A Season of Jodorowsky - The Guardian
Guardian Guide Cover
Lennon, Manson and me: the psychedelic cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky
The El Topo and Holy Mountain director thrilled the 1970s counter-culture. Now his crazed visions are turning on everyone from Santigold to Kasabian
by Steve Rose
The Guardian, Saturday 14 November 2009
Illustration: William Sweeney
Eyebrows, hopes and ceremonially lit bongs were all raised earlier this year with the news that Alejandro Jodorowsky was finally making another movie. The high priest of head-trip cinema, Jodorowsky blew the collective mind of the counter-culture with a handful of supremely odd movies in the 1970s, such as El Topo and The Holy Mountain, but despite continual promises and rumours, Jodorowsky's long-awaited return never seemed to materialise. In the meantime, his work has been seized upon by a new generation of hipsters desperately seeking out-there inspiration, as we shall see. This year, though, at the Cannes film festival, Jodorowsky announced he had raised the cash for his next movie. It would be called King Shot, and it would be a metaphysical western set in a desert casino, featuring a man the size of King Kong and Marilyn Manson as a 300-year-old pope.
So with some excitement, here's Jodorowsky on the line to tell us about it: "It's not happening. They didn't find the money," he says in his thick South American accent.
Oh. "But, I am making another movie instead! I have signed the contract already with some Russian producers. I will do Son Of El Topo – a sequel. It's a conflict between two brothers who need to come to a solution. I am about to start four months of preparation. I can tell you nothing today."
If you've never seen one of his movies, they're difficult to explain. You could start by throwing together Sergio Leone, Luis Buñuel, Hieronymus Bosch, and Buddha, and perhaps spiking their Kool-Aid for good measure. They're filled with wild beasts, cosmic symbolism, freaks, naked women and spiritual masters. Where else, for example, could you find a re-enactment of the conquest of Latin America with costumed frogs and chameleons? Or a geriatric hermaphrodite squirting milk from breasts that appear to be the heads of ocelots?
You could get away with that sort of thing back then. The original El Topo, made in 1970, was Jodorowsky's breakthrough, a wild mix of spaghetti western and eastern spiritualism. It became a favourite on the American midnight-movie circuit, and among its many fans were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who persuaded Allen Klein, then the manager of Apple, to buy the rights to it. Lennon also put up $1m for Jodorowsky's next movie, The Holy Mountain, an extravagant psychedelic odyssey about a thief's quest for immortality. But Jodorowsky and Klein later fell out when he refused to make The Story Of O, an erotic movie. In revenge, Klein refused to show Jodorowsky's movies anywhere. The director had a brief resurgence with 1989's Santa Sangre, but otherwise Jodorowsky has languished in obscurity.
'These days a picture only has value if it makes a lot of money. I want to make a picture to lose money'
"Movies are a commercial industry," he says. "Today a picture has value if it makes a lot of money. Myself, I declare I want to make a picture to lose money. Really! I want to lose money."
Why's that? "Because it is not the finality of art to make money. Today you make conceptual art. You try to astonish the people, but you are saying nothing deeper for the human soul. Nothing! I always think that art is a form of sacrifice." By now, it should be becoming clear why Jodorowsky has had such a hard time making another movie: as well as being unorthodox, he's utterly uncompromising. "You can search in order to find the way, or you can just wait for it to come to you. For example, Bodhidharma came to China from India and the only thing he did was to sit in front of a wall meditating and waiting for his disciples. And they came after eight years."
Jodorowsky has never been one to sit still. He seems to have led a life as incident-filled and incredible as one of his movies. A Russian Jew who grew up in Chile and Paris, his career spans the Surrealist movement, mime, experimental theatre happenings, psychedelia, comic books and mystical therapy, and takes in figures such as Marcel Marceau, Dennis Hopper, Salvador Dalí, and Marilyn Manson, to name but a few. He's now 80 years old, although he seems a good deal younger, which he puts down to his lifelong abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee or any other drug. Not to mention his 37-year-old girlfriend, an artist named Pascale Montandon. Writing comic books is still his principal way of making a living.
'Marilyn Manson is a very delicate, intelligent person. I see him a lot but he's always in disguise'
Like Bodhidharma (who was a fifth-century Buddhist monk, by the way), Jodorowsky has also collected disciples along the way. Like Marilyn Manson, who called up him up out of the blue one day a couple of years ago. "He proposed me to work with him, and to marry him," he says. So Jodorowsky duly conducted the ceremony for Manson's wedding to Dita Von Teese. "It was in Ireland, in a castle," he recalls. "He took my measurements and made me a costume like the alchemist I play in The Holy Mountain. His wife changed costume five times. Three months later they split up!"
Manson was also trying to make a film expanding on his Holy Wood concept album, modelled on The Holy Mountain. "I said to him, you will never do it because you need $20m from Hollywood, and you want to destroy Hollywood!" They're still friends, though. "He's a very delicate, intelligent person. I see him a lot of times but he's always in makeup. He's always disguised as Marilyn Manson. I don't know who the real person is."
Another unlikely admirer was Erykah Badu, who invited him to her Paris gig last year and paid public homage to him. "She said she admired only two persons. I remember only me! Who was the other one? Oh yes, Elvis Presley." That's just the start: Jodorowsky has legions of disciples he doesn't even know about. He's become a well-spring of weirdness for anyone looking to out-alternative the competition. Now his name is being dropped and his movies referenced everywhere you look. That bit in MGMT's wonderfully psychedelic Time To Pretend video where they push all their money into a fire in the middle of the table? That's from The Holy Mountain. As is the premise of Santigold's LES Artistes video, the one with people gushing coloured fake blood when they're shot. The list goes on: the Mars Volta, Late Of The Pier, Empire Of The Sun, even Kasabian. Next thing you know, Susan Boyle will be warbling on GMTV in a bikini made of ocelots' heads.
Jodorowsky hasn't heard of any of these acts, and asks for links to some of their work. Last time I checked, he hadn't looked at them, though. He's been busy. He's been in Moscow, Florence, Barcelona, and last week he was in London opening an exhibition of his paintings with Pascale Montandon, as part of a month-long Jodorowsky celebration.
He even made his peace with his nemesis, Allen Klein, shortly before his death in July this year. "We were fighting for 30 years," he says, "then his son arranged a meeting in London. When I was walking to the hotel to knock on his door I was thinking, 'I will kill him! He will kill me! What will he do?' And then the door opened. He was an old man. White hair, like me. He say to me, 'But you are beautiful!' I say to him, 'You are like a spiritual master.' And we take each other in the arms. In a second the fight was finished. My father was a monster. And all the hate I had for my father I put into Allen Klein. Allen Klein hated his father also. For him I was his father and for me he was my father. This is the story of Son Of El Topo: two brothers who hate each other but in the end they become one."
Should we expect his next film to be as crazy as the original El Topo? "Of course! I am the same," he says. "I am still radical!"
Coverage of Season of Jodorowsky in The Guardian Guide 14/11/09, page 6-8
SOURCE : http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/nov/14/alejandro-jodorowosky-el-topo