Celebrating the movies & magic of Alejandro Jodorowsky

Four movies are now available via VOD on the Tel Aviv Cinematheque website until the end of February: El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), Santa Sangre (1989) and Psychomagic (2019).

ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY’s ‘El Topo.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 The films of 91-year-old Jewish-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky are visually breathtaking allegories, often describing a spiritual quest, which often turn the viewer’s expectations upside down.
Four such movies are now available via VOD on the Tel Aviv Cinematheque website until the end of February: El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), Santa Sangre (1989) and Psychomagic (2019).
“I’m proud to say we were the only cinematheque in the country to screen them,” Tel Aviv Cinematheque head of programming Pini Schatz said. “Others were too scared of how the audience would respond.”
In El Topo, a gunslinger, pushed by his love-interest to become the best, challenges four masters of the gun. Played by Jodorowsky, who also wrote and directed the film, the gunslinger recognizes that his rivals truly are better than him. They are kinder, gentler, wiser souls. Much like the biblical character of Jacob, who employs cunning to defeat his brother and out-fox his father-in-law, the gunslinger is able to win – but at a heavy price. The film doesn’t end at that point, but goes on to introduce a very different tale of how the former gunslinger is transformed into a selfless clown who labors to liberate deformed people trapped in a cave.
 In The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky takes on the role of a spiritual master who guides others, all hailing from very different mental worlds, into liberation. A trickster-director, Jodorowsky exposes the artistic nature of the story at a crucial point – an act that shifts the movie from a tale passively enjoyed by an audience to an experience people like ourselves, those who are watching, can go through.
“Up until a few years ago, his movies were rare and hard to watch,” Schatz explains, noting how he could only see The Holy Mountain in 1989 at a London film festival. “I was charmed by this ‘crazy’ head he has which totally breaks down all conventions. Now, after the films were digitalized, they are much more accessible.”
ONE FILM that cemented his fame as a director is one that Jodorowsky never finished. A version of Dune, based on the 1965 science fiction classic of the same name by Frank Herbert, would have included Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and Orson Wells as actors, with music by Pink Floyd. The radical, and costly, film was never made, but the film connected Hollywood to European talents like H.R. Giger, who would later design the famous monster for the 1979 film Alien, and would become a legend among filmmakers.
A 2013 documentary titled Jodorowsky’s Dune described the history of the project, including how he began working with comic-book artist Moebius (Jean Giraud) on the movie. The two men would go on to co-create one of the most successful and artistically claimed comics in Europe, The Incal. A prolific comic-book writer, Jodorowsky would leave a massive mark in this field as well. The 2016 anthology Screaming Planet is a good starting point to appreciate his work in that medium.
As he wrote in his 2013 autobiography, The Dance of Reality, a financial mishap in the film industry led him not only to comics, but to offer his spiritual and healing insights to others. The fascinating biography tells the story of how a Jewish boy from a mining town with a difficult family life eventually became an artist of note in Mexico and France, where he now lives.
Trained in the theater, Jodorowsky believes that our true self believes words and symbols. For example, as a young man he and a friend chased a chariot called Victory (the driver was told to drive slowly) as a poetic exercise. In Mexico, he spent a great deal of time with native-American healers who claim to “operate” on a body using spirits and remove maladies, often in a state of trance. He doesn’t claim to have such ancestral knowledge.
One of his early theater productions involved a huge puppet of a rabbi used to work out his own complex relationship with his own Jewishness, and to offer a modern method – hence Psychomagic. A master of Tarot cards, he created the 1997 version of the Tarot de Marseilles with Phillipe Camoin, and taught the late Israeli scientist Yoav Ben-Dov. The Hebrew translation of the autobiography is devoted to Ben-Dov’s memory.
Saying that his movies are “more for people already in the know,” Schatz hopes that people who read the autobiography, or have heard of Jodorowsky, might enjoy watching the films in the comfort of their own homes during COVID-19.
The movies of Alejandro Jodorowsky are available on VOD via the Tel Aviv Cinematheque site: www.cinema.co.il.