INTERVIEW: Alejandro Jodorowsky
by Steve Dollar
Green Cine Daily
Now an avuncular 82, Alejandro Jodorowsky still has the air of a sly wizard about him—even over an Internet phone connection across the ocean in Deauville, France, where he was vacationing this week. This, after all, is the guy who once claimed: "Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my cojones." Not even age can wither that kind of spirit, as the Chilean émigré remains just as provocative in thought now as when he played the macho shaman in his classic cult movies El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), wildly influential hippie-era mindfucks that spun the tripped-out counterculture on its pointy little head.
The movies spent a long time in limbo, circulating on multiply dubbed VHS tapes for years before lingering legal issues were sorted out and they were released in remastered high-definition versions in 2006, complete with screenings at the New York Film Festival. Now they’ve been reissued in Blu-ray editions, and The Holy Mountain has a six-week run at MoMA's PS1 in Long Island City, where it will be screened three times a day in a theatrical gallery setting.
Paris has been Jodorowsky’s adoptive home since the 1960s, when his work in avant-garde street theater led him to create something he called the Panic Movement, a polymorphously perverse circus in which Antonin Artaud met lysergic freakout, and which forecast the metaphysical violence and sexuality of the films to come. As reported in the 1983 cult-film history Midnight Movies, by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum, the movement's grandest spectacle was a four-hour event staged in 1965 called Sacramental Melodrama.
"Against music provided by a six-piece rock band, a set consisting of a smashed automobile, and the visual frisson provided by a cast of bare-chested women (each body painted a different color), Jodorowsky appeared dressed in motorcyclist leather. He slit the throats of two geese, smashed plates, had himself stripped and whipped, danced with a honey-covered woman, and taped two snakes to his chest."
There's not a huge leap from that to Holy Mountain, a landmark of visionary filmmaking pitched somewhere between magic ritual and surreal burlesque. It's a rude, rowdy satire of contemporary society framed by a transcendental quest that becomes a cosmic "gotcha!" It's also a reminder of a time when making a movie could be like a gunfight. Jodorowsky populated his cast with drunks, prostitutes, disabled dwarves, monkeys, one-eyed men, plenty of naked people and an impromptu circus of frogs and lizards in costume. The movie's mesmerizing design evokes multiple religious traditions and occult imagery, including a set constructed of original tarot-card paintings and a shocking parade of flayed, crucified lambs held aloft by villagers (the filmmaker paid a local restaurant to supply the carcasses, then returned them to be served as dinner). There is still nothing quite like it, although everyone from Dennis Hopper to Darren Aronofsky have taken cues from its method and madness.
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