For 23 years, not much has been seen on screen from Chilean cult-film director, Alejandro Jodorowsky. There have been a few false starts, notably King Shot, a collaboration with David Lynch and Marilyn Manson, and an aborted attempt at making the film, Dune, but nothing really concrete until last year when his new film, The Dance of Reality (2013), premiered at Cannes.
Last week the film debuted in New York at MoMA with a screening and conversation introduced, rather fittingly, by performance artist Marina Abramovic. Also fitting for Jodorowsky was the venue of the screening, as he stated to the audience, “I think movies are art and the only place to show them is here”. Not always the case (have you seen The Hottie and the Nottie and anything by Robert Rodriguez recently?), but if this film is anything like the others that have earned him a cult following over the past four decades, then it certainly deserves the pronouncement and the venue.
Now 85 years old, Jodorowsky has enjoyed a career as surreal and unorthodox as his films are. As a 23 year-old he severed ties with his family and moved to Paris to study mime and tour with Marcel Marceau. In the ’60s he began his career as a “panic” theatre director. In an effort to go beyond surrealism and embrace the irrational, Jodorowsky took his cue from Antonin Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’, and performances would include the use of a dismembered cow’s head and slitting the throats of live geese. This laid the foundation for the métier which would earn him art-house fame with films such as El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), and Santa Sangre (1989). Defying all categorisation and confounding audiences, his films seem indebted to the surreal and poetic works of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luis Buñuel.
The director once stated that he asks of cinema what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs. Well, he doesn’t disappoint. El Topo, which John Lennon called a masterpiece and many compared to an LSD trip (in fact Jodorowsky took acid of the first time in preparation for the making of the film), is considered to be the first ‘midnight movie’, screened in theatres almost exclusively after 12am. It’s an un-Western ‘spiritual’ Western which includes head-scratching scenes of a hermaphrodite with leopard head breasts; a corpse that transforms into a beehive; toads dressed as conquistadors and missionaries; and beautiful scenes of live birds flying from out of the gaping wounds of corpses. There’s religious symbolism plucked from more sources than one can keep track of. The Holy Mountain, inspired by Sufism and the occult writings of G.I. Gurdjieff, is also charged with as much symbolism as a deck of tarot cards. Not entirely surprising, given Jodorowsky’s occult leanings. He is a filmmaker and a mystic. During his two decade hiatus his myth only grew and he gained notoriety and a following for his work on occult philosophy, devising ‘psychomagic’, a form of healing through tarot, with which he claims to have cured many people with various ailments. Today, he also regularly posts tarot readings for his Twitter audience.
Although critical praise was slow in coming, Jodorowsky’s earlier films cemented his reputation as one of the most creative and unconventional directors of the twentieth century. One could argue he paved the way for future directors like David Lynch. These days there’s a whole new audience of film-buffs, hipsters, and celebs in-the-know referencing Jodorowsky’s films. Even Kanye is rapping lyrical about The Holy Mountain and used it as inspiration for his ‘Yeezus’ tour. Don’t worry though, the chances of the film getting referenced in the next episode of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ is as slim as Kimmy K. squeezing into Jared Leto’s jeggings.
The Dance of Reality, produced and directed by Jodorowsky, was filmed in Tocopilla, the Chilean town where the filmmaker was born and endured an unhappy childhood, with the whole town collaborating in the making of the film. Blending his “personal history with metaphor, mythology and poetry, the film reflects Jodorowsky’s philosophy that reality is not objective but rather a ‘dance’ created by our own imaginations,” writes Slashfilm. It is a film of healing for Jodorowsky, of his relationships with his family and his past. For fans and cinephiles, it is the return of a truly original filmmaker to our screens.
Check out the trailer below and see what you make of it.