By Connor Armenti
LA DANZA DE LA REALIDAD (The Dance of Reality) and POESIA SIN FIN (Endless Poetry) – Alejandro Jodorowsky (2013 and 2016) 10/10, 9/10
If ever a filmmaker embodied the philosophy of art as a form of therapy, Chilean creative-force-of-all-trades Alejandro Jodorowsky may as well stand as the Freud of said philosophy. I say this with regards to both his previous cinematic catharsis, 2013’s La Danza de la Realidad (The Dance of Reality) and his most recent piece, Poesia Sin Fin (Endless Poetry). Because that’s what both these films do; they grab a firm hold of the reality in which we all walk and talk and leads it on a manic waltz through all that could have been, all that Jodorowsky had ever longed for in his life. The films retell his own story – turning his focus inwards after a career of projecting and crafting a universe of his own – in a way in which he can treat the wounds of his childhood. I speak of them as one piece in two parts, as in essence they are both carrying the same story being told. Or retold, as it were.
Jodorowsky became an icon of the underground midnight-movie scene in the 1970s with surrealist cult hits El Topo and The Holy Mountain, and has been praised by, funded by, and had opportunities to work with the likes of John Lennon and George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Orson Welles, David Lynch, Mick Jagger, H.R. Giger, Marilyn Manson and Kanye West (Harrison having supposedly turned down a role in the Mountain over a proposed anus cleansing scene). Watch any interview or documented conversation with the director that gets him fired up over film; the man owns and spouts his fiery passion in a prose of the most entertaining and gripping broken English.
With this duology, Jodorowsky, whilst clinging to his signature mystic, theatre-inspired surrealism, does away with the violent cynicism of his 70s catalogue and uses his powers for something more sentimental, something healing. Occurrences of magic are casual and littered throughout the pantomime-styled sets while bursting with colourful characters that dance, shamble and slide across a young Jodorowsky’s path. The films tell Jodorowsky’s story with the premises of the events in his life, but said premises are fulfilled with and expanded upon by the visionary’s warping control of the reality in this new world, utilising the aforementioned sets and characters as his paints. His mother sings all her dialogue, granting the memory of his real-life mother the opera singer’s career she’d never had. A pre-teen Jodorowsky is granted a glimpse into enlightenment offered by a decorated theosophist on the jetty. In young adulthood, his domineering ladyfriend holds his crotch in a vice-grip everywhere they walk. Could this be (and I certainly hope it is) the looking glass into Jodorowsky’s own memory banks? Is this genuinely how he remembers things?
Jodorowsky painted this world as such for the reason – one of his own explanation and justification – to heal. He heals his past self, he heals his loved ones and he heals the very world in which he was raised. He heals his adolescent interactions with his father and the father himself, a manly man’s Communist/Atheist of men who bestows upon the boy the classic you-will-be-a-man-so-put-down-that-fucking-poem fatherly love, and of course the boy must comply. In the latter half of the first instalment the director drags his father through a journey of political and moral realisation; his hands are preternaturally paralysed to show him how it feels to be vulnerable and helpless. He is stripped of his dignity as a man of steel and as a Communist, tainted with leprosy only to be cured by the urine of his wife. But through this torture, it’s clear that Jodorowsky feels no contempt for his dad, or at least no longer does; his father was a person too, and held many flaws and vulnerabilities of his own. Jodorowsky, through pen and lens, inflicts upon his father the same tough love that he experienced at the man’s calloused hands – tough love, but love all the same. Had this been the Jodorowsky of the El Topo era, the father would have been shot and reborn from the wound in a fountain of sparrows and scorpions.
While the first film casts Jodorowsky merely as an externalised viewer of all the mystic wonder that goes down, the adulthood brought on by Endless Poetry grants him the motivation to become one with this brainchild reality; he longs to become an artist and to join the ranks of the inhabitants of this universe. This instalment sees him breaking free from the confines of blood-family, poetically annihilating them over their hypocrisy and constraint-by-way-of-tradition, and moving out into the world as a self-sufficient organism. The second film tones down the “magical realism” that flowed throughout the first like irradiated blood through arteries, focusing less on otherworldly happenings and outlandishly abstract characters and bringing to the table a sense of grounding in which the bizarreness is provided by the words, actions and attitudes of otherwise very real people. Could this be because magic exists in a mind only as puerile and naïve as that of a child? When you were young and imaginatively impressionable, did it not seem as though acts of both evil and benignity were a result of something not of this world, of some evasive and exciting force that couldn’t be explained in any class or bible? Something that may or may not have its own intentions both for yourself and everyone else in this world? Jodorowsky seems to think so, as the transition of his former self between phases (films) of his life very much establishes that difference between childhood and adulthood. When you’re an adult, the magic is gone. Only the material world remains, and yet the phenomena of craziness and spontaneity continue. But that (supposed) veil of innocence and wonder has lifted since you were a youngling, so it can only stem from the actions of your own fellow man (can they surely not come from anywhere else?). Young adult Jodorowsky faces such a debacle in the latter film, entering the adult (real?) world with a staggering sobriety. No longer do the weird and wonderful people of rainbows and gold dance and sing and embrace, never again will a feather materialise in a fine mist of gold at the user’s behest, and no more will a modern-day Jodorowsky embrace his younger self not only to save him from willingly plunging from a cliff in the throes of misery but to remind him that every moment of suffering is worth the metaphysical immortality that will reign long after the physical world has expired. No, all that we’re left with beyond that phase of life is hard flesh and coarse matter.
After the release of these films Jodorowsky claimed he would continue making movies until he dies. He claimed that the Dance of Reality would be, if he lives, his comeback and if he dies, his final testament. He certainly has no shortage of material to draw from. The simple act of following up a film of such titular power instils my anticipation of what’s to come next for the 88-year-old, and judging by the interviews I told you to check out before, I don’t really see him slumping in a wheelchair any time soon. Jodorowsky, to me, is the last of a dying breed of directors who raged as artists, who crafted their films as works of unique and insane composition, which stuck fingers up at the regular people and dug their own tunnels outside of our real-world confines, simply so they had somewhere to breathe. And while there is no shortage of great films emerging now, no greater heart of a visual poet beats today than that of the man, the artist, the miracle that is Alejandro Jodorowsky.