Jun 1, 2015

Alejandro Jodorowsky

“The high priest of head-trip cinema” (as Guardian critic Steve Rose labelled him) is the kind of filmmaker you hear about through a friend of a friend, and once you experience one of his films you never forget them. It’s hard to pin down exactly what his films “are”, but it can’t be refuted that they are unique experiences. Part Leone Spaghetti Western, part Buñuel dreamscape, part Buddhist fable, part Metaphysical exploration…but that doesn’t come close. Jodorowsky has never been one to rest on his laurels. He’s seemingly led an incident-filled life, as incredible as one of his films. A Russian Jew who grew up in Chile and Paris; his career spans the Surrealist movement, mime, experimental theatre happenings, psychedelia, comic books and mystical therapy, and takes in figures such as Dennis Hopper, Salvador Dalí, and Marilyn Manson. He’s now 80 years old, but doesn’t look it in the slightest.

‘These days a picture only has value if it makes a lot of money. I want to make a picture to lose money’ – Alejandro Jodorowsky


Something that really stands out from Jodorowsky’s filmography is his blatant disregard for convention. His films often have several different narratives, some without resolution, are heavy on symbolism (someone literally pooing gold, for example), and make no attempt to talk down to an audience. He famously once said, “If you are great, El Topo is a great picture. If you are limited, El Topo is limited”, and that is true of all of his work. Much like the more obscure works of David Lynch, if you’re open-minded enough for the experience, and go along for the ride, there’s plenty to enjoy, and even admire. The cinematography alone, by Rafael Corkidi, has gone on to clearly influence filmmakers including Wes Anderson.

Although effectively withheld from circulation for more than 30 years, his masterworks are arguably ‘El Topo’ (1970) and ‘The Holy Mountain’ (1973). They teem with with violent, surreal imagery, and breed a unique self-mythology, often prodding at various religious tales and beliefs. Imagery is the key word here. This is cinema at it’s purest – a unique idea, distilled in an image. One that couldn’t have come from any other mind, than that of its creator.
In 1975 Jodorowsky returned to France to begin work on a film that was never made – a colossal adaptation of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’. It was to star Orson Welles(!) and Salvidor Dali(!), was to be scored by Pink Floyd(!) and was to bring together the visionary talents of H.R Giger and Dan O’Bannon (who later collaborated on Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic – ‘Alien’). Unfortunately, the financiers backed out, and ‘Dune’ was eventually filmed by David Lynch (favourite filmmaker / worst mistake in film history). To find out more about the “film that never was”, I highly recommend Frank Pavich’s ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ (2013)- one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while.
If you see film as more than mindless escapism / entertainment, I highly recommend you get lost in the labyrinthian, mind-melting worlds of Alejandro Jodorowsky!
Recommended Viewing:
El Topo  //  The Holy Mountain  //  Santa Sagre