Jodrophenia… THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY Box Set Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

There is a particularly florid and debilitating ( only eight features and ten shorts completed in fifty years) psychiatric condition, characterised by sexual mania…

“Imagine Superman with a woman… his ejaculate is so great it would explode her brain and eat through the building!”

… body dysmorphia…

“Most directors make films with their eyes… I make films with my testicles!”

… and associated delusions of grandeur…

“Godard has only one testicle, whereas I have three!”

This is the condition to which medical science has given the name… Jodrophenia.

Now assembled alienists will be able pore over much of the cinematic evidence in the most celebrated case history, collected by Anchor Bay in a R1 DVD box set. Made possible when Jodorowsky patched up his long running differences with financier Allen Klein (who famously had a hand in the break up of The Beatles), this cornucopia of Jodsploitation comprises various interesting rarities but its appeal resides chiefly in supplying, at long last, definitive editions (in the correct aspect ratios, minus the prurient pixillations that marred the Japanese editions that were for so long the best available ones) of the ultimate cult movie El Topo (1970) and its 1973 follow up, The Holy Mountain.

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El Topo, which kick-started the whole Midnight Movie phenomenon after an enthusiastic endorsement from the acid-addled John Lennon (that’s two Beatles references down, one to go, pop pickers) is the everyday story of a gun slinger who goes by that name (and is played by the director himself), who abandons his son in the desert to take up with some femme fatale. She encourages him to prove his love for her by fighting a series of duels with four mystically-inclined martial arts masters. Three of those are satisfactorily dispatched but when the fourth pre-empts El Topo by topping himself and the woman runs off with a lesbian, it’s too much for our hero and he descends into madness. Given shelter and worshipped by a cave-dwelling bunch of cripples and amputees, El Topo vows to facilitate their social rehabilitation by digging a tunnel that will enable them to surface in the nearest town. To finance this, he shaves his head and, together with his new midget girlfriend, performs street theatre for the people of the town, which is run by a puritanical, Russian roulette playing religious cult (so far… what the fuck?) Mission accomplished (with the aid of his abandoned son, who has meanwhile grown up into a pistol packin’ monk) El Topo watches as the intolerant townspeople shoot down the incoming cripples. After his own vengeful gun spree, El Topo lays down his arms and immolates himself in the manner of a Buddhist monk protesting the Vietnam War. Like… cor baby, that’s really free!

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To enhance your appreciation of this ultimate cinematic trip (Jodorowsky insists that cinema, deployed properly, should be more mind altering than LSD) the director supplies a commentary track in Spanish (with English subtitles) where he claims El Topo “was inspired by rabbis, by Zorro, by Elvis Presley” and on a more banal level, admits that it was shot on the sets of The Wild Bunch (other sources insist it was Jerry Thorpe’s Day Of The Evil Gun, 1968.) He explains that the film was broken down into chapters (based, with characteristic modesty, on sections of The Bible) so that it could be passed off as a collection of shorts, because restrictive practices in the Mexican film industry prevented him from openly directing a feature. When it was released, he complains… “People literally waned to kill me! Critics literally vomited on me!” Well, fuck them if they can’t take a cosmic joke. Me, I can’t find fault with any movie that boasts lines of dialogue like “We are all hideously deformed due to constant incest!”

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Although somewhat overshadowed by its predecessor, The Holy Mountain is, if anything, even wilder stuff. After Jod himself (as “The Alchemist”) has presided over some weird ritual involving two blondes, when the Spanish conquest of Mexico has been re-enacted by frogs and lizards, following a prolonged meditation on the image of Christ… the plot kicks off in earnest and things start getting really wiggy!  “The Thief” (Hector Salinas) makes his way to The Alchemist’s tarot-decorated inner sanctum and, to begin his spiritual purification, a woman tattooed in kabbalistic symbols washes his arse for him… Jodorowsky claims on the commentary track that George Harrison was keen to play The Thief’s part but wimped out on account of this scene. We can only conjecture what George made of the sequence in which one of The Thief’s jobbies is melted in a casserole dish while The Alchemist intones “You are excrement… you can convert yourself into gold.”

The Thief is joined by seven of the richest and most powerful people in the world (all identified by their astrological characteristics and introduced with potty potted biographies) who have renounced all their worldly goods in return for a shot at the one thing money can’t buy… immortality! Together they will storm The Holy Mountain and supplant the nine immortals who direct human affairs from its summit…

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After plenty more bizarre preparations they scale that Holy Mountain but there’s a predictable twist at the conclusion of their endeavours. “Farewell to immortality… reality awaits us!” pronounces The Alchemist, and everybody seems improbably satisfied with this outcome. But do the aspirant immortals return to normal life as better people than they previously were? More importantly, did Jodorowsky ever get that casserole dish clean again? In case I ever get invited around for dinner, you understand…

The inclusion of El Topo and The Holy Mountain will probably provide sufficient motivation for many people to splash out on this box. One could quibble about some of the other contents, but Louis Mouchet’s feature length documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994) also constitutes essential viewing. At the onset Jodorowsky pronounces himself unable to provide an answer to the question “Who are you?”, so it’s a good job that admirers like Peter Gabriel (who admits that the Genesis album and show The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway were greatly influenced by El Jodo… a major non-surprise) and collaborators such as Marcel Marceau (with whom Jodorowsky invented the “caged man” mime, as popularised by David Bowie) and legendary comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud (“Jodorowsky’s brain works like three thousand crazy computers!”) are along for the ride.

We learn how Jodorowsky, a Chilean of Russian descent, founded the Panic Theatre after becoming disenchanted with Surrealism (Andre Breton disapproved of Jod’s massive porn collection); of the difficult circumstances under which he was obliged to make The Rainbow Thief (1990); and of his abortive big  screen adaptation of Dune, in which Salvador Dali would have played The Emperor, with an OST supplied by Magma and The Pink Floyd.

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When Jodorowsky does manage to get a fix on himself, he characterises himself as “not a mystic… I’m a gambler, somebody who plays games.” It’s disorientating and disarming to hear the man who made his name via films that are simply loaded with self-consciously metaphysical trappings, declaring categorically  “It’s all bollocks… enlightenment doesn’t exist!” This is, however, in tune with what happens in both El Topo and The Holy Mountain, in which protagonists ultimately renounce their self-seeking inner journeys in favour of taking action in the material world. Jodorowsky believes the world is sick (no shit!) and with characteristic modestly, the medicine he prescribes is viewings of his films! On a more practical and immediate level, we see him conducting one of his regular group therapy sessions, into which Mouchet is drawn from behind his camera and from which he seems to derive great benefit…. compelling stuff. Jodorowsky remains the magus / guru / charlatan / visionary / hyperbolic fantabulist / shaman / con man / contradiction that we always knew he was, but Mouchet establishes beyond doubt that effective method resides within the conspicuous madness of King Jod.

I could quibble over some of the other stuff on this set… OK, so finally we get to see Jod’s 1968 feature debut Fando Y Lis (an unsatisfying b/w dry run for El Topo) and, improbably, his 1957 mime-flavoured short La Cravate (which was previously believed lost) but I doubt that too many purchasers of this box will return for too many repeat viewings of those.

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One third of the box is taken up with soundtrack CDs of El Topo and The Holy mountain, guaranteed to clear any dance floor between here and Santiago. Ideally, those could have been jettisoned in favour of a definitive edition of Santa Sangre (1989) and any edition at all of  The Rainbow Thief, which at the time this box was released seemed to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. Still, that’s just my opinion, and as Jodorowsky insists: “Everybody shits faeces and opinions… you must ignore them” (note to the reader: Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore my opinions, alright?) As well as the R1 box reviewed here, there’s an identical R2 set from Tartan which boasts nicer packaging but, due to the vagaries of internet shopping,  would actually have cost me significantly more than the Anchor Bay version.

The Sons Of El Topo has been announced as many times as the closing instalment in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. When this box first emerged, Jodorowsky’s next announced, believe-it-when-you-see-it project was King Shot, which would have starred (gulp!) David Hess and Marilyn Manson, whose wedding to Dita Von Teese was apparently conducted by the reverend Jod himself (and turns out to have been as ill-starred as most of his pictures.) Still crazy after all these years, Jodorowsky’s most recent completed feature, Endless Poetry, drew predictable rave reviews at Cannes earlier this year.

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