Alejandro Jodorowsky practically invented midnight cinema. His break-through hit, El Topo (1970) was about a nameless gunslinger in a mythical Western setting. It was so weird, so bizarre, that studios didn’t know what to do with it. New York exhibitor and owner of The Elgin Cinema, Ben Barenholtz purchased the rights and ran El Topo every night in the midnight slot. Once word got out, the audience came en masse and Beatles manager Allen Klein purchased the United States distribution rights, Jodorowsky was in business. Following El Topo with The Holy Mountain (1973), Tusk (1980) and Santa Sangre (1989), Jodorowsky continued his run as cinema’s grand provocateur. For some, his movies are little anarchic art pieces loaded with symbolism and hallucinations that drive right to the Jungian forms within. For others, they are merely crude and perverse for the sake of being crude and perverse. Whichever side of the aisle you sit on, all can agree that whatever they are, they certainly aren’t boring.
Dance of Reality, which played last year at the Cannes Film Festival, is Jodorowsky’s return to cinemas after a 23-year hiatus. The aging director is getting up there and knows all too well that there aren’t many more outings for his imagination, and packs it all into Dance. The movie functions as a type of memoir, or as close to a memoir as Jodorowsky will ever give. Dance of Reality is part memory, part dream, part nightmare and part stories that Jodorowsky no doubt heard second-hand from a drunk at a bar. There are moments that seem so vivid, they must have come from his past: a young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) encountering a group of miners who have all lost limbs to dynamite. Other moments seem crafted from dreams that haunt Jodorowsky’s nights, particularly one where Alejandro is trapped in a coffin with a charred, maggot-ridden cadaver that speaks to him. Taken in segments, these moments seem utterly ridiculous. Taken together, they comprise what could best be described Jodorowsky’s own personal philosophy. I don’t know much about the man, but the little I do know is this: he was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
The story concerns Alejandro as a young boy and his relationship with his mother, Sara (Pamela Flores) and father, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky) while living under an oppressive Ibáñez led regime. Jodorowsky envisions his mother as a voluptuous opera singer who believes that her son is the reincarnation of her father-meaning that she did not/does not have a healthy relationship with either. His father is an abrasive man who believes just the opposite, that death is death and nothing else. This provides the central conflict with characters often wondering and musing if there is anything after this. The Father, who believes that there is nothing, inadvertently goes on an adventure that sees him “reincarnate” himself as a revolutionary, a horse caretaker, a bum, a carpenter, a holistic healer, a father (again) and eventually, Jodorowsky himself (who makes appearances every now and then). He doesn’t seem to understand that he is in fact dying and being born again and again. Some people just don’t get the message.
The other conflict concerns money, which was Jodorowsky’s own personal conflict. Also in theaters is the documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune from director Frank Pavich. The documentary chronicles Jodorowsky’s plans to adapt Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune into the most lavish, most ostentatious movie ever crafted. It was to star Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí-among many others, boasted a thirteen hour runtime and feature some of the most cutting edge special effects the brightest minds of the time could offer. The movie went insanely over budget even before the cameras rolled and the producers pulled the plug and eventually the novel landed in the lap of David Lynch. Money, and lack of it, plagues not only the characters of Dance of Reality, but the creation of the movie as well. How to make a dream look real? It is possible that Jodorowsky’s imagination is so vast, so great, that it tests the almost limitless possibilities of cinema?
Dance of Reality has its moments of pure Jodorowsky. It will be up to each viewer to decided if that sentence is praise or pejorative. There are moments of great comedy and I laughed out loud when Ibáñez (Bastián Bodenhöfer) arrived and declared, “Take this poor man to the communal grave, together with his kangaroo dog.”
This is the third Jodorowsky movie I have seen, and it would be tough to say that I “like” them, but they do fascinate me. I imagine what it would be like to walk into a dive bar in Tocopilla and finding Alejandro at the bar, waxing poetically about life and love. He would talk for hours while slamming down brews, oh the stories he would tell! And then, when I least expected it, he would lead me to the back where a one-legged midget hobbled around collecting money from thirsty patrons who all wanted to drink from the voluptuous señorita. With Jodorowsky, you always have to be prepared.