Alejandro Jordorowsky certainly is a strange and amazing fellow. It’s extremely sad though that only a small amount of people have had the chance to find out just how strange and amazing the artist’s works actually are. He has heavily influenced everyone from The Beatles to David Lynch to Sam Fuller and Bob Dylan. Despite his popularity, it has been his own film’s content which has in many cases helped put his own head in the stocks and his films on the shelf. Their confronting, bizarre, often overtly religious, and always graphic imagery puts viewers through the ringer and his disregard for convention is almost seizure inducing.
In the man’s own words; “I ask of film what most people ask of psychedelic drugs” and anyone who has seen any of his amazingly surreal work will know for sure that he doesn’t lie.
But it isn’t all just weird for werid’s sake.
Jodorowsky’s first feature Fando & Lis famously caused a riot when it was premiered in Mexico in 1967, the director was forced to flee in a limo and saw, in exile, his first film promptly banned in the country it was made and financed. The story dealt with themes which would be prominent in all of Jordorowsky’s subsequent works; death, disfigurement, violence, spirituality, a journey for an seemingly unattainable place, and ultimately, spiritual redemption. It was only after Yoko Ono and John Lennon saw the film that they provided some publicity for his second feature, the brutal and brilliant acid western masterpiece El Topo and the funding for his third, the equally astounding and visually face melting, The Holy Mountain (pictured). As well as directing, Jordorowsky cast himself as the lead in both films.
The films’ appeal, although quelled by the government in Mexico and in the US, ran deep. El Topo is often sighted as the film that single-handedly started the midnight film phenomenon after indie film doyen Ben Barenholtz acquired a copy and screened it at midnight every day for six months in his theater, The Elgin in 1971. It was shortly after that John Lennon bought the film from him and spread the Jordorowsky love, getting Beatles manager Allen Klein involved to produce The Holy Mountain.
However, after a falling out with Klein over a proposal of his next film (Klein wanted a cinematic retelling of Anne Desclos’ erotic novel The Story of O), El Topo and The Holy Mountain were spitefully shelved by the fab four’s boss, who owned the rights on the films, for almost forty years. It was not until 2007 when Tartan finally released a Jordorowsky box set was I was lucky enough to see and be blown away by the sheer goble-di-gooked imagination of both of them.
The fact that these mind bendingly unique films went unseen for so many years makes you wonder just how much Jordorowsky influence could have had on popular culture if they had been widely available since their initial release. Their use of colour (there is no blood redder than Jordowosky’s blood, no sky bluer), the set design, the insane plot lines, the extended dreamlike sequences and the use of real amputees and deformed actors was both unsettling and amazing. David Lynch, Salvidor Dali and Sergio Leone combined. I was floored.
And I didn’t sleep too well that night.
In 1975 the director secured the rights to Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune. In my humble opinion, possibly one of the great lost films of all time would have teamed Jordorowsky with Salvidor Dali, H.R Giger, Dan O’Bannon and Orson Wells… all with a Pink Floyd soundtrack. It was only after 2 years of pre-production, 2 million dollars, a proposed 14 hour script the size of phone book and endless quarrels with Dali and his $10,000 an hour salary that the producers shut down the project and sold the rights onto Dino De Laurentis. The sci-fi would of course, eventually be made by one Mr. David Lynch.
Jordorowsky, perhaps seeking a more commercial project, strangely moved on to make Tusk (a film which he since disowned) about a woman’s psychic relationship with an elephant in India. Quite a left turn. Although showing off his trademark visual flare the film was far softer and safer than his previous work, was not widely released and is still quite hard to track down even by Jordorowsky standards.
It wasn’t really until 1989’s Santa Sangre that the old Jordorowsky returned full force, delivering a truly demented version (once again, even by his standards) of an LSD, circus themed almost retelling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The film was instantly added to his notorious cult status list, solidified by some truly disturbing moments and an undertow of thick black humor.
It does seem odd then that Jordorowsky, after finding his feet once more, would move to make his first british film. The Rainbow Theif, unbelievably re-pairing, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. The basic storyline (about a petty criminal trying to find his way into a millionaire’s fortune) seemed to be the complete antithesis of all things Jordorowsky. The equivalent of having Bergman make a Disney film or Rob Zombie a romantic comedy. Perhaps knowing he’d made a real mistake this time, Jordorowsky once again disowned one of his films and disappeared from cinema to refocus on writing novels and comic books.
Although talk of a sequel to El Topo has kept surfacing, it has been 19 years since the directors last effort. It was a beautiful surprise then when, at the start of this year a new film by Alejandro Jordowosky popped up at the top of his list as director on IMDB. The David Lynch produced Kingshot (which I’m told is being filmed as we speak) is to be set in a casino in the desert, feature Marylin Manson as a 300 year old pope, Nick Nolte, Asia Argento, Udo Kier and a giant bald man the size of a house. Jordorowsky himself has described it as a “metaphysical gangster movie”.
So yeah… be very afraid.
So after only six films but a lifetime of controversy and wrong turns Jordorowsky’s appeal is only set to grow and, with a little help from his friends, who knows where it will stop. That is of course, if Kingshot ever makes it to the screen…
Before it arrives next year, before the new gut churning freakshow begins, I urge you to find a few of the true “Master of Weird’s” early films, get your self some popcorn (if you can stomach it) and a glass of wine (maybe a hearty red), sit down with someone you love and for once, feel good about feeling kind of odd.