. Then a guy on a motorcycle appeared from nowhere and pulls up and says ‘I will take you to the Crowley house’, he didn’t even ask if we were going there. He took us around a back way to the house, which now has a massive fence around it, but after scrambling through lots of undergrowth we managed to find a way in. We entered through the same window as before but the state of the building and murals was much worse than when I visited 10 years ago. The place still retains an atmosphere though and the magick is still seeped into its walls. We spent a long time in there feeling the energies which this time had a different slant than my last visit. Even though it’s in a sad state it is still a very special place.’
So with The Conjuration and Gary’s earlier films about to be released in a limited edition DVD we wondered if there were any plans to expand Thelema films in to making a full length feature?
‘I would love to do a feature at one stage. I already have a completed feature script about Crowley and the Abbey which I would love to make, but with all things with making movies it comes down to finance, so maybe one day, but if not I’m happy ploughing my own furrow with my short films as long as I have the ideas for them.’
And we are happy to experience them with you Gary,many thanks for talking to the Horror Hothouse.
Find out more about Gary Parsons and Thelema Films at Thelema’s website