The Eyeball #26: Three Films by Alejandro Jodorowsky

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In the past couple years whenever anyone has asked for a movie recommendation, I steer them in the direction of Alejandro Jodorowsky. While in college I encountered Jodorowskyhis crazy film set in a circus, Santa Sangre (1989) and didn’t know what hit me. I later heard about Jodorowsky while interviewing video director Stephane Sednaoui (the guy who directed the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” video) in 2005. Sednaoui gushed over this film called The Holy Mountain (1973), claiming that every frame was a revelation. A couple years later, Anchor Bay released a boxed set including The Holy Mountain, as well as El Topo (1970) and Fando y Lis (1968).

If you’re brand new to Jodorowsky, I suggesting starting with The Holy Mountain. It’s such an audaciously insane film, filled with images that hit you right in the nervous system, and it’s just… Okay, just watch this trailer.

El Topo famously started the midnight movie tradition, and is known as John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s favorite film. In my favorite scene–perhaps in all of cinema–a man without legs rides on the back of a man without arms. It’s full of Joel Peter Witkin moments like that, all set in an otherworldly desert landscape that looks like the boundary between earth and some mystical plane of existence. A striking, shocking, and beautiful film. Here’s a taste.

A couple weeks ago I finally watched Jodorowsky’s earlier, black and white film, Fando y Lis. Obviously working with a smaller budget than his later films, he still manages to make the most of his outdoor settings as the two title characters trek to a mythic city called Tar. The film progresses through a number of set pieces–I particularly enjoyed the jazz club taking place in what can only be described as ruins. And I came to appreciate the overdubbed dialogue as a method of amplifying the strangeness of these characters. Last night while watching William Klein’s Mr. Freedom, a film of the same vintage, I noticed it, too, had dubbed dialogue. For me, this has moved beyond a solution to a technical problem into the realm of a stylistic benefit. Here’s what I mean:

Watching these films by Alejandro Jodorowsky I have had to occasionally stop and ask myself, is that really what I think it is? And I can’t help but try to reverse engineer these stories and imagine how the director must have convinced his cast to go along with his vision. I would have loved to have been there at moment when he pulled an actor aside and said, “This morning you’re going to have tarantulas crawl all over your face.”

About a year ago I picked up The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky, a self-aggrandizing mystical memoir that at times is unintentionally funny and expands the narrative of this former mime turned avant garde director turned mystic college lecturer. The more I learn about this director the more charming he seems, the South American blood brother of David Lynch, say, or Guy Maddin’s Chilean cousin. And speaking of Lynch, Jodorowsky was once in the running to direct Dune. All that remains of this potential project are some storyboards featured in the boxed set extras, and one can only imagine what his version would have looked like. Instead, Lynch directed it, leading to a creative crisis and the subsequent triumphant vision of Blue Velvet.

Jodorowsky’s latest film–his first in 20 years–is set to come out in 2010. It’s called King Shot and stars Marilyn Manson, Asia Argento, Nick Nolte, and Udo Kier. Of course it stars Udo Kier. And Lynch is producing. It’s being described as a “metaphysical spaghetti western” and is being shot in Spain. I can’t wait.


Ryan Boudinot is the author of the short story collection The Littlest Hitler (2006) and the novel Misconception. He was a DVD Editor at Amazon.com from 2003 to 2007. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and other journals and anthologies. He lives in Seattle and teaches creative writing at Goddard College's Port Townsend MFA program. More from this author →