Cinema Circus The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky By Mike White. If you believe what he has to say, Alejandro Jodorowsky was raised in a circus. I don’t buy into much of what this Chilean filmmaker has written about himself or told the media, but I will admit that he has the charm and panache of a master showman...

If you believe what he has to say, Alejandro Jodorowsky was raised in a circus. I don’t buy into much of what this Chilean filmmaker has written about himself or told the media, but I will admit that he has the charm and panache of a master showman. His films are macabre carnivals that leave viewers stunned and oftentimes shocked. His works captivate an audience like the lone tightrope walker; we hold our breath in the hope that he’ll make it across the wide open expanse while some sick part of our mind wonders what it would be like if he fell.

The circus would be central to the filmmaker’s 1989 film, Santa Sangre, but remains imprinted on his other works. Jodorowsky’s circus of cinema has the familiar trappings of the midway; exotic beasts from elephants to monkeys, dwarves, clowns, and acts worthy of the sideshow. Be it from his lineage or from his tutelage in the Theater of the Absurd by Fernando Arrabal, Jodorowsky has a remarkable gift for creating indelible cinematic images.

Along with Arrabal and artist Roland Topor, Jodorowsky formed the Panic Movement in the early 1960s. The three would continue to conspire for several years with Jodorowsky directing an Arrabal play for his feature film debut, Fando Y Lis. By this time, Jodorowsky had moved to Mexico where he worked with the avant-garde community which included Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Rafael Corkidi, Gelsen Gas, Julio Castillo, et cetera. This group produced, lensed, and starred in each others’ films. When a child was needed for a part, Jodorowsky would loan out his son, Brontis.

With the start of a new decade, Jodorowsky released El Topo -the film for which he will forever be known. Something like a western, El Topo (Jodorowsky) is a black clad cowboy who goes on a spiritual journey. Told like a fable, El Topo encounters four "masters" in the desert who he must defeat in turn. He learns their weaknesses and uses this knowledge against them. Just when you think you know which way the story is going, the film takes a gigantic right turn and leads the audience into an unexpected second half wherein El Topo helps the inbred subterranean population that has been driven out of a money-grubbing town.

El Topo wasn’t the first Midnight Movie but it set the bar for what Midnight Movies could mean. With the U.S. rights purchased by John Lennon’s manager, Allen Klein for his ABKCO Films, Jodorowsky made a mistake that has only recently been rectified. While Klein would produce Jodorowsky’s next film, the increasingly disturbing albeit less satisfying The Holy Mountain, the filmmaker had trapped himself in a legally binding relationship with someone far more interested in wise investments than mind-altering cinema. After several starts and stalls including a failed attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune for the big screen (see CdC #13), Jodorowsky made Tusk, a G-rated tale about a girl and an elephant.

Jodorowsky would have other triumphs (Santa Sangre) and disappointments (The Rainbow Thief). Ironically, while nearly every other film from the glory days of Midnight Movies has been released on home video, neither of Jodorowsky’s entries into that pantheon have yet been legitimately released in the United States as they remain in a legal stranglehold by ABKCO Films. In the late summer of 2004 it was announced that Klein and Jodorowsky had settled their differences, perhaps meaning that a new generation of cinephiles can enjoy the bizarre genius of El Topo and The Holy Mountain.

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