The blog of author Dennis Cooper

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5strings presents … Solve et Coagula: An Introduction to Israel Regardie



Francis Israel Regardie was an occultist, author and one time secretary to the legendary Aleister Crowley. As an adept of the now defunct secret order known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he became infamous among the occultists of his day for breaking his oath of secrecy and publishing the order’s complete rituals in his book The Golden Dawn. Today this book is a classic best seller and has been revised and re-issued several times. Overshadowed by his association with Crowley, much of his work has been left unappreciated by those outside of the realms of high magic and occultism.

Regardie was born Francis Israel Regudy in London, England on the 17th November 1907. His parents were poor Jewish immigrants and during the course of WW1 when his older brother joined the army, his name was accidentally written down as “Regardie”. Rather than change it, it was then adopted as the family name. Later Regardie also dropped the use of Francis, preferring to be known simply as Israel Regardie.




After reading Part I of Magick (Book 4) by the occultist Aleister Crowley, Regardie initiated a correspondence which led to his return at 21 to the U.K. at Crowley’s 1928 invitation to become his secretary. When the two parted company four years later, in 1932, Regardie distanced himself from Crowley personally, but still retained a great deal of respect for his writings. Shortly after this period he published The Tree of Life, a guide to magick, largely derived from Crowley’s work, and A Garden of Pomegranates, a primer on Qabalah based on notes he had taken while working for Crowley. Regardie would later write a biography of Crowley, The Eye in the Triangle, and continue to edit and republish Crowley’s works up until the 1970s.

In 1934 Regardie joined Stella Matutina, a successor organization of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. When the group disbanded, Regardie acquired the bulk of the Order’s documents and compiled the book, The Golden Dawn, which earned him the enmity of many of the other former members and the reputation of being an oath-breaker because of the information it revealed. However, the book transformed the work of the Order into an entirely new branch of the Western Occult Tradition. As Regardie observed in his work A Garden of Pomegranates, “…it is essential that the whole system should be publicly exhibited so that it may not be lost to mankind. For it is the heritage of every man and woman – their spiritual birthright.” The various occult organizations claiming descent from the original Golden Dawn, and the systems of magic practiced by them, owe their continuing existence and popularity to Regardie’s work.

In 1937, at the age of 30, Regardie returned to the U.S., entering Chiropractic College in New York City. In addition, he studied psychoanalysis with Dr. E. Clegg and Dr. J. L. Bendit, and psychotherapy with Dr. Nandor Fodor. He opened a chiropractic office and taught psychiatry – Reichian, Freudian, and Jungian – retiring in 1981 at the age of 74, when he moved to Sedona, Arizona.



‘First published in 1937, Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn has become the most influential modern handbook of magical theory and practice. In this new, definitive edition, noted scholar John Michael Greer has taken this essential resource back to its original, authentic form. With added illustrations, a twenty-page color insert, additional original material, and refreshed design and typography, this powerful work returns to its true stature as a modern masterpiece.

‘An essential textbook for students of the occult, The Golden Dawn includes occult symbolism and Qabalistic philosophy, training methods for developing magical and clairvoyant powers, rituals that summon and banish spiritual potencies, secrets of making and consecrating magical tools, and much more.’ — Llewellyn Publications


The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram

Take a steel dagger in the right hand. Face east. Touch thy forehead and say Ateh (thou art). Touch thy breast and say Malkuth (the Kingdom). Touch thy right shoulder and say ve-Geburah (and the Power). Touch thy left shoulder and say ve-Gedulah (and the Glory). Clasp thy hands before thee and say Le-Olam (forever). Dagger between fingers, point up and say Amen.

Make in the air towards the east the invoking pentagram as shown and, bringing the point of the dagger to the centre of the pentagram, vibrate the deity name—Yod He Vau He—imagining that your voice carries forward to the east of the universe. Holding the dagger out before you, go to the south, make the pentagram, and vibrate similarly the deity name—Adonai.

Go to the west, make the pentagram, and vibrate Eheieh. Go to the north, make the pentagram, and vibrate Agla. Return to the east and complete your circle by bringing the dagger point to the centre of the first pentagram.

Stand with arms outstretched in the form of a cross and say: Before me,
Raphael; behind me, Gabriel; at my right hand, Michael; at my left hand, Auriel; before me flames the pentagram—behind me shines the six-rayed star.

Again make the Qabalistic cross as directed above, saying Ateh, etc. For banishing use the same ritual, but reversing the direction of the lines of the pentagram.


The Uses of the Pentagram Ritual

1. As a form of prayer the invoking ritual should be used in the morning, the banishing in the evening. The names should be pronounced inwardly in the breath vibrating it as much as possible and feeling that the whole body throbs with the sound and sends out a wave of vibration directed to the ends of the quarter.

2. As a protection against impure magnetism, the banishing ritual can be used to get rid of obsessing or disturbing thoughts. Give a mental image to your obsession and imagine it formulated before you. Project it out of your aura with the saluting sign of a Neophyte, and when it is about three feet away, prevent its return with the Sign of Silence. Now imagine the form in the east before you and do the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram to disintegrate it, seeing it, in your mind’s eye, dissolving on the farther side of your ring of flame.

3. It can be used as an exercise in concentration. Seated in meditation or lying down, formulate yourself standing up in robes and holding a dagger. Put your consciousness in this form and go to the east. Make yourself “feel” there by touching the wall, opening your eyes, stamping on the floor, etc. Begin the ritual and go round the room mentally vibrating the words and trying to feel them as coming from the form. Finish in the east and try to see your results in the Astral Light, then walk back and stand behind the head of your body and let yourself be reabsorbed.


Task Undertaken by the Adeptus Minor

This, then, is the task to be undertaken by the Adeptus Minor. To expel from the Sephiroth of the nephesch the usurpation by the evil Sephiroth; to balance the action of the Sephiroth of the ruach in those of the nephesch. To prevent the lower will and human consciousness from falling into and usurping the place of the automatic consciousness. To render the king of the body, the lower will, obedient to and anxious to execute the commands of the higher will, that he be neither a usurper of the faculties of the higher, nor a sensual despot—but an initiated ruler, and an anointed king, the viceroy and representative of the higher will, because inspired thereby, in his kingdom which is man.

Then shall it happen that the higher will, i.e., the lower genius, shall descend into the royal habitation, so that the higher will and the lower will shall be as one, and the higher genius shall descend into the Kether of the man, bringing with him the tremendous illumination of his angelic nature. And the man shall become what is said of Enoch. “And Chanokh made himself to walk with God, and he was not, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24)

Then also this shalt thou know, that the nephesch of the man shall become as the genius of the evil persona, so that the evil persona itself shall be as the power of the divine in the Qlippoth, as it is said: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither from thy presence shall I flee? If I ascend up to heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there.” (Psalm 139)

Therefore even the evil persona is not so evil when it fulfilleth its work. For it is the beginning of a dim reflection of the light unto the Qlippoth, and this is what is hidden in the saying that “Typhon is the brother of Osiris.” Hear thou, then, a mystery of the knowledge of evil. The 5°= 6 Ritual of the Adeptus Minor saith that even the “evil helpeth forward the good.” When the evil Sephiroth are expelled from the nephesch into the evil persona, they are, in a sense, equilibrated therein. The evil persona can be rendered as a great and strong, yet trained, animal whereupon the man rideth, and it then becometh a strength unto his physical base of action. This mystery shalt thou keep from the knowledge of the First Order, and still more from that of the outer world, that is as a formula, seeing that it is a dangerous secret.

Now then shalt thou begin to understand the saying “He descended into hell,” and also to comprehend in part this strength, and thus begin to understand the necessity of evil unto the material creation. Wherefore, also, revile not overmuch the evil forces, for they have also a place and a duty, and in this consisteth their right to be. But check their usurpation, and cast them down unto their plane. Unto this end, curse them by the mighty names if need be, but thou shalt not revile them for their condition, for thus also shalt thou be led into error.

There is also a great mystery that the Adeptus Minor must know, viz.: How the spiritual consciousness can act around and beyond the sphere of sensation. “Thought” is a mighty force when projected with all the strength of the lower will under the guidance of the reasoning faculty and illuminated by the higher will. Therefore it is that, in thy occult working, thou art advised to invoke the divine and angelic names, so that thy lower will may willingly receive the influx of the higher will, which is also the lower genius behind which are the all-potent forces.

This, therefore, is the magical manner of operation of the initiate when “skrying” in the spirit vision. Through his own arcane wisdom, he knows the disposition and correspondences of the forces of the macrocosmos. Selecting not many, but one symbol, and that balanced and with its correlatives, then sendeth he a thought ray from his spiritual consciousness, illuminated by his higher will, directly unto the partof his sphere of sensation which is consonant with the symbol employed.

There, as in a mirror, doth he perceive its properties as reflected from the macrocosmos, shining forth into the infinite abyss of the heavens. Thence can he follow the ray of reflection therefrom, and while concentrating his united consciousness at that point of his sphere of sensation, can receive the direct reflection of the ray from the macrocosmos. Thus receiving the direct ray as then reflected into his thought, he can unite himself with the ray of his thought so as to make one continuous ray from the corresponding point of the macrocosmos unto the centre of his consciousness.

If, instead of concentrating at that actual point of the sphere of sensation he shall retain the thought ray only touching the sphere of sensation at that point, he shall, it is true, perceive the reflection of the macrocosmic ray answering to that symbol in the sphere of his consciousness. But he shall receive this reflection tinctured much by his own nature, and therefore to an extent untrue, because his united consciousnesses have not been able to focus along the thought ray at the circumference of the sphere of sensation. And this is the reason why there are so many and multifarious errors in untrained spirit visions. For the untrained seer, even supposing him free from the delusions of obsession, doth not know or understand how to unite his consciousnesses and the harmonies between his own sphere of sensation, and the universe, the macrocosmos. Therefore is it so necessary that the Adeptus Minor should correctly understand the principia and axiomata of our secret knowledge, which are contained in our rituals and lectures.



Other Works:

The Tree of Life

My Rosicrucian Adventure

The Middle Pillar

The Philosopher’s Stone

A Garden of Pomegranates

Eye in the Triangle



“It really makes little difference in the long run whether The Book of the Law was dictated to [Crowley] by preterhuman intelligence named Aiwass or whether it stemmed from the creative deeps of Aleister Crowley. The book was written. And he became the mouthpiece for the Zeitgeist, accurately expressing the intrinsic nature of our time as no one else has done to date.” –Israel Regardie 1970 (Introduction to The Law Is for All)

“On the other hand, I cannot separate Crowley from The Golden Dawn, because Crowley was The Golden Dawn and The Golden Dawn was Crowley.” — Israel Regardie (An Interview with Israel Regardie: His Final Thoughts and Views 55)

“This elaborate Golden Dawn system became part of Crowley’s own inner world … He carried it further than even the Golden Dawn principals had envisaged. I know of nothing within the Order documentary that even hints at the kind of visionary and spiritual experience that Crowley managed to get out of it.” — Israel Regardie 1970 (The Eye in the Triangle)

All that can be said with truth of this Absolute and Supreme Reality is that IT IS. This must suffice. — Israel Regardie (1972) ‘The Tree of Life: A Study in Magic’



When you wake up, do you have a feeling that something special is going to happen during the day? Do you ever successfully summon spirits or powers? Do you ever hear the sounds of the etheric spheres? So many questions to which Israel Regardie, a group created in Lyon in 2012 and borrowing its name from the figure of Anglo-Saxon esotericism, could not answer. We congratulate them! And we urge you to banish the word “occult” from your vocabulary.’ — Vice

Israël Regardie ‘Eternal Light’

Israel Regardie ‘Dead Birds’



Regardie 1

Regardie 2

Relaxation 1

Relaxation 2


Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn

The original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD), founded in 1888, became the origin of magical activity of the twentieth century. Though short-lived, it members went on to found and lead groups that carried on its traditions. The main body of documents generated by the order have been published, beginnings with the several published by Aleister Crowley in his magazine Equinox. In the 1930s, Israel Regardie (1907-1985) oversaw the publication of the basic body of the HOGD rituals. In the meantime, the primary thrust of ceremonial magic continued through Crowley’s thelemic teachings.

During its short lifespan from 1888 to 1903, the “classical” Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was the pivotal esoteric order in fin-de-siècle Britain. Despite its quick lapse into disorder and schism, it managed to create a social platform for the study and practice of ritual magic, operating four temples in England and one in Paris. Among the better known members were the poet William Butler Yeats; the actresses Florence Farr and Maud Gonne; and Mina Bergson Mathers, the sister of philosopher and Nobel laureate Henri Bergson.

In the 1970s, contemporaneous with the revival of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, some magical students, including Chris Monnastre, began to seek a revival of the HOGD and turned to Regardie as a teacher in the tradition who was still available. He took in a few students to train them in the belief and practice of the HOGD. Then, in 1982, with Regardie’s blessing, Monnastre resurrected the Golden Dawn and founded the Osiris Khenti Amenti Temple. Simultaneously, Regardie gave her several of his personal magical tools which she gave to the new order. The order exists in two divisions, the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae.

Since the founding of the original temple, subsequent temples have been formed. The order has also brought together individuals and small groups possessing lineages and charters from the various groups evolving from the original HOGD, including the Stella Matutina and the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn (founded by writer Arthur Edward Waite ). These groups have been brought together in the United Confederation of Independent and Autonomous Temples.



Homer saw it, so did Shakespeare: “As flies we are to the wanton gods, they kill us for their sport…” But unless you’ve been singled out for that – and you haven’t because they pick ’em young and bless them with everthing before they top them – and that hasn’t happened to you – the general rule is that you never go to the wall as long as you’re doing the gods’ work. Now go to it!”

‘And good luck and may the gods bless you.’




p.s. Hey. 5strings thought this very unspiritual blog could use some occultism, and who’s to argue with that? Not me. So you are invited to spend your weekend getting to know that figure of metaphysical import Israel Regardie who, I admit, was news to me until now. Enjoy the trip please. ** Dominik, Hey, hey!!! Really, you too? My last night was better if not amazingly blissful by any means. I’ll take it. I’m assuming MCR will restart their reunion tour again once freedom reigns, unless they started hating each other (again?) in the meantime, which does seem to happen with reunion bands a fair amount. Wow, you have lots of tats. Cool. I think maybe you told me before about that ‘Closer’ tat and I spaced. That is so cool. That is pretty much the coolest thing ever (for me). Of course I didn’t know Jake Cooper before, even though, with that name, you would think I would. Anyway, he’s a charmer, isn’t he? And that gap certainly doesn’t hurt. Love either rescuing this poor German slave or taking him down into the dungeon, he can’t decide which, G. Have a great weekend, my pal! ** David Ehrenstein, Interesting. I’m going to go see what I can find out about Mike Sarne. ** Misanthrope, Ouch, your bone(s)! Since the hacker has continued ‘hacking’ without any success 24/7 for a week now, I’m beginning to suspect he or she or, most likely, it are just being obnoxious, and, yes, I’m guessing there are many targets, but I don’t know. Happy your mom is upswinging. Oh, man, lucky, lucky Kayla. I would give my right arm and most of the rest of me to go to Disneyworld and Universal and all those parks at the moment. Wow. That’s painful, but I hope she has the hugest blast. ** Bill, Ah, someone else who’s actually seen a Sidney Peterson film. Cool. I’m broke, so I tried to be judicious on bandcamp, and kind of succeeded. 80 minutes of ‘Scorpio Rising’ sounds like way too much ‘Scorpio Rising’, and yet … ** Jack Skelley, Jackie baby! I don’t really have a favored nickname, I don’t think. Not Dennis the Menace please. My nicknames are pretty predictable: Den, Denny, Coop. You snorkelled on Maui! Cool. Pass the joint. Where? I snorkelled on Napili Beach/Cove because my family always stayed at a little hotel there, the Mauian Hotel. Hm, I don’t know what tattoo I’d get. Probably something very small and personal and cryptic and meaningful, but no clue. I used two know this guy who was super incredibly cute, and everybody’s tongues dangled out about him, and his brother died, and he tattooed his brother’s name in huge black letters across his stomach and ribcage thereby knowingly lessening his desirability for the vast majority of his crushed out fans, and I thought that was really impressive. Apropos of nothing, I guess. Yay re: you finishing your thang! Congrats to you and the world! Sad there’s no little Paris in LA. Let’s build one, what do you say? Saturday and Sunday are yours to rock like their backs ain’t got no bones. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Oh, the talk was good, thanks. The budget is a bit higher than we were hoping, though not outrageously so, but they said they budgeted on the high end, and I’ve already found some expenses that can be easily trimmed. We’re going to go through it and get to a lower and more precise budget early next week. But the current budget is fine for the fundraising purposes, and that’s what it’s for. I don’t know that Eric Baudelaire film. I’ll look into it, thanks. People do seen to care about the Grammys. I never have in my life because it has always been garbage mainstream even back when actual very interesting music was highly successful. ** John Newton, Hi, John. Based on my limited experiences, the film world is very tough. That’s why Zac and I are determined to make films for as little money as possible because that seems to be the only way to make something you truly want to make. Interesting reading on your part. Yeah, when one can travel, I go to other countries around here, Holland and Germany mostly for whatever reason. To show our films or often to visit amusement parks because I’m obsessed with them. I lived in Amsterdam for a few years in the 80s, so it’s kind of homey for me there. Do you get out of the US much? ** ae, Hi! Sorry, yeah, your comment must have arrived as I was doing the p.s. I often miss things. Thank you a lot about the package! Great, I really look forward to it. My mailbox has been a war zone, but I’m trying to train the hacker alert mails to go into my Junk folder, and it might be working. Coming and going is super okay. I hope your work is going really well. Me too: head down. Where else would one put one’s head that isn’t kind of pointless these days. Take care. ** Brian O’Connell, Weekend entrance bell ringing sounds, Brian. My fingers are crossed for us both re: no cave death. Your Pasolini celebration sounds completely pleasant, well, except for the trolling. God, people can be boring. I wound up eating donuts from that great donut place, yum. Ghibli night, nice. What are you watching? You probably know that Ghibili is building a Ghibli amusement park in Japan, and I’m very excited. I’m pretty positive you’ll enjoy the Goya show. And the City too, of course. My weekend is blank at the moment, but I’ll fill it in. Compare notes on Monday? All the best, sir. ** Right. See you at the other end of the rabbit hole on Monday.

Sidney Peterson Day


‘Sidney Peterson was one of, if not the most influential pioneers of avant-garde film of the 20th century. He was/is held in the highest regard by all as one of the kingpins of the avant-garde film renaissance that took place in San Francisco in the early 1950s. Peterson is one of the few artists that was fully respected and appreciated not only after his death but during his life as well. So respected, in fact, that he was given the opportunity to found what was called “Workshop 20” at what was then called The California School for Fine Arts (The San Francisco Art Institute), thus forming the first class to ever be offered teaching film. Peterson used students both behind the scenes and for actors and actresses so most of the classes consisted of filming under Peterson’s supervision. For The Cage, “he chose the student with the maddest expression as the protagonist”. This is coincidental because that student went on to drop out of school half way through shooting and abandon the film, requiring the use of another actor.

‘Both of Peterson’s films The Lead Shoes and, The Cage have found their niche among other classic films that Peterson himself would regard as, “the boiler plate of the Museum of Modern Art.” Using the techniques of his major influences, Dali and Bunuel, Peterson was able to take and incorporate previous used camera techniques with some newly fabricated techniques of his own. Peterson illustrates this fact in a quote found in Sitney’s Third Edition of Visionary Film, when he says that his film, The Cage was filmed using, “every trick in the book and a few that weren’t.” These two films fit a style that seems to follow Peterson through all of his work. They are open to and seem to fit an enormous array of different interpretations.

‘Peterson was aware of a fact that may hamper the ability of other great directors. Peterson would shoot “with the idea in mind that the structural coercion of the films comes in editing.” Because of this knowledge and his ability, Peterson is regarded as a master of synthesizing. Much of his work has been thought of as more interesting than successful. He was not always successful with his attempts, which is what makes him such a great artist. The Cage (1947) is one film, however, that is unanimously viewed as not only a success but also a foundation and point of comparison for the filmmakers that would follow Peterson.

‘Peterson taught the nation’s first fine art filmmaking courses at the California School of Fine Arts, known as Workshop 20. With his students, Peterson made a series of complex short, non-narrative films that drew inspiration from the psychological landscape of post-WWII San Francisco, figurative abstraction and music concrete. Peterson’s best known films from this period are Mr. Frenhofer and the Menotaur (1948) and The Lead Shoes (1949).

‘”The Lead Shoes proposes a comic vision that is not at all funny. Extravagant, exhausting, open to the fortuitous and the unintended, its picaresque narrative transforms the dark region of unconscious impulse into an intellectual burlesque. The ‘story’ disintegrates into a warped tissue of allusions and visual puns riddled by ellipses and audio-visual shifts.” — Stuart Leibman

‘Peterson was attracted to the Surrealist School of Cinema with its marvelous imagery drawn from the subconscious dream state and its unfamiliar time relationships. In accordance with Surrealist painting, Peterson made films that often distored camera imagery so that the viewer’s world became shifted in perspective.

‘”One thing the Museum of Modern Art taught me was that San Francisco has been an important center of production for short artistic films since the latter 1940’s” — Sidney Peterson

‘Sidney Peterson was born in Oakland, California, November 15, 1905. Attended University of California, Berkeley. He was a newspaper reporter for Monterey Herald in early 1920s. He lived in Paris and Southern France in late ’20s and early ’30s, painting and sculpting. He married Ruth Bosley and moved back to Berkeley, California; wife died shortly thereafter. He married Bernice Van Gelder and moved to San Francisco. Co-founded Orbit Films with Robert Gardner in 1950 to make documentaries. Museum of Modern Art, New York City: Director of Educational Television production, 1954-1955. Moved family to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he began writing a novel. United Productions of America (UPA), Los Angeles, California: Scriptwriter for animated series on lives of historical figures, especially artists, 1955-1956. Walt Disney Productions, Los Angeles: Scriptwriter and storyboard artist for Fantasia II (never completed), 1957-1958. Returned to San Francisco to finish novel, A Fly in the Pigment, published in 1961. Remained in San Francisco, writing and lecturing until he and his wife moved to England in the early ’70s.

‘From England they returned to live in New York City. In 1981 he made a film with Marjorie Keller, Man in the Bubble. His second wife died in 1990. He is survived by a daughter, Nora, who lives in New York City and he has one grandchild, Kevin.’ — Dan Anderheggen, Rebecca Barton, David Sherman, Dominic Angerame





Sidney Peterson @ IMDb
Book: ‘The Dark of the Screen’, by Sidney Peterson
Sidney Peterson @ The Film-Makers’ Cooperative
Sidney Peterson @ Canyon Cinema
Sidney Peterson’s San Francisco Surrealism
Sidney Peterson @ MUBI
‘The Lead Shoes’, by Kyle Westphal
Sidney Peterson @ letterboxd
“An essay I wrote on Sidney Peterson’s The Lead Shoes.”
#25 = 2/21/11 = James Broughton + Sidney Peterson


A Period of Invention
by Sidney Peterson


San Francisco is a make-believe town. Forget its early Spanish history, although there’s a lovely church there. San Francisco really began in 1849, when it was populated by a vast number of men from every spot in the world— which meant that they didn’t speak the same language— who were looking for gold. At that moment in San Francisco’s history, everybody was able to achieve his own identity. If you looked like a doctor, you hung out a shingle, and by god you were a doctor. People were free to become whatever. It was a made-up society, totally uncertified, with this craziness, this kind of imagination. I don’t think there ever was a town that was quite so identified with the idea of inventing oneself. That conspicuously was part of the crazy story of the Gold Rush. Later, local people were able to manipulate the mild craziness that was left over from this period of invention.

My father was on the tail end of this. His father would have participated, if he’d happened to be there. So it’s all very close. It all took place in a half a century.

I was born in Oakland in 1905, and I grew up there, before World War I— which I call the semi-Victorian period. Devoid of television, radio. I went to movies like everybody else, but I have no particular recollection of them. When movies began to make some kind of a dent on me was when I lived in France in the thirties— the surrealists, Dali and Bunuel, and people like that. In a way that’s where my films came from, although without a direct relationship.

When I was sixteen I was put to bed for a year. My heart was too large for my anatomy. I was supposed to grow up to it. When I got up from that year in bed, they sent me out with a small bottle of something in case I had a heart attack. Not much of a guarantee that you’re going to have a long life. I had no expectations at all. The last thing in the world I dreamed of was reaching this advanced age. I stopped high school and went to art school [1921-25], including classes at California College of Arts and Crafts. Then I decided that I might as well take the Grand Tour. In those days it was possible to do that by getting work on a ship. I got a job as a storekeeper and sold bottles of Johnny Walker to the passengers for thirty dollars a bottle, which was the bar price for sixteen drinks. By the time I got to Naples, I was loaded and able to leave the ship and go to Rome, Florence, Paris, and stay around for quite a while. That was in the twenties. I saw Hemingway and the crowd at the Dome Cafe, but I was too young to be lost and not old enough to join them. That all became part of my life, and somehow I started chasing art around. I did go back to college at UC Berkeley for a few years [1925-27] with the idea of pre-med but I wasn’t serious enough about it.

Workshop 20 happened because James Broughton and I put together a movie. We were writing a play together, and it got to be too well talked out. James didn’t know anything at all about movies, so I probably suggested that we make a movie. (Jimmy Broughton didn’t shoot his films. Frank Stauffacher, who started it all, shot Broughton’s early films [ Mother’s Day (1948) and Adventures of Jimmy (1950)].)

We bought some film at a drugstore and got a camera. They were excavating and getting rid of the bodies in a cemetery, and I spotted a guy who was sort of wandering around the place and shot a picture of him. We added a few other things and made The Potted Psalm [1946]. Stauffacher was doing screenings at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and when he heard that a film had been made in San Francisco, he showed it at the museum and it outraged everybody.

The Sanity in Art Society came out shaking their fists, and when it was screened again they showed up in a body just in order to walk out. The influence of the museum was taste making. I’ve always assumed they were interested in tastier movies.

Workshop 20 had a very specific time period, postwar, from about 1946 up to 1950. It was just for that brief period that Douglas MacAgy and his wife, Jermayne, had charge of things. 7 All the teachers at the School of Fine Arts abandoned figurative painting, but at the same moment they inherited a lot of guys who were older whom the government was paying for a reeducation. They caught on very quickly, just imitating the teachers. But the teachers were outraged at the students’ imitations. That wasn’t what it was all about. What it was about had to do with the imagination and ideas.

Film was being taught down in Hollywood, at UCLA, I guess. People would show up at our place in San Francisco because they heard it was a wilder place, more exciting. People who wanted to do something different— not just make movies and get a movie job. My students put together a number of movies. Some of them turned out to make some kind of sense, and some didn’t. There’d be maybe ten, twelve students 10 — ten bucks apiece studio fee. That bought film at the drugstore. Up to that time 16mm filmmaking had been strictly amateur— just what you could buy in the local pharmacy, so far as the basic material of the filmmaking was concerned.

There was the question, “We’re gonna make a movie— what will we make it about? You got any ideas?” Someone would suggest, “How about this ballad? . . . How about another ballad? We’ll put two of them together and try to make sense out of them.” One guy would say, “Well, I’ve got a friend who’s got a deep-sea diver costume. We could borrow that.” It’s an old comedian’s trick on TV— put some improbable things together and make a joke out of them. In a way, that was what was done. Milking material for maximum use in ways that explored ideas, mostly by associations of ideas. A lot of semi-Freudian type of interpretation. We weren’t analyzing any individuals but using it as a matter of technique. It was an easy way to talk about everything under the sun.

Each time we’d shoot something, we’d bring it back, and everybody would see himself doing something. We could use the school’s screen and projector to check the way the film worked on a big screen. That kept the spirits high; everybody was interested in what was going to happen next. With the collegial support of Hy Hirsh, who was a photographer at the De Young Museum, I shot them all myself. There was no reason not to.

The editing, though, was strictly personal. You can’t just shoot a film, you have to remake it; you don’t just write a book, you rewrite it. What many didn’t do is make the last connections— you have to make prints and cut them. There was an old guy at one of the labs in San Francisco who was interested in our films. He made it possible to make them, otherwise they would have just died in their tracks.

I edited at home. I chopped the film up, hung it up, put it together, scrambled it. I knew by that time what I wanted, how I wanted to put it together. That’s why P. Adams Sitney recognized so much of it as symbolic material. For instance, when The Cage opens, a top hat is coupled with knives and forks on top of it, cutlery just animated. That was intended to suggest the position of the artist when he belonged to an academy and had to wear a top hat and a stick coat— the awkwardness, the social situation. It imprisons the artist at a time when artists were trying to break out of precisely that kind of thing. Much of this material could be interpreted in one way or another if you were so inclined.

These films had a remarkable capacity to arouse anger. When they took some of the school stuff to Italy to show it at their biennale, the audience threw chairs at the screen. As the films got a little smoother, and easier to take, they had different qualities. I always thought Lead Shoes, the one with a deep-sea diver in it, was one of the first really feminist films. The woman’s role had certainly changed with the war. The film portrays the situation of the mother. The poor woman loses her support, the provider for her family. She gets nothing but trouble from her adolescent son. It starts out with another of those symbolic things: she takes a fall out of her window and lands in the lap of a gardener. The assumption here is that having a lover is part of a woman’s life. The deep-sea diver in the film represents the husband, the dead father of the adolescent character. There is a kind of story that attaches to it, but you can make it up as you go along. There was a workshop film I didn’t release, An Adagio for Election Day [1950]. I was sick, and a very aggressive student took over and finished off the story with some gunplay. It wasn’t in line with what we were doing at all. So I just forgot about it.


8 of Sidney Peterson’s 17 films

w/ James Broughton The Potted Psalm (1947)
‘In my opinion, the title itself describes Peterson’s definition of film as art: Great films are sacred songs that have, unlike ancient songs, a definite form, but they are also like plants, capable of growing in time. According to Merriam-Webster: “Potted” also means “drunk” in slang. I don’t if the word was used in this sense at the time, but if it was, then “Potted Psalm” might also mean a sacred but possibly irrational, debauched song. I think all of these interpretations, and others I can’t think of, can be true at the same time.’ — waysofseeing

footage collage (mute the sound)


The Cage (1947)
‘In its final version The Cage describes the adventures of a “mad” artist. In a symbolic or real self-mutilation, he takes out his own eye, which immediately escapes from his studio and into an open field and then meanders through San Francisco. His blinding is accompanied by complete schizophrenia. He alternates with his double throughout the film. His girlfriend, who is also his model, frightened by his mad groping around his studio for the lost eye, gets a doctor. The girl, the doctor, and one of the two protagonists then chase around the city after the eye. Throughout the film the perspective alternates between that of the pursuers and that of the eye itself. The eye’s vision is filmed through an anamorphic lens (this results in the lateral and vertical distortion of images emphasized by a twisting movement of the lens which shifts the axis of concentration and elongation.) The strategy of the doctor is to catch the eye and destroy it. To save the eye, the double has to thwart the doctor’s attacks with darts and rifles. Eventually the eye is recovered, and the schizophrenic becomes the original young man. His first act as a reunited man is to knock out the doctor who otherwise would have ruined his recovery, and presumably, taken the girl. In a deliberately periodic ending, the artist and girl walk off hand in hand. He embraces her in a field, and she flies out of his arms into a tree.’ — Visionary Film

the entirety


w/ James Broughton The Petrified Dog (1948)
‘After the premiere of Sidney Peterson and James Broughton’s *The Potted Psalm* caused a near-riot at the San Francisco Museum of Art, Douglas MacAgy offered Peterson the position of film-making instructor at this California School of Fine Arts. With classes composed mostly of inexpressive but sincere ex-GIs, Peterson embarked on a series of cooperatively-made films — one per semester — under the Workshop 20 banner.

‘Like the other Workshop 20 films, *The Petrified Dog* belongs to a species of the most casual, uncontemplated brand of American surrealism, free of any analytic mediation or symbolic intent. “Do you suppose movie audiences will ever learn to take works as experiences instead of merely as expression, what does it mean? etc.?” Peterson once mused. Often described as a version of *Alice in Wonderland*, this analogy is nonetheless inadequate in suggesting the structure of the film, which proceeds almost as if an assemblage of unrelated reaction shots from a half-dozen different movies. The soundtrack of *musique concrete* attempts nothing like synchronization with the picture, allowing instead two parallel experiences whose occasional harmony appears all the more felicitous.’ — Robert H. Spring

the entirety


Ah! Nurture (1948)


The Lead Shoes (1949)
‘The most important trick Peterson uses to fool our eyes is the distorted lens through which we see almost everything in the film. This device, used also in The Cage, distorts both the three-dimensionality of the space and the light balance. We are unable to experience the depth of field, as everything is flattened, especially on the sides. Neither can we trust the light to situate the characters and ourselves as it does not get reflected in a way we would expect. Moreover, the lights reflected for different objects get mixed and sometimes the light flashes unexpectedly from a dark object.

‘Any shot in the film would reflect the characteristics I described above but in some of them, Peterson emphasizes the effect. In one shot, the frame is divided to two by a vertical object. On the left we see the woman running towards us. On the right, we can see the stairways and all the things between it and a city. If Peterson shot it with “normal” lens we would experience “the time” she spends to run and the depth of the field until the city. However, we can see no difference between the right or the left. We “know” that the city is far but our eyes and what they perceive makes everything confusing.

‘The distorted lens also changes the way we perceive time. When there is no depth of field, no straight trustworthy lines, how are we to know how fast things happen? The obvious changes in the recording speed makes it even more complicated for us. We cannot say whether there is any scene shot in “real time” in the film. As in the scene I described in the last paragraph, the shots of the girl who is playing on the street gives us no clue how fast the girl is approaching us. Her fast moving legs prove that it is shown faster but visually she doesn’t move at all in the depth of field. A special case of change in the recording speed is the shots moving backwards in time. In one of them, the main character wears her shoes in reversed time but she walks straight to the door. Obviously, the way we experience the shot is against all the basic scientific principles we know.

‘The soundtrack is composed of people singing playing jazz songs or simply talking. What they say or do has nothing to do with what happens in the film. However, they have a very important function in the film in that they push our disorientation even further. In most films, music is very well synchronized with the movements in the film so that our illusion of moving time is enhanced. However, Peterson uses it for the exact opposite purpose. Although the soundtrack is actually continuously flowing, the changes in its tempo and rhythm give us no help in experiencing time like we do usually. A perfect example is a shot that recurs many times in the film. The camera follows the walking shoes of a person. The music is totally asynchronous to it (it usually is faster).’ — waysofseeing

the entirety


Mr. Frenhofer and the Minotaur (1949)
‘Based on Le Chef-d’Oeuvre Inconnu, Balzac’s Abstract Expressionist parable. .. should be studied by experimental filmmakers in every detail.’ — Parker Tyler

‘We are at the crux of Peterson’s genius: his ability to formulate a new perspective and to test its implications.’ — P. Adams Sitney

the entirety


A Japanese House (1955)
A Japanese House is a film MoMA produced in 1955 to document the installation of an actual, full-scale 17th-century Japanese house, designed by Junzō Yoshimura and named Shofuso (or “Pine Breeze Villa”), in our Sculpture Garden. The third house that MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design constructed in the garden, Shofuso was chosen for its unique, traditional Japanese design characteristics, including post-and-lintel frame construction, flexible layout, purposeful relationships between indoor and outdoor spaces, and the decorative qualities of the structural system itself. With more than 1,000 visitors per day, the exhibition was so successful that the Museum extended its run multiple times.

‘The film is in many ways a traditional documentary, detailing a specific event at a certain moment, with explanatory narration. However, it is also a beautiful film, with many quiet, contemplative moments, careful camerawork, and artfully composed frames. Japanese in its execution, the film explores traditional elements of Zen and Shinto design, such as kukan/supesu (“space is not empty”). Long, lingering takes invite the viewer to ruminate on reflections in water or the shape of a doorframe, as if they were experiencing the house themselves. This film is the closest you can get to visiting Shofuso without actually being there. The house still exists, now reassembled in a park in Philadelphia.’ — MoMA

Watch the entirety here


Man in a Bubble (1981)
‘There is a wild sound in the streets where once bells called men to prayer and choruses chanted in march time to the decibels of an infernal brimstone cacophony from which the damned in a Boschean hell sought refuge in the solitude of the philosopher’s egg, the transparent bubble of the alchemical Hermetic vessel. MAN IN A BUBBLE is a short documentary about personal acoustical space in an age of intolerable noise. Some stuff their ears against the electronic smog. Others wear headphones. A few scream and very few begin to discern in the deafening uproar the emergence of a Tondichtung worthy of the urban primitivism which gives birth to it. The film was shot in Chicago and New York.’ — Film-makers Coop

‘Peterson has always been good on street photography, and the fragmented views of New York and Chicago have a jangling abrasive kick.’ — J. Hoberman

‘I think you’ve managed one of the happiest most hopeful visions of yr life withOUT one jot of sentimentality to spoil it. The ‘dancers’/skaters, each wrapped in his or her own ‘bub’ is a tough weave of HARD joy … Bravo!— Stan Brakhage

Watch the film VOD here




p.s. RIP Barbara Ess, Ian North. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Happy to give you some daydreaming fodder. The international giant interest in Harry/Meghan seems like a sign that the world really has gone to hell in a hand basket. ** Ian, Hi. Thank you! You’ve snorkelled in the cenotes? Amazing, imaginatively at least. It’s weird: I grew up in LA and have spent most of my life there, and yet I’ve never been further south in Mexico than Tijuana and the Baja. Kind of inexplicable really. Still snow? You must be over it, but I can’t help but remain envious here in soggy at best Paris. ‘Day of the Locust’ is great, or so I remember. I even like the film version. Process, yep. I’m a process junkie whether it’s mine or someone else’s. Enjoy that phase? Happy Friday. ** David Ehrenstein, I have a soft spot for ‘Joanna’. Granted, I was probably on hallucinogens when I watched it. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Uh, I was going to say that I kind of maybe distracted myself, but I had really shitty sleep last night for the time in a long time, so maybe my stress just moved to a different location in me. I don’t know of flixtor.to, but you can bet I’ll figure out if it’s available. Thanks! Oh, right, My Chemical Reunion did a reunion thing, right? Wow, ideally, concert-wise? Hm. I’ll try to avoid saying Guided by Voices because duh, so … I think I’d like to get totally assaulted and thrash around for my first time, so some speed black metal band, I guess. Any of them, or Iceage as they were about 6 or so years ago before Elias went kind of Nick Cave-y and was still explosive. Ha ha. Do you have tattoos? I don’t have any. Never have wanted one, I don’t know why though ‘cos I like others’. Love drunk on champagne and screaming obscenities at his mirror reflection in a fake posh British accent, G. ** Jack Skelley, Jack Torrance! There, someone has finally used it. You can rest easy now. I’m kind of shocked no one has before. Weird. Snorkelling … you ever gone snorkelling? Where? I have. In Hawaii. It was an interesting combination of peaceful and frustrating. I wonder if almost everyone has gone snorkelling. Great that the tiny Eiffel Towers came in handy, but … what about the tiny Arc de Triomphes? And the berets? You just threw them in the trash didn’t you?! ** John Newton, Cozumel … I don’t know what that is. I’ll go find out. I’m reading … oh, I just put together one of my ‘5 books I read recently & loved’ posts that’ll go up here on Monday, so I’ll wait for that reveal so as not to spoil the surprise, ha ha. Why about you? Your busyness sounds like the good kind of busyness. Nice. ** Brian O’Connell, And a happy, happy Friday to you too, Brian! Yikes, that’s scary. I don’t think I’d want to die in an underwater cave, although it would maybe be better than dying in a not underwater cave. It’s kind of fun to let yourself get caught up in the Oscars’ charisma. To become one with all of vaguely cultural humanity. And it’s harmless. Except during most of the musical numbers. I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t at least slightly depressed right now. No, I can’t think of one. How does one, or you, I guess I mean, celebrate Pasolini’s b’day? By talking very loud and laughing hysterically for no reason? I used to take acid on Rimbaud’s birthday for years when I was young. Back when I used to run the reading series at this literary place called Beyond Baroque in LA, one time we celebrated Frank O’Hara’s birthday by serving everyone bowls of Corn Flakes and maybe toast or something because breakfast was FOH’s favorite meal. Today … we just got the estimated budget for Zac’s and my new film, so I’m sending it to the producers and then we’ll talk about it. This commissioned text I wrote to go with the new film by Steve Reinke and James Richards, whose films I love, seems to be loved by them, so I might eat a pastry to celebrate. Look at art. Stuff like that there. Did your Friday bloom? ** Hey. Today I continue my ongoing mission to spotlight works by experimental filmmakers of the present and the past by presenting the works of Sidney Peterson, a major dude in the field who is little known outside the experimental film buff scene but should be known, and today is me doing my little part to fix that. See you tomorrow.

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