In this column, cult columnist Saoirse takes you on a biweekly jaunt through the obscure annals of the cult film world. We’ll touch on everything from Giallo to J-Horror to Wakaliwood & so much more. If it’s a low budget genre film, or even a big-budget flop with a dogged audience, or even an undiscovered gem, it belongs here.
This fortnight we continue the deep dive into the career of Alejandro Jodorowsky to tie into the fabulous new Arrow Video release in March. For now, though we will take you through the back catalogue of Jodorowsky, not on the release to sufficiently contextualise what comes next.
Today we talk about the first part of Jodorowsky’s series of autobiographies, The Dance of Reality.
Jodorowsy’s films have always been autobiographical in one way or another but this is another level. The Dance of Reality is the first in an as yet uncompleted trilogy of films by Jodorowsky depicting his life through his strange, surrealist lense. After The Rainbow Thief in 1990 Jodorowsky fell into a 23-year hiatus. This was because after The Holy Mountain he fell out with his financial backer and El Topo & The Holy Mountain were removed from circulation. So not only was his regular financier not funding him anymore but no one could see his two calling card films if they did want to fund him. Two of the films he made in that space, Tusk & The Rainbow Thief, he has since disowned. So at 84 years old, he releases The Dance of Reality, which is really the film of a much younger man. It has such energy and life and verve to it.
Alejandro Jodorowsky himself appears at the start of The Dance of Reality, talking directly to the audience about the power of money, while literally dropping coins in front of us. “Money is like blood: It gives life if it flows. Money is like Christ: It blesses you if you share it. Money is like Buddha: If you don’t work, you don’t get it”, that’s not all he says and to be honest, it doesn’t all hang together beautifully, but it does set up the film’s key themes of religion and politics very well. Rejection of god for politics, political revolution, communism or fascism, hyper-capitalist totalitarianism, Nazis, and assassinations, these are all themes in this film. The film, in the end, seems to come down on the idea that fascism and communism are equally bad, the only good philosophy is a religious framework through which you analyze the world, and any attempt to deviate from that is fuelled by some toxically masculine attempt at individual self-actualization. We mould ourselves after whichever masculine daddy we feel most dominated by, the one whose kinks best align with ours. Are you into vicarious beating? Fascisms the path for you buddy. Are you into group orgies, redistributing the semen, and assassinating anyone doing missionary? Communism is the best one for you. The film posits that we should reject both of these and model ourselves after the omnipotent daddy, God. If you reject God and dedicate yourself to a political goal other than centrist religion, you are denying your true emotions and your true self. Or at least the central character of The Dance of Reality is, after all, it’s a surrealist autobiography, not a political essay film. If one was to read the film in the manner just laid out though… it’s certainly… A take? Not one I particularly jive with as an agnostic socialist, but these aren’t reviews, these columns are here to provide a framework of appreciation, even if that framework doesn’t totally work for me personally. The film does, aside from the political, deal in more traditional existential and familial subjects that crop up in other Jodorowsky pictures. You have, as aforementioned, the religious symbolism and dichotomy between religion and commerce that you see in The Holy Mountain, the religious butting up against the political gets a brief mention in Santa Sangre. The idea that is in The Dance of Reality of the cycles of abuse and toxic obsessions with absent parents and the child taking on the parent’s flaws onto themselves in a self-destructive way, is the central thematic crux of Santa Sangre. The film also has the same carnivalesque, Buñuelian, Felliniesque atmosphere that infects every film Jodorowsky’s made, even The Rainbow Thief.
Not many filmmakers make biopics about themselves. Autobiography is common in art but not many films have the director appear to you explicitly telling you that the movie is about them. A step further, not many filmmakers make autobiographical films in the surrealist tradition. This results in really, really weird, but charming dissonance. Not many films present themselves as factual, then have clothing that actively suffocates children, moving corpses, and a lady who only, and I mean only delivers dialogue through opera. His mother is an opera character stuck in a film. This film is a musical. For any scenes where his mother is present, the film is suddenly an opera. Only The Wicker Man challenges it for the strangest musical that you didn’t know was a musical. It’s actually really lovely, and helps provide the film with some of its most touching and resonant moments about learning to open up your emotions as a man and about motherhood and also about hope. They sing to a brick at one point and then send it away with guided balloons, and, (I know, you’ll have to trust me and just go with me here), it’s really, genuinely beautiful.
The film is also surprising for an autobiographical piece in that Alejandro Jodorowsky isn’t the main character. He is for the first, kind of third, but after his father goes off to try and assassinate the president, the main character is his father Jaime, played by his son Brontis, (nepotism for the win, yay), who is just so good. His character arc is huge, his character goes through some really fucked up stuff and Brontis carries the weight of the character with elegant grace the whole way through. He honestly never puts a foot wrong and the film is worth watching for his performance alone.
So, even though I personally, may not love everything about this film, (I found it baggy, and meandering, and incoherent, and Jodorowsky’s problems with women that show up in every movie he makes are… well they’re here too), there is also a lot to love about this movie. I totally understand why it was embraced by the Jodorowsky contingent, and if you, like me, have a fondness for Jodorowsky’s often starkly literal and blunt form of carnivalesque weirdness, this is certainly one you should check out.
I liked the scene where he mauled Nazis like a tiger until they were crying on the floor like babies, like actual foley room baby crying is put over them moaning on the floor, it’s… it’s beautiful to see. Fuck Nazis, they suck. Maul at Nazis like a tiger if you get the chance. Live your truth.