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 a few deep cuts in the back catalogue of Jodorowsky both as himself in documentaries, his short films, and other relevant cinematic projects.
We’ve covered a diverse set of films while talking about Jodorowsky thus far, from the big hitters, from acid western El Topo & epic adventure The Holy Mountain to more obscure efforts like dystopian nightmare Fando y Lis and comedy The Rainbow Thief. Jodorowsky’s career as shown by this series has been one of eclectic and diverse experimentation. Jodorowsky has made a career plumbing continual depths of the twisted nature of the human mind and the beauty inherently potential in every person from the most surreal to totally straight pictures.
That doesn’t mean that his career hasn’t had peaks and troughs though, and it is this aspect of his career which we shall explore today. Look at this column almost like a miscellany of the more adjacent notes in the Jodorowsky cinematic legacy. We’re going to talk about two documentaries, a short film, Jodorowsky’s only sequel, and a lost picture.
The Severed Heads, (1957)
This is an early short from Jodorowsky, many years before he’d next direct with Fando y Lis and its in a rudimentary low budget color process. At this point Jodorowsky was finding his place in the Paris scene of theatre and mime and this film reflects both of those. The film is functionally wordless and does predominantly feature physical performances channeling mime. It does almost feel, given the film’s chronological distance to Fando Y Lis, like it was just created as a visual document of one of Jodorowsky’s mimes. It features Jodorowsky’s trademark bold colors, dissection of toxic masculinity, and surreal logic. Even if it is ultimately an incidental footnote in the Jodorowsky canon, it’s interesting to see he has always had his pet themes.
No, no, you can all sit down, this isn’t the Kevin Smith film. Although it might as well be.
This film does allegedly exist. It has reviews on Letterboxd, all these people seem to have seen it on private prints though. I was originally going to cover this movie instead of The Rainbow Thief until I realized that it just doesn’t fucking exist. I’m not saying those people with it logged on Letterboxd are liars, I’m just heavily implying it.
I have managed to track down a trailer though. It seems like it would have had that distinct ‘Jodorowsky borrows from Fellini’ carnivalesque atmosphere but otherwise would be remarkably unremarkable in the Jodorowsky cannon. It follows the British colonialists in India, who for some reason talk French, (I guess that’s how it must feel for other countries when Tom Cruise plays Claus von Stauffenberg with a silly accent, it’s not like Jodorowsky had already made a movie in the English language or anything). It follows a revolution and a girl’s strange relationship with an elephant.
The trailer is notable for two reasons. Firstly, it looks so pink you’d thought it’d been through the washing machine from Paddington 2. Secondly, it features the bane of all 70s to 80s Jodorowsky trailers, some guy doing a voiceover saying that the film is functionally beyond description through language or genre.
They all are, I guarantee you.
By all accounts, the actual film is shit.
Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
This is a fascinating one. After The Holy Mountain became something of a mainstream hit, (the 2nd highest-grossing film in Italy that year), his producer phoned him up and said that he’d make whatever Jodorowsky wanted to next, and Jodorowsky immediately said “Dune!”. He had never read Dune.
This is not a Jodorowsky film in the conventional sense if such a thing exists, it’s not even really Dune, although it kind of is. This classic documentary follows the failed making of Dune by Jodorowsky and his team. The film has many attractions. First of all it is just a fascinating portrayal of the way Jodorowsky makes films. He describes his crew as “spiritual warriors”, and rejects Douglas Trumbull of all people because he doesn’t feel like he’d be a spiritual warrior for him, too much of a technician. They go for Dan O’ Bannon instead which makes far too much sense. The film really gives you an idea of what making a Jodorowsky film might be like, it sweeps you up in his vision and creative leadership in exactly the way his best movies do. In a way I can understand why, as in line with Jodorowsky’s key philosophy as something like The Rainbow Thief is, Jodorowsky would disown it because it is so lacking in his spirituality and vision which he injects like a vaccine into all aspects of his adaptation of Dune. He even radically changes the ending in a way that I actually found kind of beautiful.
The film shows you some animatic mock-ups of Jodorowsky’s storyboards and Jodorowsky’s vision is so strong it does feel like an Alejandro Jodorowsky movie in many respects. What I mean by that is, the way that all his movies make you feel caught up in Jodorowsky’s personality and vision, it’s the same with the animatics and the storyboards, and just with sitting with Jodorowsky in the documentary and listening to him talk. This puts all his other efforts in a brand new light to me because now I can see the purity of vision, voice, and passion in films like Santa Sangre. I know that when I get swept up in a film like that, I get swept up in his world, I am getting swept up in Jodorowsky as a person. I don’t really buy into auteur theory, but when I do for the sake of the romance of it, it is delectably fun. This does lead me onto what is the single best thing about the movie. That being the people involved. Yes, Jodorowsky says some sexist old man bullshit at one point, that’s to be expected, but Jodorowsky is absolutely charming. In the same way, as you get wrapped into him with his films, just listening to him talk is a magical experience, totally inviting, totally charming, totally delightful. H. R. Giger is absolutely amazing to hear as well, he sounds and looks like his artwork, it’s intimidating and amazing.
The thing about it is like, at one point Jodorowsky says he’d like to see someone take his storyboards, (which he sent to every major studio in Hollywood), after he’s dead and turn it into an animated film, but I worry we might end up with the John Carter effect. Jodorowsky poured so much of Dune into his comic books, and so many filmmakers took inspiration from his storyboards afterward, that it might not seem so burningly original anymore.
This film does stand a testament to the power of outsider cinema though. To see all the properly mainstream films that lift terribly from Jodorowsky’s Dune storyboards, from The Terminator to Star Wars, and really obviously, you begin to see that all mainstream cinema is really taken from cult cinema. It’s the fringes where all the experimentation happens and the good ideas trickle into the middle. It’s a grand testament to the fact that a true study of film is of everything, to the true power of filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky.
My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn (2014)
Nic Refn gets to show up in Jodorowsky’s documentary saying that Jodorowsky’s Dune, if it was made, would be the best film of all time, so of course Jodorowsky gets to show up in the Nic Refn documentary, although it’s not really a Nic Refn documentary. It’s more like a Refn family documentary, directed by his wife, Liv Corfixen. Jodorowsky shows up at opposite ends of the film to use his knowledge of Tarot fortune telling to act in the role he favors best in movies when acting, a spirit guide.
That being said though the movie isn’t about Jodorowsky. It’s a very personal family film about how the Refn family is affected during the making of Only God Forgives. It’s fascinating because even though Refn’s films are so confident, we see him be conceited, vain, cruel, insecure, and navel-gazing, in other words we see him be distinctly human. It’s a fascinating and human piece of filmmaking, distinctly personal, and at just under an hour doesn’t outstay its welcome. Portraying an intense true to life character study that elevates it above what otherwise might be just an Only God Forgives DVD extra.
Endless Poetry (2016)
I was surprised by how much of a direct sequel to The Dance of Reality this was, and also by how much more I liked it. Whereas in The Dance of Reality, I found its brutal experiences not really justified by a muddled message, this is still a deeply personal work, but it’s got a darkly comic streak that I loved and ironically elevates the material with tonal contrast, it’s warmer, more tender, and contains more bonhomie, overall a much easier ride, and it holds onto its theme a lot better.
The thing that I really took away from Endless Poetry & The Dance of Reality together is really that while Jodorowsky has always had a warmth to him and his filmmaking, he always believed in the human spirit, but instead of just being a theme, now in his old age, it is the driving force of his movies. It’s the one thing he’s kept over from The Rainbow Thief. His old films were warm but their primary gear was bombast, here they feel inviting. Jodorowsky’s viewpoint seems to have shifted from human salvation through spirituality to salvation through the human spirit, and I like that more.
““The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.”