Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Appreciation: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Fando and Lis  (1968) ***- The entry point to Jodorowsky’s cinema is a difficult one. Not too far removed from one of those awful looking student films of the late 60’s, there is something deeper in this parable about a man and paralyzed woman making an arduous journey over a dirty, barren, rock-filled landscape in search of the mythical city of tar. The dynamic between Fando (Sergio Klainer) and Lis (Diana Mariscal) begins as one of child-like affection and love between them, but before long, they become squabbling, pitiless partners. Along the way, they meet and interact with a host of unusual people in what I feel is Jodorowsky’s main theme of the film- the repercussions of external sources to ultimately sour a genuine relationship. If nothing else, this is a theme he’ll be chasing in his unique films for the next 40 plus years.

El Topo (1970) ***½ - A western of dazzling subversion, toying with the very nature of the genre through religious iconography and avant garde hallucinations. Jodorowsky himself stars as the unnamed gunslinger, traveling through the desert first as blood letter and then eventually as the savior to a village of under-privileged and deformed people.  While “Fando and Lis” wants to provoke and challenge, “El Topo is Jodorowsky maturing as a filmmaker, honing his distinctive eye and collapsing so many themes into a compact work. If I don’t like it quite as much as his other work, it’s only because the first half (where he meets and fights a successive group of master gunfighters) feels a bit redundant before hitting its perverse stride in the second half.

The Holy Mountain (1973) **- With “The Holy Mountain”, Jodorowsky’s mythological clap-trap begins to parody itself. A man, seemingly to be Christ, finds his way to a magical tower where its keeper (Jodorowsky himself) takes in the man and introduces him to nine other powerful individuals from each planet of the galaxy. Together, they embark on a journey to find immortality on the legendary holy mountain. Mordantly funny at times (especially in each vignette showcasing the history of the nine chosen) and downright bonkers at others, “The Holy Mountain” seems to be Jodorowsky at his most playfully contempt. The idea of modern greed and technology sullying our lives is well taken, and its probably the perfect film for the dying gasp of ‘hippie-dom’, but too much of it feels like provocation for the sake of LSD inspired intellectualism.

Tusk (1980) *- After his two midnight movies, Jodorowsky re-emerged eight years later with a much more accessible effort. Going in a new direction can be admirable at times, yet “Tusk” only reveals Jodorowsky’s shaky grasp on grounded acting and linear storytelling. The idea of dual nature between man and animal is seized upon at the very beginning when a baby elephant and girl Elise (Cyrielle Clair) are born on the same day. As they grow up, they both deal with various inhumanities, including a group of tusk traders wanting to kill the elephant and Elise’s moral contempt for her father’s empirical landowning practices as a British man in India. In typical Jodorowsky flair, there are elongated scenes of animal cruelty and over-the-top villainy that hammer home their message, but the film fails to elicit any real strong emotions for either man or beast. Not available on home video.

Santa Sangre (1989) ****- An art house slasher film populated by circus rejects. That twitter-like description of the film doesn’t do it’s underlying beating heart justice. Jodorowsky’s own son Axel stars as Fenix, the son of a circus couple who endures a nightmarish childhood when mom catches ringleader husband cheating. Mom is then murdered and dismembered by husband as son watches. It’s no surprise he has troubles adapting to a normal life. Underneath the sordid themes, “Santa Sangre” becomes a twisted love story as well when Alma (Sabrina Dennison), a childhood friend to Fenix, resurfaces and tries to help. Jodorowsky touches on universal themes of unrequited love and childhood psychosis to spin a macabre yet moving fairy tale of sorts. And for all his pop sensationalism, Jodorowsky still has the ability to aggressively comment on all things worldly such as the funeral of an elephant turning into a meat-filled scavenger hunt for the onlooker peasants.

The Rainbow Thief (1990) **½- Virtually disowned by Jodorowsky, “The Rainbow Thief” was his shot at mainstream filmmaking with a modest budget and a name cast. The results are far from disastrous- in fact some of Jodorowsky’s personal touches remain on the film even through his restrictions- and “The Rainbow Thief” emerges as a unique fable with a dash of magic realism for its finale. Starring Omar Sharif as a vagrant and petty thief, he meets Meleagre (Peter O Toole)… a man who has walked away from his family’s fortune and chosen to live without propriety since he overhead the petty squabbles of his family over the comatose body of their patriarch (Christopher Lee, glimpsed only in the wild and excessive opening). The two men form a bond and live underground together, plotting to one day re-emerge and lay claim to the family’s fortune. But the vagrant’s mixed dealings with various lowlifes, pimps and of course midgets, continually gets in the way of that. A bit tone deaf at times, with certain scenes carrying on far too long, the weaknesses of Jodorowsky are glaring. But there’s a weird sweetness to the whole film, never venturing into dark territory or avant garde malaise. Never even released in American theaters and given only a marginal European release, “The Rainbow Thief” deserved a much better fate than that. Not available on DVD.

The Dance of Reality (2013) **- Autobiographical and intensely personal, perhaps “The Dance of Reality” is Jodorowsky’s version of “8 ½”. Split into two distinct portions, the first half deals with a young man’s strict childhood with his father. Since the father is played by Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontis, and features himself in certain ghost-like monologues, the levels of ‘meta’ increase rapidly. The second half follows the father as he embarks on a journey to find himself after he realizes the totalitarian regime that controls his life and his unhappy relationship with his family. How Jodorowsky chooses to fictionalize his obviously painful childhood is interpretative… and looking over his long career, its no surprise “The Dance of Reality” is an amplified excursion of half awake dreams, weird characters (including his mother who sings all her dialogue in opera) and allegorical sight gags. But, the episodic nature of the film continually works against the momentum it occasionally establishes and never fully engaged me. 

No comments: