Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film in 23 years is a strictly personal affair, an attempt to reconstruct his life from childhood to the present. For most of its 130 minutes, The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) feels like a potpourri of adventures both magical and tragic. There is no point in trying to compare it to the vicious energy and boldness that his earlier midnight movie masterpieces (El Topo, Santa Sangre) generated, as clearly it would do this beautifully constructed and aptly surreal biopic injustice. Besides, the more revealing film about the Chilean director might be Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune, an entertaining glimpse into the truth behind Jodorowsky’s famously aborted plans to bring Herbert’s epic fantasy novel to the screen. But where Pavich’s documentary is eye-popping and hilarious, Jodorowsky’s own account of his past quests and journeys is poetic, haunting and mystical, flashing with insight and lingering in the mind long after the tale is told.
Pamela Jahn met with Alejandro Jodorowsky at the Cannes film festival in May 2013 and told her about the healing power of filmmaking, the joy of creating and the magic of reality.
Pamela Jahn: It’s wonderful to see a new film by you after so many years. Why did it take you so long to make another film?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: In the beginning cinema was an art, a really great art, but then the stars came, and with it the money. When the stars came, that was the illness of the industry. And today, cinema is in the hands of producers, it’s all about money. I wanted to make art and every time I tried to do something, people said no, because there was no money in it for them. So I waited and thought, ‘One day I will do it’. And it’s not that I didn’t get asked to make films. People suggested I should make a political film about South America or an erotic film, but I said, ‘No, I want to do what I want to do’. So I waited – 23 years. And I suffered. Because making films is the most beautiful art in the world. I have hundreds of films in my library and every night I would wake up around 3am and watch a film. Every single day I was suffering, but I kept saying to myself, ‘One day I will do it again’.
Why did you decide to make this film at this particular moment in your life?
I am an artist. I don’t know why I do these things, because they come to me. I needed to do that film, because I wanted to heal myself, my soul, my family. And I wanted to show the audience a way to heal their memories, their past, because I feel it is necessary to do that.
Do you see cinema in general as a healing art?
Yes, I don’t believe too much in commercial cinema. These films are not really useful for the human being, because they are only entertainment. You go to the cinema, you see the film but then you instantly forget what you have seen. For me, making a film is like changing a part of my life, like having children, and to do something that opens up the perspectives of life. That’s what I am trying to do. But the problem is that for the industry, making film only means making money. So first of all, I make films that are not expensive, because if the film is too expensive I am forced to become a prisoner of the industry. Instead, I make a film with less money, but more creative intention. For this particular film though, I really needed producers who didn’t want to make money. There is a saying that if God gives you sugar, open your mouth. So if the film makes money, that’s fantastic, and I’d be very happy. But if it doesn’t, I am happy too, because I want to do whatever I want. And what I wanted to do here is to go to my little town, where I was born, and where the other children used to laugh at me, and kick me, and hate me, because I was different. I was white with this big nose, the son of Russian-Jewish parents, and nobody wanted to play with me because of that. And that made me very sad, because I loved this town. Then, 70 years later, when I came back to this place, it hadn’t changed at all. It’s like a dead town. Apart from maybe one new building nothing had changed. When I was a child, I used to have my hair cut by a Japanese guy, and when I came back, I went to get my hair cut, which turned into quite a dramatic experience for me. Because it was still the same place and the guy who cut my hair now was the son of the man who used to cut my hair when I was little – that’s in my film. In fact, I changed my town, I cleaned things up, I got the houses painted and I made the people appear in my film. I changed it, like a hero who brings the elixir to the sick, I sort of healed my place, and I needed to do that.
Watch the trailer for The Dance of Reality:
Your last film before The Dance of Reality was Rainbow Thief with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. Was the experience of making that film part of the reason why you didn’t want to compromise again?
Oh, I hated Peter O’Toole. And I still do today. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.
What was so bad about him?
He was terrible to work with. He wanted to do what he wanted. At one point I asked everyone to leave the set and I took a stick, because he’s like a dog, you need to hit him in order to get him to do what you want.
Do you think your life and work as a filmmaker could have turned out quite differently if Fando y Lis hadn’t caused such a stir when it was first shown?
I made Fando y Lis in 1968. Today, even young people understand that film, but when I first made it, it was a scandal in Mexico. They wanted to lynch me, I had to hide because [Emilio] ‘El Indio’ Fernández said, ‘I will kill that guy’. And I knew he wasn’t joking because he had killed someone before. It was a terrible time. And then we managed to sell the film to the United States. At that point, I idealised America and I thought of it as some sort of triumph at last. But then the distributor who bought the film cut out everything that was somehow surrealist and creative, and they tried to make a romantic film out of it. It was shit. I wanted to explain to them that this was not my film anymore, but no one would listen. No journalist wanted to do an interview so that I could explain it to the American audience. And so of course the film was a failure. After that, I decided to make a cowboy film. But I didn’t want to make a ‘Western’, so I made an ‘Eastern’. I made El Topo, and people came to see it.
Why do you think El Topo became such a cult film?
I don’t know, really, because the whole of Mexico was laughing at me when I made it. People said I was crazy. Even the actors sometimes didn’t believe in it when we were making the film, which is also partly why I acted myself, because no one wanted to play that role. And all of a sudden I receive an invitation to the Concert for Bangladesh in New York. I was very poor at that time and the ticket was first class and all paid for, so I thought, why not, and I went there. At the airport, they picked me up in a limousine to bring me first to the hotel and then to a big concert with thousands of people. But I didn’t know why I was there until my producer Allen Klein said, ‘Don’t you know you are a star? The Beatles want to meet you, everyone wants to meet you’. And when we went to the concert, they were all there, Ringo Starr, John Lennon. The next day, they showed my film at midnight. It was my first time in America and when I came to the theatre, there was a cloud of marijuana smoke, it was unbelievable. I went on stage to introduce my picture to the public and all of a sudden I was the star of the underground. In a way, it was the birth of what they now call ‘midnight movies’.
How did you come to make Santa Sangre with Claudio Argento as producer?
After The Holy Mountain, nobody wanted to make a film with me. Allen Klein, the producer, didn’t like the film at all and so he wanted me to make an erotic film next. And then I escaped, because I didn’t want to do that. One day, I got contacted by Claudio Argento, the brother of Dario Argento, who said, ‘I am the executive producer for my brother but now I want to make a different experience, I want to change, and I want to produce a picture for you. I want you to make me a film about a serial killer woman’. I said, ‘Well, ok, I will do it’. Then I gave the script to Argento and because it was in Spanish of course, he gave it to an Italian guy to translate it. And that was my luck. Because that guy didn’t really know Spanish either, and the translated script he came up with wasn’t my picture anymore. He’d invented something completely new, a completely idiotic film. So I went to Mexico and I did Santa Sangre, which sort of was about a serial killer, but my version of a serial killer. Until today, I have not made a cent from this film, but I am happy that I made it. In fact, Santa Sangre is the film I like most of all my films. I am glad I did it.
Watch the trailer for Santa Sangre:
Do you enjoy writing comics as much as making films?
Yes, but you can’t really compare the two, it’s not the same. I don’t get the same immense pleasure from writing comics as from making a film. Because with comics, I write them in one or two months, but to make a film, it takes one and a half years.
How did you convince Michel Seydoux to give you money again, after he lost quite a lot on Dune.
I know, he did lose a lot of money and for about 20 years I didn’t dare talking to him, because I thought he’d hate me. But then there was this young American filmmaker, Frank Pavish, who wanted to make a film about Dune. My first reaction was, ‘No, I don’t want to talk about a failure’. But eventually I agreed. Then Pavish came to me and said, ‘I want to set up a conversation with you and Michel Seydoux for my film’. I thought Seydoux would never agree to this, but he did. So we met again after all these years and realised that we didn’t hate each other. After the interview, we talked and he asked me, ‘Do you want to work with me again?’ I said, ‘Yes, sure, but you need to give me two million dollars without knowing what I will do with your money’. So within five minutes, I had the money to make this film. It was so fantastic. Incredible.
The Dance of Reality is a film about your life. Do you ever worry about getting old?
No, getting older is fantastic. Age only exists in what you see, but inside me I have no age. And I have no nationality, no sex either, really. I am not a man, only when I am with my wife. But when I wake up in the morning, I am a human being – I don’t define myself by my sexuality, or my age. And I don’t have a big ego, I am not proud, because I am mortal. I know that I could die tomorrow. But on the other hand, I am only 84 years old now, so I can still
What keeps you young at heart?
Art! Art is my life. I love to create things. Miracles are everywhere but you need to learn how to see them, that’s the ‘dance of reality’. The reality you see really is a magical thing, but people don’t realise it. You need to open your mind to be able to see the miracles.
Interview by Pamela Jahn