February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
Graphic novelist, astrologist, renowned Tarot reader, poet, painter, mime and mystic, Alejandro Jodorowsky is also, undoubtedly, one of our greatest living filmmakers. His completely unique vision, particularly that manifested in his first three features (Fando and Lis, El Topo and Holy Mountain) is perhaps the closest we’ve come to seeing someone’s subconscious onscreen.
Raised in Chile by Russian Jewish parents, Jodorowsky spent his early years amid the reckless violence of a rugged port town, eventually escaping to Santiago to attend university. By 1955, he had departed South America for the seductions of Paris, enlisted to study under the famous mime, Marcel Marceau.
Quickly endearing himself to Marceau and his circle, Jodorowsky found himself a protégée to the likes of Maurice Chevalier and Surrealists such as Salvador Dali. Safely under their gilded wings, Jodorowsky began various artistic experimentations of his own, by the late 1950s directing avant-garde theater and various short films and in 1967, relocating to Mexico to direct his first feature, Fando and Lis.
The a vaguely vampiric horror film/romance involving a man and his paraplegic girlfriend and their search for a mythical city called “Tar”, the film elicited a full scale riot at the 1968 Acapulco Film Festival due to graphic sexual imagery and general high weirdness.
Ultimately, the debut would clearly indicate Jodorowsky’s evolving aesthetic – a combination of refined nonsense and intense visual theatrics. He would cull inspiration from a variety of his own experiences, from artful pantomime to the vivid frenzy of the South American carnival. Theatrics, religious symbolism and a fearless sexuality would continue to mark each of his future explorations on screen.
“I was working in complete isolation,” remembers Jodorowsky, speaking from his current home in Paris, “Nobody knew what I was doing or why I was doing it or where I was doing it. No one understood. They said I was crazy. Even the actors didn’t understand. When I did these films, it was a surprise to the industry. It was a big surprise that they would make a lot of money. But now it’s very difficult to do that. Movies are an industry now and a very big industry.”
In 1971, Jodorowsky wrote, directed, composed for and starred in the psychedelic Western, El Topo. A sepia toned masterwork combining Christ imagery, comic hi-jinx and the myth of Manifest Destiny, the film was applauded by the likes of John Lennon, and quickly attained cult status. Due to Lennon’s public support, El Topo would help to establish a new distribution strategy for independent cinema, becoming one of the first of the long-playing midnight movies.
“I was lucky because of rocknroll,” explains Jodorowsky, “When I brought El Topo to New York, no one understood the picture, but John Lennon understood. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, they presented El Topo in the United States, they introduced it.”
Spawned by the unexpected success of the movie, Lennon and his manager Allen Klein, reached into deep pockets to fund Jodorowsky’s third film, the epically surrealistic The Holy Mountain. The latter is Jodorowsky finally and totally unbridled, free of financial constraint or egoist inhibition. A long time student of mystic and spiritualist tomes, Jodorowsky fashioned his third foray a kind of divine acid trip, meditative revelation through cinematic means. The film is part science fiction, part social, cultural, political, sexual and religious critique. It is also visually stunning, a kaleidoscope of color, costume and highly stylized set pieces.
“I was in advance 30 years ago,” says Jodorowsky, “I was in advance of time. And now is the time, in some ways, that I was talking about in for example for Holy Mountain. Even today, that is an avant-garde, artistic picture. I’d like that film to play at museums, instead of in a theater, because it is a painting, no?”
Due to legal hassles and a longstanding feud between the filmmaker and Klein, neither El Topo nor Holy Mountain has been seen (except as rare screenings and heavily bootlegged video copies) for the last four decades. This spring, however, long awaited peace between Jodorowsky and Klein will result in the release his first three films – remastered and overseen by Jodorowsky – on DVD and once again, on the big screen.
“I’m very happy, because I was given the opportunity to remaster everything,” he says of the new release, “I made better color and now each is a complete film and so I am happy. I make a very good technical work on these films. I worked a month on getting everything perfect so that these films are now as they should be. They are very honest these films, no? They are out of time. I am no longer this person, but they are part of my life. So I am reliving that. And I still believe in what I was saying.”
Following the release of Holy Mountain in 1973, Jodorowsky was selected to begin pre-production on an expansive exploration of Frank Herbert’s novel ‘Dune’. With the embrace of Holy Mountain and El Topo by some of the most innovative of the era’s artists, Jodorowsky was able to enlist an incredible roster of talent for the project. Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles were cast as leads, Moebius and H.R. Geiger began working on production design and Pink Floyd volunteered to write the score. Eventually, however, Jodorowsky’s Dune efforts collapsed and the film was passed on to Ridley Scott and ultimately to David Lynch.
Jodorowsky then went on to film several underwhelming work-for-hire films, focusing his talents instead on art, Tarot and various mystical pursuits. 1989’s Sante Sangra was a return to form, a critically acclaimed feature which revisited many of Jodorowsky’s favorite themes, among them deformation, circus art and sexual perversion.
Meanwhile, his myth was continually evolving, particularly among musicians. Over the years, Jodorowsky would continually find support within the rocknroll world, first by Lennon, then Peter Gabriel and more recently, by Marilyn Manson.
“With Holy Mountain, it was Marilyn Manson,” Jodorowsky explains, “He made an homage in a video clip and then I was introduced to all these young gothics, who were all wanting to see Holy Mountain. I don’t know why, because I am not rocknroll, but these young people, there are always more young people who come to see the movies and I think that is why, because of these musicians. I was very lucky in this way, that they understood what I was saying.”
Jodorowsky has since become quite close with Manson, even officiating over the latter’s 2005 marriage to Dita Von Teese.
“He is one of my greatest of all time heroes and a bit of a mentor,” Manson claims of Jodorowsky, “He’s a film director that influenced my entire visual style. He is technically a holy man of a different sort.”
Jodorowsky’s intense exploration of all aspects of spiritualism has also resulted in an international reputation as both a revelatory Tarot reader and astrologist. He’s even developed his own form of psychotherapy called “Psychomagic”, which attempts to heal deeply seeded psychological scars passed down through past generations.
Jodorowsky has also evolved into one of the most prolific authors of graphic novels, working with a variety of artist to produce a long running series of sci-fi comics released all over the world. His first experiments with comic book writing began in the mid 1960s, when he authored of the “Anibal 5” series (with illustrations by Manuel Moro) and both wrote and illustrated a series entitled “Fabulas Panicas”, which ran in the Mexican magazine “Heraldo de Mexico”.
“For me comics are an art much like pictures,” Jodorowsky says of the genre, “It is another kind of art but for me it was the same in that it is a way for me to express my imagination. Everything I cannot do in movies, I make in comics, so it’s another way of expressing. It is very freeing, because you just have the artists, yourself as the writer and an editor and this is all. And you do it.”
“It is like a camera. You have the cinematographer and you tell him what you want, yes? So it’s possible to do this with art, if the artist is willing. And it’s a big happiness to do this, to describe what is in your mind and have an artist bring that thing to life.”
Jodorowsky is currently in talks for a new film, entitled “King Shot”, starring Manson as a “300 year old pope”. His day to day consists of work on poetry, painting, writing and public lectures.
“I am like a woman,” he says, “ I have a woman inside me. And so – I create.”
After a career of intense and continous creativity, Jodorowsky is anxious to work in cinema again, although he seems well aware of the changes in the industry and the difficulties of manifesting the complete purity of vision that marked all of his early work.
“It is difficult now,” he admits, “But in every time there is a person who rises above these difficulties. And even if today is difficult, there can still come a person who does these things. A true artist can do that. A true artist is always out of his time.”
Originally Published in UK’s DAZED magazine