The Fabulous Strangeness of Alejandro (Sometimes ‘Alexandro’) Jodorowsky

Variously described as a writer, director, actor, producer, mime, composer, comic book writer and (believe it or not) psychotherapist, Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is almost too preposterous to be real. The man has—rightly or wrongly—come to be a legend. That’s no small feat for a guy whose reputation primarily rests on three movies—El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973) and Santa Sangre (1989). Even granting that these are three of the most unusual—as well as shocking, outrageous and potentially offensive—films you’re ever likely to see, that’s not exactly an overwhelming filmography. Moreover, two of the three haven’t been legally available for years. Anyone wanting to see El Topo or The Holy Mountain had to resort to gray market videos, or the long out of print laserdiscs from Japan. Those were higher quality, but had the downside of the Japanese censorship of pubic hair (a hangover, it seems, from the Marshall Plan), meaning many of the images had distracting fogging effects around the not infrequent scenes with genitalia. It’s possible that the films’ inaccessibility actually enhanced their cult appeal. (Hey, nothing’s cooler than doting on things that almost no one has seen—or can see.)

What exactly caused all this? The answer is simple: The partnership Jodorowsky had with Beatles manager Allen Klein—a partnership engineered by John Lennon and one that had elevated Jodorowsky to cult status in the early 1970s—went sour. According to Jodorowsky in a recent interview with Premiere magazine, “[Klein] wanted me to make a picture and I didn’t want to do it so I escaped. So he said, ‘If you escape like this, no one will see your picture [El Topo] anymore.’ We fought for a lot of years, and I gave away videos of the film.” It took 30 years, but finally Jodorowsky and Klein have reconciled, and the films are available again. Better still, they’ve been given full-scale restorations with the colors completely remastered (meaning they probably look better than they did originally) and are touring the country in limited release in brand new 35mm prints. One of the few places that the films are playing is Asheville—thanks to the enthusiasm of Marc McCloud of Orbit DVD and the Fine Arts Theatre, who will be showing the films between Tuesday, March 6 and Saturday, March 10 (see schedule below).

Of course, those who have never experienced a Jodorowsky film might want to know exactly what they’re getting into, so check out the reviews here—and remember this: If Jodorowsky’s films outrage you, they’ve succeeded.

El Topo plays at 7 p.m. March 6 and at 9:30 p.m. March 8, 9 and 10. The Holy Mountain plays at 7 p.m. March 7 and at 9:40 p.m. March 8, 9 and 10. Both films will be showing at the Fine Arts Theatre.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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