Minty’s Monthly Masterclass – Alejandro Jodorowsky
Well, this should be different. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s has a reputation as an extreme film-maker whose work occupies the twin worlds of both avant-garde and cult cinema. His films feel like they’ve been saturated in mescaline, unorthodox visions that defy easy description – he is someone whose work has to be seen to be believed. He is another surrealist, but unlike Bunuel is not widely considered as a member of the canon of ‘high’ or ‘worthy’ cinema, especially given his popularity with the acid heads and freaks who first flocked to his irregularly distributed movies in the cheapo drive-ins and run down cinemas of 60’s west coast America. Born in Chile in the late 1920′s, educated in Paris he is something of a bohemian who developed his own Mexican Theatre Trope, wrote mimes with Marcel Marceau (I still wonder if at Marceau’s recent funeral they had a two minute pandemonium?) he painted, wrote, drew comic books and engaged in performance art before turning his intellect to the cinema. If Bunuel is a polite, dryly spoken scornful English gentleman then Jodorowsky is a incandescent Mexican bandit -I’d only seen ‘Santa Sangre‘ before a few years ago but Jodorowsky’s output is so scant I’ve included it in the post after a second viewing. I’ve decided to view the films chronologically in an effort to detect emerging themes or an evolution of style over his career – this provided to be something of a failure as the dude was seriously fucked up from day one. All very, very NSFW so be warned with the links.
‘Fando y Lis’- This was too avant-garde for me, and it was a struggle. I’ve read that the DVD transfer was poor, but this was little more than a hastily constructed series of vignettes of strange characters interacting in a surreal fashion without any detectable purpose. The ‘plot’ concerns the title characters seeking the fabled lost city of Tar, a city that promises eternal ecstasy and fulfilment. It’s essentially a road movie and en route they interact with frisky transvestites, homicidal children and hungry vampires. Granted it was shot on a very low budget with non-professionals but hey, so was ‘Eraserhead’ and that film at least kept me gripped. Whilst the images are powerful by virtue of their pure originality I felt my attention wandering. What is interesting is that the film’s premiere resulted in a full blown riot with Jodorowky fleeing the 1968 Acapulco film festival and going to hiding for a brief period – the film was banned in Mexico after further incidents which gives oxygen to Jodorowsky’s assertions that he can change and manipulate ‘consciousness’ with his movies – more on this below….
‘El Topo‘ – Leather clad lesbian cowgirls. Incest ridden criminal dwarfs. Elderly transvestite hookers. No, it’s not a textbook Saturday night at chez Minty, just some of the ingredients of Jodorowsky’s most famous work and one of the lynch-pins of the midnight movie phenomenon. There are threads to his work as this feels like a more structured and considered film than Fando y Lis’ which employs the same sequence of challenging and visually lurid sequences which are almost unique in my experience. The plot, as much as there is one, follows the black clad gunfighter (played by Jodorowsky) escorting his naked son through a village strewn with the detritus of a vicious massacre. After saving a mysterious woman ‘El Topo’ is quested to find and kill the four gunmen responsible for the carnage. Then things start to get a little…strange….It’s easy to see what a certain type of person can admire and enjoy in this – it’s fucking mental. The phrase ‘retina scorching’ springs to mind and I actually had to rewind back certain scenes to make sure what I’d just seen actually happened. It’s enjoyable in its own unique way and follows ‘Fando y Lis’ in his quest narrative being the hook upon which to hang a succession of bewildering scenes and imagery.
‘The Holy Mountain‘ – At this point, reality is collapsing and I seriously doubt I’ll ever be the same again – if I’d actually watched these back to back I’m pretty sure I would have succumbed to uncontrollable insanity and been locked away in the local puzzle house.Again, we are assaulted with a procession of lunacy and madness albeit this time with a more overt critique of the ‘system’. Jodorowsky hones his vision down onto the means of production, the factory shop floor and the CEO boardroom for his targets. At the climax of the film he even abandons the pretence of cinema itself as a mechanical mechanism of control and production and reveals the artifice of film-making itself with the camera revealing the crew, lighting rigs and actors on set.
‘Santa Sangre‘ – finally, something of a return to normality. All this has to offer is amputation, rape, murder, incest and clowns. It’s certainly the most coherent of the four, for a start it actually (shock, horror !!) has something resembling a plot – a family of circus performers are torn apart when the father cuts off the arms of his religous zealot wife. Years later, the son escapes from the mental institution he has been incarcerated in and rejoins his mother, becoming her surrogate arms as they embark on a murderous spree of revenge.This was my favourite purely for its accessibility. It retains the qualities of his other work – the invention, the imagery, the vivid ingenuity within a tangible structure and plot – heck, he even uses such conventional mechanics as flashbacks in this one. The scene with the elephant funeral is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time let me tell you. Highly recommended, but not if you’re in any way ‘under the influence’…
Phew. I think I need a stiff drink and a psychiatrist. This is a film maker who has a prodigious imagination and almost fanatical disregard for the conventions of taste, decency or restraint – good for him. He’s more interested and skilled in composing bizarre symbolic, imagery sequences through the use of actors, through make-up. He is not at all concerned with some of the more formal aspects of film-making such as editing to a overall pace, building a A,B,C,D plot – character developments are obviously totally ejected for cyphers to be replaced by puppets at the heed of his deranged vision.
It would be criminal of me to close this without mentioning that Jodorowsky was briefly in the frame to direct the big budget Dino De Laurentis version of ‘Dune’, a project that of course was finally handled by David Lynch. Given his track record, the idea of a lunatic like Jodorowsky being let loose with the equivalent of a £100 million budget, in the Sahara desert, with a HR Giger design and a Pink Floyd soundtrack boggles the mind. Speculation on what certain films would have become had some of the directors attached to them not eventually bailed out or been fired is always good fun (Lynch was offered ‘Return of the Jedi’- Ewoks in Radiators, David Cronenberg ‘Top Gun’ – let the homoerotic combat begin!!) anyone got any more?
I’ve no doubt that Jodorowsky is a major influence on other artists I admire, especially Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. They all seem to have a similar commitment to a working practice of employing what they term a form of creative ‘magic‘ through the prism of their art in order to affect consciousness, both personal and cultural. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like some acidhead casualty New Age obsessed fuckhead and I certainly am not referring to any physical, tangible reaction – more of a cultural ripple that can be seen as enacted by a catastrophic event like 9/11 which upheaves the political, cultural, personal and historical. I’m certainly not stating any success in this approach – I’m far too pragmatic and boring for that – but I find it an intriguing idea.
Now, can I have my medicine Nurse Ratchet?