Paleo Retiree writes:
I somehow managed to make it through the 1970s without seeing any of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies, the best-known of which were “El Topo,” “The Holy Mountain,” and “Santa Sangre.” A few months ago, though, I watched the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel to the screen, and I enjoyed it a lot. In his 80s now, Jodorowsky is a lot of fun to spend time with. He’s still brimful of director / therapist / visionary charisma, and the film is worth seeing just to experience his low-key, sly, and companionable brand of personal magnetism. Hey, charisma is a real thing. I don’t know how you measure it or investigate it, but once you’ve you’ve had some real charisma focused on you a few times its factual existence becomes hard to deny.
Jodorowsky’s a great character. But he’s also rueful and funny about the titanic amount of work he put into this project that came to nothing. Among other things: he lined up Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson and David Carradine to act in the movie. That can’t have been easy. Though the results might have been awful — I’m not sure I’d ever really have wanted to sit through a 14 hour long sci-fi movie — they’d certainly have been nutty and memorable. Alas, the financing failed to materialize, “Star Wars” transformed moviemaking and moviegoing, and the novel was eventually taken from Jodorowsky by Dino De Laurentiis, who hired David Lynch to turn it into a film. After his disappointment with “Dune,” Jodorowsky made a few more movies but turned most of his energies to developing a philosophical / psychological system, and to writing graphic novels.
The doc left me wanting to fill in some of those ’70s movie-viewing blanks. So the other night the Question Lady and I caught up with “The Holy Mountain,” Jodorowsky’s spiritual-quest fable from 1973. Quick verdict: If it had been 70 minutes long I’d have enjoyed it almost as much as I usually enjoy Sergei Paradjanov’s movies. But it goes on for two hours and becomes tedious. That said, we both found it a largely engaging bath in trippy, shamanistic, avant-garde theater from that era — very Grotowski, very Peter Brook, very Andrei Serban. It’s an impressive production, with lots of often stunning, elaborately staged tableaus and sequences, and a wealth of gorgeous zooms and tracking shots. (Some legendary shock effects too.) There’s an arc of a sort, but the film is largely non-narrative; it’s made up of ideas, parables and metaphors, fused together with structural notions derived mostly from (as far as I could tell) Jung, Zen and Tarot. Jodorowsky himself plays the wise psychotherapist / spiritual master who guides a group of nine sinners to spiritual awareness. You can’t say he was lacking in chutzpah.
The main question the movie left me with was: What on earth possessed so many artists of that era to want to go beyond art and entertainment, to want to be gurus and masters, and to want to transform their performers and audiences? (For “The Holy Mountain,” Jodorowsky and his disciples — er, his cast — experimented with drugs, lived together communally, and submitted themselves to coaching by a couple of gurus.) Was it just something in the air? Was it finally down to the drugs? And what on earth were these artists imagining that we — once we had managed to transcend space, time, ego, art, etc — would finally arrive at? (Another difference between Paradjanov’s films and Jodorowsky’s: as trippy and avant-garde as they are, Paradjanov’s movies are intended as poetic evocations, not as spiritual quests for the cast and audience.)
I sampled about 30 minutes of Jodorowsky’s commentary track on the disc and enjoyed it thoroughly. Looking back at his huge, ambitious movie, he’s able to recall what was on his mind at the time, as well as what the craziness that’s onscreen was meant to convey. But, as in the documentary, it’s his tone that bewitches. He’s respectful of his old movie and his former self, but he chuckles and smiles about them too. It’s as though he’s talking about a pretentious, ambitious, determined friend — a bit of a maniac — he was close to many decades ago, and who he recalls fondly to this day.
- I wrote about “Lost in La Mancha,” a good British doc about Terry Gilliam’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to make a movie about Don Quixote.
- Paradjanov’s “The Color of Pomegranates” (also known as “Sayat Nova”) is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I like many of his other movies almost as much. To my mind, they really are transformative. This collection of Paradjanov’s movies is a major bargain.