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.
Today we talk about the first Jodorowsky actually on the boxset, fantasy adventure romance, Fando y Lis.
Fando Y Lis is unquestionably a weird one even for Jodorowsky. It makes sense as a debut film as it contains a lot of Jodorowsky’s pet themes and narrative tools but in a much more anarchic, unfocused way. The editing is spliced all together in a way evocative of a film like The Other Side of the Wing, where films like The Holy Mountain feel a lot more artful in its construction. Which is not to denigrate Fando y Lis, its anarchic editing gives its harsher, troubling, dark elements and scenes a sense of joyous fun. Nothing is too serious because the film itself presents as a fun romp, albeit one that slowly descends into a hellish nightmare of crushed dreams and misdirection. Fando y Lis contains core Jodorowskian themes such as the hypocrisy of belief, generational trauma, and existential quests. It does also contain his troubling attitudes towards women but also his typical self-awareness that the way he treats women is kind of reprehensible, not that it stops him from doing it. This film is interesting not just because, being Jodorowsky’s debut, it contains many of his cinematic fascinations in a more uncut form, but also because it forms the bridge between his pre-film career and the work he’d make in the next few years that he’s really known for perfectly. It is a point of transition despite being a debut, and understanding why is fascinating.
Fando y Lis follows Fando and his paralysed lover Lis as they trek through a post-apocalyptic wasteland towards the lost city of Tar and the non-sequitous adventures they have along the way. We see everything from a dance party in a cemetery, Fando’s dead mother returning to him in a hallucination, (or is it..?), and a strange scene where they paint their names on each other and some random house.
It is actually these less continuous elements of the narrative that are the most interesting and compelling. It helps the film succeed in its more carnivalesque tones. Like most of Jodorowsky’s work it rides the line between Buñuel and Fellini in its surrealist, mystical headiness. However, Fando y Lis takes a unique approach in the way it paces itself, flitting between flashback, fantasy, and narrative in a pretty freeform way. Many critics derided the film as a rip off of Fellini’s Satyricon but Satyricon was more… handled. Part of the charm of Fando y Lis is how chaotic it is. Indeed its best moments are where it completely forgets its plot and something with no set up, build up, or payoff happens that’s just endlessly entertaining. For example the scene of paint throwing, which comes out of and goes nowhere is one of the film’s highlights.
Interestingly, Fando y Lis might be more useful and worth seeing to a theatre kid than a film student. Fando y Lis is maybe the only film that exists purely as a cinematic representation of a style of theatre. Between working as a very successful mime and a sporadically working filmmaker, Jodorowsky worked as a theatre writer and director in Paris. During this time the Paris theatre scene was seeming just, off its fucking rocker. Luis Buñuel, another man who took his revolutionary theatre principles and used them to make revolutionary films, deeply inspired by eastern theatre traditions over traditional western ones, created the Theatre of Cruelty to react to the inability of conventional theatre language to express what they wanted to express, and just drop a bomb in the middle of the whole thing with Antonin Artaud. A piece of theatre in this tradition consisted of a pretty formless sensory assault of information and unconventional film language including base acts and provocative lighting and staging. Artaud thought that theatre engenders a mood in the audience that lends itself to violence, to quote Artaud, he compared the act of watching theatre to, “immediate violent action”. Indeed, modern theatre critics have supposed that in this way Theatre of Cruelty takes what theatre can do, in helping us give structure to our lives, and give structure to the cruelty we face in our lives, helping us understand our base nature as humans better.
This deeply inspired the much less famous theatre movement that Jodorowsky pioneered with Fernando Arrabal, the Panic Movement. I know the movement from cruelty to panic seems to just be a loss of self-control but bare with me here. There’s much less writing about this movement and I have more important things to ask the UK postal service to deliver to me than the one book that exists about it in the virusian crisis, so, bare with this paragraph being slightly shorter. The interesting thing is that the name, Panic Movement has less to do with panicking, but with the Greek God Pan. Instead of a pure sensory assault of form and content designed to put man in touch with his most visceral state, Panic Movement Theatre aimed to confront you with purely confrontational content in order to transcend you to a state of pure spiritual beauty. The group thought Buñuel’s form of surrealism had gone mainstream and wanted to take it one step further. Once you know Pan was the Greek god of sex and the wild, these Panic Movement performances seem to make a lot more sense. One of the more prominent Panic Movement performances featured Jodorowsky dressed in leather slitting the throats of geese, taping snakes to his chest, and also featured naked women covered in honey, crucified poultry, murdered rabbis, giant genitalia set design, and throwing live turtles and tinned apricots into the audience.
This performance was 4 hours long.
So when you see Fando y Lis, which features not a lot of narrative cohesion if any, threadbare characterization, every character being horribly cruel to every other character, explicit and random sexual content and sexual violence, an atmosphere of general chaos with non sequitur failing to connect at all with each other, and an ultimate stab at spiritualism… you are getting Panic Movement Theatre on film.
The film is also an example of some impressive low budget filmmaking, conjuring up a pungent post-apocalyptic world with just canyons and some war-ravaged ruins. It’s incredibly representative of Jodorowsky’s general ability to birth a complete and enveloping world that makes his random craziness take on some kind of cohesion. Jodorowsky creates a fantasy world where his stories might even vaguely happen. This is true of Fando y Lis in general, it is the perfect heralder of things to come. It was in his next two films, (the next two that we’ll talk about), where Jodorowsky honed his craft and cinematic style, where he truly found what he wanted to say with a camera; El Topo, and The Holy Mountain.