Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Mara Lorenzio, David Silva, Hector Martinez, Paula Romo, Bertha Lomeli, Juan Jose Gurrola, V�ctor Fosado, Agustin Isunza, Jacqueline Luis, Robert John, Julian de Meriche, Alfonso Arau
Written by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 360
Date: 03/18/2013

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Can You Dig It?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Why isn't Alejandro Jodorowsky considered among the greatest filmmakers of his generation? There's no doubt he has a personal touch. He can be as crazy and spectacular as Fellini, as funny as Bunuel and as bizarre as David Lynch. His first feature, Fando & Lis (1967), apparently caused a riot, and his second, El Topo (1970), became a midnight hit for counterculture movie enthusiasts. His third, The Holy Mountain (1973) was so weird that hardly anyone saw it at all. In the meantime, all of his films have disappeared from circulation and have become highly collectable bootleg tapes and DVDs. (Japanese laserdiscs and DVDs were available for a time, but I'm told that the nudity was blurred out on some of them.)

Jodorowsky, who recently turned 78 and is reportedly working on a new film, has lived a movie-worthy life. He was a circus clown and a puppeteer. He studied mime in Paris with Marcel Marceau. He worked with surrealist playwrights such as Fernando Arrabal. He has written comic books and is apparently a licensed psychotherapist as well as a Tarot expert. He has become both a Mexican and a French citizen. At the Acapulco Film Festival, after the showing of Fando & Lis, Jodorowsky was reportedly pursued by an angry mob and saved his own life by hiding in the trunk of his car.

Perhaps it's this cult sensibility that has denied him praise from the mainstream. Certainly, he can come across like a pretentious crackpot, often casting himself in Jesus Christ-like roles, and presenting ludicrous ideas in a completely straightforward manner (is he being serious, or not?)

But at last Jodorowsky will have a fresh chance for a re-assessment. Anchor Bay Entertainment has released a beautiful new box set of four DVDs (and two CD soundtracks) with gorgeous transfers that will shock anyone who has ever suffered through one of his bootlegs. Fando & Lis (see my full review) was previously released on DVD by Fantoma Films, but has gone out of print. Anchor Bay resurrects that DVD almost exactly, including the great documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994).

Next up, we get Jodorowsky's most famous film, El Topo. It begins as a gunfighter, El Topo (Jodorowsky), and his naked son (Jodorowsky's son Brontis) ride across the desert. They come across a town full of corpses, and El Topo meets a woman whom he names Mara (Mara Lorenzio). She challenges him to defeat the four top gunfighters in the desert, which he does, though not without trouble and a bit of cheating. (A mysterious woman in black, played by Paula Romo, shows up at this point.) The two women leave El Topo, wounded, and he wakes up twenty years later, having been cared for by a band of cave-dwelling little people. He vows to liberate them by digging a tunnel that leads to the outside world. (The title, "El Topo," means "the mole.") There's a great deal more, and I'm sure some religious scholar will figure out what it all means, but for the adventurous viewer, El Topo is a bizarre, colorful, unforgettable experience, featuring such images as an armless man carrying a legless man around on his shoulders, or a church congregation that plays Russian Roulette. It may be possible that even Jodorowsky didn't know exactly what he was doing in terms of making cinema, but he was imaginative enough to fill every frame with some kind of striking image; you'll hardly see anything ordinary, like a simple two-shot with two people talking. The effect is almost like that of a child, making up a story as he goes along, letting his imagination carry it and logic be damned.

The Holy Mountain is even weirder, and to tell you the truth, I didn't make it through my first attempt. (I'll have to try again later.) The fourth disc comes with a recently-discovered student film, the 20-minute La Cravate (1957), based on a story by Thomas Mann and performed in mime. Extras include commentary tracks by Jodorowsky, interviews, trailers and other goodies. Finally, the set includes the CD Soundtracks for El Topo and The Holy Mountain, with music composed mainly by -- who else? -- Jodorowsky.

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