Archive for February, 2011
I had just received two cases of my book “Hollywood’s Hellfire Club” from my publisher and so I decided to get a table along with my online book business Oddball Books and sell at a local film convention last weekend. The Hollywood Collector’s Show takes place every few months at the Burbank Marriott Hotel. It’s where various entertainment personalities from has-been wannabe’s to classic old time actors sign autographs as well as movie posters, books and memorabilia dealers sell their wares. A few of the famous people attending were Angie Dickinson, George Hamilton & Pam Grier. It is a fun show that I have attended for years but this is the first time I have been a dealer. Although I have been to the show many times nothing prepared me for the insanity that followed.
What made this month’s show interesting was the attendance of movie and television star Robert Blake. His career as an actor goes way back in Hollywood. He was the character Mickey in the much loved “Little Rascals” film series, moreover he played the Mexican kid who sold Humphrey Bogart the winning lottery ticket in the Academy Award winning classic “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. As a young adult he played the killer Perry Smith in the Richard Brooks film adaption of the Truman Capote thriller “In Cold Blood” and in the seventies his popularity rose with the TV hit “Barretta” in which he was a hard boiled New York city detective. Audiences liked the wise cracking tough plain cloths police officer that had a pet cockatoo. Sadly though, Robert’s probably most remembered for being accused of murdering his wife outside a famous Los Angeles restaurant in 2001. Like O J Simpson the controversial trial was a media circus with the outcome an acquittal but then losing big to the victims family in civil court.
Right when the convention opened problems started with Robert and the promoters. He was furious when he saw that his table was in the same room as the other celebrities. After screaming at and threatening the organizers, he got his way and was moved to a room all by himself. Knowing how volatile the situation was, I got in his line early with a copy of a 1967 Life magazine. The cover has Truman Capote, Robert Blake and another actor standing on the set of “In Cold Blood”. Both the book and the film are favorites of mine and I always had thought that having his signature on the magazine would be a nice memento. He signed the vintage periodical with no problem, but his penmanship leaves something to be desired. The people in line had all sorts of interesting memorabilia to get autographed as well. I saw a Baretta board game, Little Rascals film posters & countless movie stills from his various roles.
Interestingly no one heckled or booed at him, and things seemed to be going smoothly until reportedly some fan with a ghoulish sense of humor brought up a Vitellos menu to get signed. Apparently seeing the name of the restaurant associated with his wife’s murder was too much for the veteran actor to take and he stormed out. He was only there for an hour and a half. From what I heard the fellow with the distasteful item’s comment was “I don’t know why Mr Blake is so upset, he beat the wrap”.
Sunday at the show was quiet, until Robert showed up, stayed in the parking lot and started to give out photo’s and signing autographs from the trunk of his car. The promoters were perplexed. However, they managed to coax Blake inside and gave him a table. He had the organizers announce on the intercom that he would only sign for free and so crowds of people swarmed him. It started to get out of hand, until he stood on his chair and announced something to the effect -” I ain’t going no place….I’ll stay here until I drop….I got four or five hundred stills. The only thing I ask is to be nice to each other. If you start elbowing or messing around, I gotta leave…. Yesterday, felt like a fool charging you…. Your my fans I love you.” After his little speech the people surrounding him applauded. He got back to signing, but then security came by and escorted him out. He was only there less than an hour. In the mean time some of the other celebrities had complained about his giving autographs for free when they were selling theirs. Some even threatened to leave if it did not stop. Angie Dickinson was pissed saying that if Blake is giving away autographs, she didn’t need to be there as it was beautiful day and she would rather be in her yard.
As I look at the Life Magazine cover I notice the feature article title above Blake’s head is “Nightmare Revisited”. Gee how appropriate considering what occurred this weekend…..
L.O.W.F.I. pal Bill Nelson is an antiquarian book collector of the highest order, a purveyor of fine books and collectibles through his online shoppe, Oddball Books, http://www.oddballbooks.com/, and a veritable encyclopedia of weird info about Hollywood’s sordid past, which he put to good use as co-author of Hollywood’s Hellfire Club: The Misadventures of John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn and “The Bundy Drive Boys,” available here: http://www.oddballbooks.com/?CLSN_2696=129833439426968bfdc308d8f0a811f0&keyword=Hollywood+Hellfire+Club&searchby=title&page=shop/browse&fsb=1&Search=Search
There is one church I have ever attended willingly, and I watched it burn to the ground a number of years ago. I happened to be driving past, and watched it catch fire from the apartment above. In fact, I believe I made the 911 call. I was horrified, but at the same time, it made perfect sense to someone with such a convoluted and unconventional view of God, as I. A basic tenet of the Gnostic viewpoint is that we humans are imperfect creations of an imperfect God. To put it another way, I used to wear a button that said “God is an Out of Control vending machine.” I recently re-read a most illuminating article about Dr. Stephan Hoeller, who is to a great degree responsible for disseminating Gnostic thought in the United States, and the most gracious author, one A. W. Hill, allowed me to post it here. Read on, and prepare to have your mind blown.
Exile in Godville
Profile of a postmodern heretic
by A.W. HILL
On a cold, moonlit night, Mohammed Ali al-Samman and his brothers sheathed their knives and set off from the desert village of Nag Hammadi to avenge their father’s murder, stopping en route to fill their sacks with mineral fertilizer from the great caves at Jabal-al-Tarif, a mountain honeycombed with hiding places. While digging through the soft soil, they dislodged an earthenware jar a meter tall, and the rest, as they say, is history. Once Mohammed’s lust for booty trumped his fear that the jar might contain a jinni, he took a hammer to it and found 13 papyrus volumes, bound in leather, comprising 52 Coptic translations of sacred texts from the early Christian era, including “previously unreleased” gospels attributed to the apostles Thomas and Philip, and, most surprisingly, abundant references to the special status of Mary Magdalene. Once these fragile manuscripts had made their way through the black market into the hands of biblical scholars and archaeologists, there was no question of authenticity, only of orthodoxy — with an edge of shock and awe.
The Gospel of Thomas opens with the enigmatic line, “These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.” You can almost hear the text’s first translator, Gilles Quispel, take a gulp. None of these “secret words” had been allowed into the canon we now know as the New Testament, yet it’s possible they were recorded before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John put quill to papyrus.
The Jesus who comes across in what are now known as the Gnostic Gospels is less a lawgiver and moralist than a kind of Zen master–cum–depth psychologist: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” He is alternately loving and stern, playful and sober, even sensual. He dances, drinks and, in the Gospel of Philip, kisses Mary Magdalene on the mouth, stirring a hornet’s nest of resentment among his male disciples.
Moreover, the Gnostic Jesus powerfully suggests that the words “I and the Father are One,” attributed to him in John 10:30, do not describe a unique relationship. Again, from the Gospel of Thomas: “He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.” Anyone who attains gnosis, the knowledge of the greater self, will know that God resides both in a far countryand within us (thanks to Sophia’s descent), just as in Indian religion, the atman (the soul) is one with boundless Brahman. If this is what Eve learned from the serpent, it’s no wonder Ialdabaoth wanted her uppity ass off the set. (See sidebar.) Seasoning his apocalyptic Judaism richly with Tao-like insights, the Christ of the Gnostic Gospels becomes the augur of the New Age, and “Know Thyself” is the one law that matters.
Historically speaking, what the Gnostic scriptures reveal is that Christianity in its earliest phase was far from monolithic. The Church did not, in fact, become “Catholic” until the end of the second century. In a Mediterranean world with Alexandria as its intellectual capital, Christianity was a vibrant counterculture, more a new way to be than a new law to obey. At the beating heart of it was a conviction that the teachings of the Nazarene Jesus had sprung mankind from its prison; that the fallen world could go to Hell. The imperial right hand of Christ’s new church hammered this into self-serving dogma; the heretical left hand stirred it into ecstasy. The left hand was amputated and the Gnostics cast off. A New Rome, the orthodoxy said, could not be built on do-it-yourself salvation.
The availability of the Nag Hammadi scriptures fueled Hoeller’s own epiphany, but gnosis, in his words, “originates in an experience of the psyche,” not the intellect. You can’t read your way to enlightenment. As a refugee in post-war Belgium, still not yet 20, he encountered “live Gnostics” affiliated with a revived French sect. These mysterious mentors, living in a Europe that still branded them heretics, befriended him and opened the door to the spiritual kindred he found when, in 1953, he was admitted to the USA as a “stateless person” and placed in the city of Los Angeles.
In 1958, Hoeller was ordained a priest of the American Catholic Church by the bishop of the Church of Saint Francis in Laguna Beach. The ACC was a schismatic branch, and decidedly not on the Vatican’s party list. A year later, Hoeller founded his own parish at Melrose and Western and christened it Ecclesia Gnostica, drawing a small congregation from attendees of his frequent lectures at the Philosophical Research Society in Los Feliz. In 1967, while down the street the Doors held court at the Whisky, a visiting British Gnostic prelate known as Richard, Duc de Palatine, dubbed Hoeller a bishop of the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church. It was the Summer of Love, and as Hoeller puts it, Gnostics “looked with great interest on the consciousness-raising endeavors of the counterculture” for signs of a genuine revival of their tradition. He knew by then what to look for, for only a few years earlier, Hoeller himself had broken on through to the other side. His faith was now beyond belief. It was a matter of experience.
But then, beneath the bushy brows, there is a gleam in his eye, and when talk turns to The Matrix, it grows brighter. A scenario in which our everyday reality is a digitized illusion projected by malevolent overlords of AI. Shades of the Demiurge? “Yes,” Hoeller affirms. “The outlines are there. Especially in the first film, where this notion of a counterfeit reality in which we’re trapped, and a dark, manipulative will behind the veil, is clearly expressed. Neo seems to be a classic Gnostic seeker.”
There is something akin to the Hindu concept of maya in all this talk of veiling and illusion, and I ask him if it’s simply a matter, as the gurus say, of our failure to see things “rightly.” “Yes and no,” he answers. “As with Hinduism, the ‘righting’ of our perception comes with a change in consciousness. A jnana, which we call gnosis. But, in general, the Eastern religions don’t acknowledge that there are malign forces whose interests lie in maintaining the illusion — so well that most people never see it.”
We never see it, I think out loud, unless there’s a tear in the fabric of our “reality” that suddenly reveals the Man Behind the Curtain — as when in The Truman Show the spotlight falls from a clear blue sky and lands at Jim Carrey’s feet.
“ ‘There’s a crack in the world,’ ” adds Hoeller, quoting Leonard Cohen. “That’s how the light gets in.” The bishop smiles a Mona Lisa smile. “Yes,” he adds. “You see, to cite another chapter from the Matrix series, the Architect of this illusion is not all that skillful. There are flaws in the blueprint, fissures in the foundation, through which we can glimpse the supernal reality. But we must be very attentive, because as soon as a crack appears, the enemies of gnosis — enemies of a direct human perception of the true nature of God and man — begin to paper or plaster it over.”
Hoeller is speaking of the Demiurge and his cohorts, the Archons, and I cannot stop myself from asking theagnostic question: Are we talking allegorically here, or should I double-bolt the door tonight? His answer provokes a shiver, and makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan should be added to the list of Gnostic filmmakers. Hoeller describes these “enemies of gnosis” as “forms of transpersonal consciousness which have been actualized in some way and have an existence outside the individual psyche.” In other words, they’re not simply “in our heads.”
For the skeptical (and all Gnostics begin as skeptics), it may be worth noting that no less an authority on human psychology than Carl Jung wrote that flying saucers were an actualized projection of both nuclear-age anxiety and the deep longing for wholeness. They were not merely in our heads either.
Well, maybe not for everyone. The pessimism implicit in the Gnostic outlook has made it a tough sell from the first century onward, with critics asking, essentially, “Where’s the comfort in a religion that says the inmates are running the asylum?” Hoeller emphatically does not back away from the controversy when he fumes, “I’m fed up with hearing everyone chant ‘I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s okay.’ Well, everything is not okay!” And he’s decidedly not prescribing his doctrine as an opiate for the masses when he cautions, “When encountering Gnosticism in the spiritual supermarket, we may be tempted to embrace some parts of its worldview and disregard others . . . such as the presence of evil in the very fabric of the universe.” Although it may be more accurate to characterize Gnosticism as mystical existentialism than the nihilism it has often been labeled, it’s clearly an acquired and rarefied taste, like absinthe or Nick Drake or, to cite another cinematic exorciser, David Lynch.
Lynch’s work has frequently been pegged by film critics as “Manichaean,” and Mani, the third-century Babylonian prophet who framed the world in terms of the eternal struggle between co-equal forces of Light and Darkness, is a Gnostic hero. Hoeller has seen Mulholland Drive, and I have a hunch he might view the gruesome bum with the blue box who occupies the alley behind Winkie’s Diner as an embodiment of the Demiurge, manipulating reality so as to keep the characters (and us) from seeing the truth. His reply is Jungian: “I can’t say if David Lynch is familiar with the writings, but Gnostic archetypes are present in the underground stream of the subconscious, a place he clearly taps into.”
Aside from its dismissal of Judaic law and its challenge to Papal Writ, one of the things that undoubtedly drove the suppression of Gnostic scripture was its depiction of “the prostitute,” Mary Magdalene, as holding equal status with the 12 disciples and special rank with the Son of God himself. Like Eve, M.M. “gets it” before the guys do, not infrequently prompting grumblings of “What’s up with her?” This brings us to the zingers breathlessly reported by Dan Brown in the widely read pages of The Da Vinci Code.
Since Bishop Hoeller is a bona fide scholar of the lore alluded to by the now stupendously rich Mr. Brown, the question must be posed: Was it some sort of tantric sex thing between J.C. and M.M.?
“Although I’m delighted by the interest in Gnosticism it’s stirred up,” Hoeller says, “and by its part in restoring Mary Magdalene to her place at the side of Jesus, I must confess that my regard for The Da Vinci Code is considerably less than for The Matrix. For one thing, Mr. Brown seems to have an agenda. He appears to be deliberately courting certain ‘interest groups,’ among them conspiracy buffs, enthusiastic but badly informed Goddess worshippers and almost anyone who harbors a grudge against the Christian faith. And though the Gnostic Gospels do identify the Magdalene as having a unique spiritual kinship with Jesus, there’s no suggestion that the relationship was sexual, much less that it produced offspring. This is a canard derived almost wholly from an earlier piece of sensationalistic pseudo-history called Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”
“According to which,” I interject, “the bloodline of Jesus produced the French monarchy . . .”
“Yes, well . . . the Merovingian dynasty.”
“And your opinion of the Holy Blood theory?”
“We’ve been persecuted because we assert that genuine salvation comes only through an essential change in consciousness which has nothing to do with obeying rules. This makes fundamentalists of all stripes crazy, because they’re all about adherence to ‘the Law.’ As long as this remains true, I suspect we’ll remain outsiders. Gnostics obey the traffic laws like everyone else . . . we just don’t happen to believe you can get to Heaven that way.”
And what of Rome, I wonder. Will His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI extend a hand to his estranged Gnostic brethren as his predecessor did to the Eastern Orthodox? “Is the Pope Catholic?” Hoeller replies, with a twinkle in his eye. “No, he seems to be a damage-control man, and there is plenty of damage to attend to.”
The last question is the toughest: Once our eyes are open to the absurdity of the world, what do we live for? It’s essentially the same question asked by Sartre and Camus in the midst of the Holocaust, but Hoeller’s reply is lit by that glimmer in his eye. He quotes the Gospel of Thomas:
“And Jesus said, ‘Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will be troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.’”
Bishop Stephan Hoeller conducts Sunday services, and lectures at 8:00 p.m. on almost every Friday night of the year, at Ecclesia Gnostica, in its new location at 3363 Glendale Blvd. in Atwater Village. He is the author of Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, The Gnostic Jungand The Fool’s Pilgrimage, and can be tracked down at www.gnosis.org.