“I ask of cinema what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs,” Alejandro Jodorowsky once said. Now there’s a come-on. The sort of guy who would be asked to (and did) officiate at the wedding of Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese, this Chilean-born ex-clown, mime artist, mystic, theatre director and comic-strip writer-turned-filmmaker delivered entirely on his own trip-headed terms: the world looks well wonky after you’ve popped some of his stash. Saddle up, it’s gonna be a wild ride...
When Jodorowsky’s 1970 film El Topo became a midnight-movie hit in New York, ads claimed it was “too heavy” to be screened at any other time. Indeed, everything in this extras-stuffed set throbs with heaviosity. Within the six discs here are films that were banned (presumed lost), dwarves, amputees, bald nymphettes, spiritualist subtexts and things you’d really rather not think about. There’s enough castration, incest, bestiality, necrophilia and sacrilegious scampishness to rouse the corpse of Mary Whitehouse, were it not worried it would be interfered with. Granted, Jodorowsky’s giddily surreal, wicked, witty, brazen, befuddling, exuberant, subversive world is very much of its chemically stimulated moment in history. But it’s a world of his own, too; one that’s tough to decipher but wholly consistent with itself.
First up is the quest feature 1968’s Fando & Lis, in which the titular twosome roam the desert in search of a mythical city. En route, they meet a man playing a flaming piano and violent women wielding bowling balls, crackpot-cavalier images that are both out there and integrated into the plot. Think surrealist godfather Luis Buñuel via Easy Rider and John Waters. When Fando & Lis caused riots at the Acapulco Film Festival Jodorowsky would have to hide in a car boot. Truly, they don’t make ‘em like this any more.
Having been unavailable on DVD, El Topo and 1973’s The Holy Mountain are here in all their uncut gonzo glory. Topo is an S&M-styled wild Western in which a cowboy (Jodorowsky) wanders the desert in search of enlightenment, visiting violence upon people or having it visited upon him. Feeling adrift, looking for meaning, being assaulted and wanting to assault someone are feelings with which Jodorowsky doubters might well identify with. Even so, it’s cinema-as-circus, and the freak-Fellini vision is utterly transporting, right up until El Topo’s son rides into the sunset with the Dwarf Woman.
An early sequence in Mountain features costumed toads and lizards in a bloody reenactment of the “conquest of Mexico”. It’s an attention-grabber. A messiah-like thief embarks on a quest in which his shit is turned to gold by The Alchemist (Jodorowsky, looking Gandalf-like) and six astrologically inclined individuals with freaky sexual and chemical peccadilloes assist his path to spiritual transcendence. In the thick of it, things get a bit weird. By the time you’ve watched the dog fight, tasted the horse meat, seen the cows rut and marvelled at the half-bearded man with the lactating tiger-breasts, Jodorowsky’s final, cheeky “Zoom back, camera!” request is almost a relief.
Granted, these orgies of the extraordinary are not for everyone. If you’ve got a taste for the bizarre, though, this will be like all your birthdays packed into one brain-frying box. No doubt about it, Jodorowsky’s sense-assailing cinema is strong, singular stuff. Never mind the mushrooms: taste the fruit of the cactus, hombre.