Alexandro Jodorowsky  



One of the ultimate cult figures in cinema and theater. His cinematic repertoire boasts only 6 movies in the first 35 years, practically each of which is accompanied by a fantastical story. His movie 'El Topo' is considered to be the first midnight cult movie, and a riot broke out in reaction to 'Fando y Lis'. His most famous movies were held back by a vengeful partner for 30 years, forcing them into the underground until their eventual widespread release. He also has many aborted projects involving figures such as Salvador Dalí, and his followers Marylin Manson and David Lynch, the most infamous aborted movie being the original version of Dune which was allegedly planned as a 12-hour movie. In addition to movies, he was very active in theatre, being a founding member of the anarchistic avant-garde Panic Movement, as well as being active in Zen Buddhism, opening his house to disciples and to the study of Zen koans and 'psycho-magic', a combination of spiritualism and psychology. He also wrote poetry and created a series of graphic novels.

His movies make heavy use of the bizarre, the grotesque, the obscure allegory, religious symbolism, surrealism, Freudian psychology, general spiritualism and the occult, provocative poetry, transgressive sex, many deformed humans, dwarves, and amputees as well as numerous non-sequitur events and striking visual props often for jarring Dadaistic effect. His movies are striking and even artistically or intellectually stimulating but mostly they feel like the work of an intellectual lunatic on drugs high on his own pseudo-mysticism. At times his visuals feel like a Zen koan with the hidden meaning just out of reach, sometimes you may grasp the meaning and feel awed by the artistic genius, but more often than not, the meaning is trite, and disappointing new-age nonsense, or you realize that your mind is just forcing meaning onto bizarre information that could mean anything to anyone. Thus, stimulating scenes are often drowned in self-indulgent cult intellectualism, artistic nonsense or pointless Dadaism. His movies may work as striking visual pieces, however, and despite the pseudo-mystical nonsense, there is much to extract from watching his movies, if only for the challenge and stimulation, as well as the visual experience. In his own words: "I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs." And regarding El Topo: "If you're great, it's a great picture, if you're limited, El Topo is limited"... which sounds a bit too much like a paraphrase of the tailor's statement in The Emperor's New Clothes.

His only movie not listed here is 'Tusk', a mainstream film about a relationship between a girl and an elephant in India mixed with some action and slapstick.

Recommended

Santa Sangre  
Jodorowsky's strange imagination is pulled slightly down to earth by Dario Argento's involvement, and the result is something that we can sink our teeth into. The story (yes there is one this time) involves a group of circus performers, the main characters being a fat, knife-throwing strong-man, his aerialist and religious cult leader wife, his tattooed lady lover, his magician son who loves a deaf-mute girl, a midget and a few clowns. After a very violent, traumatic episode in the boy's life involving his jealous mother attacking the lovers with acid, getting her arms cut off and his father committing suicide, we follow the grown up magician through various stages of insanity, and an obsession with his mother who controls his arms and forces him to kill women. This is all very Freudian-heavy and dark and is comparable to Psycho at times, but the real star of this movie is Jodorowsky's bizarre visuals and symbolism, and the plot only ties it all together to keep us interested until the final surprise denouement. We are treated to such striking images such as a bleeding elephant and its funeral in a huge coffin, a huge bodybuilder woman that the little magician challenges, mongoloids being entertained with a whore, haunting female corpses covered with white clown paint, and many carefully choreographed duets where a woman with no arms uses her son's arms as if they were her own. The only flaw is that at times it's too twisted just for shock value with heavy Freudian tones, but the story comes together very well and the visuals never leave you.

Of Some Interest

Cravate, La (The Severed Heads)  
First short movie by Jodorowsky acted purely by mimes. A man tries to woo a woman who plays hot and cold with him and who seems to like and dislike different aspects of him. He tries different neckties, hats... and heads. A local woman runs a store for new heads, keeping spare heads on display, and changing them for customers on the fly. The problem is, the targeted woman is too picky and heads and bodies don't always see eye-to-eye.

Dance of Reality, The  
After a 23-year hiatus from films during which time his movies were released from their commercial 'prison' and gained a much more widespread audience, Jodorowsky finally produces one that didn't evaporate into smoke. Although this seems to start as an autobiography with Jodorowsky guiding his own child-self through a difficult upbringing, the movie soon turns into a dance of unreality and another journey of Jodorowsky psycho-magic, with the reality of his past morphing into a fantastical and grotesque story in order to tell another Jodorowsky tale of the search for meaning and self. His bosom-heavy mother sings all her lines as if in an opera and, together with a Theosophist, represents the magical and the religious side of his upbringing. Except that she has an unhealthy psychological projection on her son derived from her father. His father is shown as an insecure macho-Communist who represents the practical, the cold and the harsh. The child's own experiences start blending pleasure and suffering together, as death can often lead to happiness and merge into one. As expected, amputees appear to represent the tough and deformed aspects of life which the child embraces. And so on, all psychology-heavy, personal, surreal and symbolic, until the movie suddenly veers to tell a fictional-fantastical-symbolical tale of his father who went to kill a dictator and got very lost on the way, losing his pride, strength and self through very colorful and bizarre Jodorowsky-adventures with saints, deformed wives, absolute love of a horse, Nazis, amnesia, and Christ, until he finally finds his way home. A fascinating movie with both interesting and laughably pretentious elements, as well as the same old tired shock-tactics such as a scene of healing through graphic water-sports representing the channeling of godlike power. Definitely another one-of-a-kind Jodorowsky experience, but much more personal, Freudian and psychological, rather than the mystical and visually striking LSD experiences of the past.

El Topo  
A long allegorical, surreal western about a man in search for meaning (I think). The story starts with a gunfighter and his naked son who takes down a colonel who is terrorizing the people. A victimized woman attaches herself to him, he abandons his son, she convinces him to challenge the four wise masters of the desert, he defeats them all by cheating and finds he has gained nothing. She betrays him and chooses a lesbian lover instead and he wakes up years later in a hidden cave of social rejects and deformed people. He falls in love with a dwarf, tries to save them by digging a tunnel to the outside only to find a decadent and violent society on the other side. Along the way we see such images like a man with no legs on the back of a man with no arms, a man forced to have sex with a dwarf in public, bandits dancing with and sexually abusing four priests, an absurd showdown where they wait for a whining balloon to run out of air before shooting, finding eggs in the sand between other people's feet and shooting rocks for water in a desert, etc. In other words, non-stop symbolic and insane vignettes posing pretentiously as mystical, religious or satirical messages. It succeeds at rare times, and there is some meaning to be extracted from this experience, but the shock-tactics, nonsense intellectualism and new-age pop-mysticism gloss win out in the end.

Endless Poetry  
A continuation of Jodorowsky's own psychological pseudo-autobiography started in Dance of Reality, this time a bit too self-indulgent to be enjoyable. It's like watching a man obsessed with his own Freudian self-analysis, each and every event in his life blown up to poetic and grotesque proportions. But the surrealism and visual richness keep the audience intrigued. Young Jodorowsky has grown up, fighting his domineering macho father for a life of poetry and art, and escaping his repressed mother. He finds friends amongst the highly eccentric and insane, the circus performers, the freaks, artists of the grotesque and the provocative, new-age spiritualists, and so on. A warped sexual relationship develops with an overwhelming Dominatrix-type figure that looks like an angry rainbow, as well as with a needy unstable dwarf. The dictator is back to drive him out of his own country, and many personal events take on surreal and highly meaningful proportions, Jodorowsky always there to guide his younger version through the psychological traps, symbolic re-enactments and grand theatrical gestures. Colorful costumes, people and props constantly litter the scenes, and lots of poetry is delivered punctuated with theatrical provocations and dramatic self-indulgence.

Fando y Lis  
Jodorowsky's first is also his most relatively accessible movie from that period, albeit a very surreal movie based on his work with Arrabal, with graspable allegories and symbols as well as his usual impenetrable mysticism. Fando & Lis is a black and white, surreal, Freudian story about an innocent young couple in search of a fantastical, Eden-like place called Tar. Along the way they lose their innocence and Fando trips over his ego, parents, homosexual tendencies and other psychological barriers, growing more abusive and desperate as his dreams are shattered, witnessing the exploitation of the poor, blind men drinking blood, and a living-dead society, often with religious overtones. This is all portrayed symbolically and provocatively of course, but the heavy-handed psychology and pretentious symbolism become tedious and aimless after a while. Evidently, the provocation and content in this movie were enough to cause a riot in Mexico.

Holy Mountain, The  
The ultimate bizarre midnight movie. There are no words to describe this never-ending visual stream of the most creative and outlandish imagery you could never imagine. Forget plot, forget descriptions and reviews; Just see it for yourself. The imagery includes things like a fool and his deformed dwarf friend being used to create Jesus mannequins, an alchemist in a magical tower that converts excrement into gold, seven business-men representing seven fantastical planets and various negative aspects of society, bizarre rebirth rituals, Tarot, occult and astrological symbols, a mystical journey to immortality, a 'cemetery party', bizarre visions, and so on. But, as mentioned this doesn't even begin to describe the movie. The obscure symbolism and occult allegories are impenetrable and full of crackpot pretentious 'wisdom', and the overall message ends up being quite trite, since after the journey through all of this mysticism and false journeys, Jodorowsky merely brings us back to reality and tells us that the answer is within us. Except that we had to go through 2 hours of unintelligible madness to come to that conclusion. As a visual experience, however, this is a full-blown mescaline experience with grotesque provocations and artistic direction that has no peers.

Rainbow Thief, The  
Compared to his earlier movies, this later offering by the lunatic is practically mainstream. But the use of some bizarre imagery, circus performers and most of all, impenetrable allegory, is still here. The plot involves an eccentric rich man who, among other things, feeds caviar to his dogs and bones to his family, and hires a dozen whores to play with him. This man was supposed to leave his wealth to a crazed fool who shacks up with a thief in the sewers and attempts to teach him the purpose of life while living off his thievery. This is by far his most pointless movie, but as with the others, your curiosity is held throughout.




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