Monday, June 21, 2010
Back in 1996, I was asked by a friend to step in to interview cult film director Alexandro Jodorowsky for FAD Magazine. I had never interviewed a film director before, nor had I ever written an article for a magazine, but I was asked to do this job based on my knowledge of cult films from the 60s and 70s. The interview was done by telephone with Alexandro Jodorowsky in Paris and I in San Francisco. To this day, I feel very fortunate and lucky to have had the chance to chat with this great and strange artist. As I've seen his popularity grow since 1996, I feel very proud to have contributed another rare interview with this director. If you can imagine, it was the thrill of my life at 23 to take my first trip to England, walk into a magazine shop and see the FAD issue on sale with my article in it. With magazines slowly being replaced with internet articles, I doubt I'll ever have that feeling again.
On September 26, 2010 I had the wonderful opportunity to help out with Severin Films during the taping of an interview with Jodorowsky for their upcoming DVD release of Santa Sangre. After the interview, I told Jodorowsky that I interviewed him nearly 15 years ago! He said that he remembered doing the interview, but when I showed him the magazine he had never seen the article before. It was really wonderful that he agreed to sign the magazine and even took a picture with me. Thanks so much for your time Mr. Jodorowsky (in both 1996 and 2010) and a big thanks to Severin! The upcoming Severin release of Santa Sangre on DVD (1st time in America) is super thrilling and hugely anticipated.
So for those of you that missed it, here is my interview with this unique visionary.
Fad #36 1996
Interview by Jarrod LaBine
In December, 1970, it was announced that an added feature was being shown at New York's Elgin Theater at midnight, A film too heavy to be shown any other way.î The film was an enormous cult hit, the director becoming one of the most controversial in cinema history. That director was Alexandro Jodorowsky. The film was El Topo. Mime, stage director, cartoonist, avant-gardist, comic book writer, filmmaker and Tarot reader Alexandro Jodorowsky has made six films, with El Topo and Santa Sangre standing out to some as works of a genius. Like him or not, Jodorowsky's brave vision and firm stance in the art world is definitely something to be viewed and possibly challenged. With a two-year production involvement in Frank Herbert's Dune, one can only wonder if it would have been the first Star Wars of its time, had it been completed. Fad delves into the super-conscious mind of a maverick filmmaker and artist, who talks of mysticism, serial killers, and the great butterfly. Or perhaps nothing at all.
Jarrod LaBine: How long have you lived in Paris?
Alexandro Jodorowsky: Eternity.
JL: Then you must like it there?
AJ: I don't live in France, I live in myself.
JL: Was it intentional when you released El Topo to receive cult adoration, or was it accidental?
AJ: I read an Indian book which said think of the work not of the product of the work. I don't think of whether or not it will have success. It's not my thing. I don't work for money, this you need to know. It's very important when you see my pictures. Because you're American, maybe you won't understand this? I don't believe in my pictures, I believe in making art. I believe in soul expression. I believe in humor, but other pictures don't believe in this.
JL: After Holy Mountain you began production on an adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. Unfortunately the film was never made. How do you feel about this?
AJ: For me it was fantastic. I made the script and about 3000 drawings. When the picture didn't happen, I continued Dune in Heavy Metal Comics. You know, I started making it before Star Wars. In Hollywood at the time, they didn't believe in making a big show of Science Fiction. I discovered and worked with H. R. Giger and Dan O'Bannon, who later worked on Alien.
JL: After Dune, you made the film Tusk in India. The film was a bit of a disaster and never got released in America.
AJ: Don't see Tusk. I bury that film. In India they paint an elephant. You see you've an elephant between the legs, and scrotum, and your balls. I wanted to be sitting on the neck of an elephant, in order to know why they were painting it.
JL: Did you really eat elephant food for 4 months, too?
AJ: No, but I drank milk of elephant. It's incredible! They brought me milk of mother elephant, and I never had a mother as an elephant. My mother was not similar to an elephant, she was similar to a whale.
JL: You've got a different perception of mothers, especially in your film Santa Sangre. Is the mother in the film autobiographical of your own mother?
AJ: Everything is autobiographical (laughs)!
JL: You don't seem to focus on the female characters as much as the male characters-they seem almost secondary.
AJ: I think every cow is different, every ant is different, every woman is different. In Hollywood they have three kinds of women, no more.
JL: Your female characters seem to represent extremes of good or bad, such as virgin or whore.
AJ: When I make pictures, I don't think, because I trust the actors will think. I do the scene, but I don't think about the scene. I'm not unconscious-I'm super-conscious. Some people don't think and they make action pictures.
JL: What is your agenda?
AJ: About art, making things what I think really. I think I would have the strength of a criminal to shoot myself. Every image I want to do like a crime against the lines of normal things. I work in a different world, because I'm not making money-I'm making pictures.
JL: Iíve read that before filming Santa Sangre you had a chance meeting with a famous Mexican serial killer.
AJ: He was a criminal but he forgot that he killed fifteen women, he went to an asylum for ten years. Then he came out and he was a normal person when I met him. I realized that redemption is possible. So then I began my picture. He forgot everything; he knew about himself through newspapers and books. He changed and became a lawyer. But that's normal-a criminal who becomes a lawyer.
JL: There are many apocalyptic visions in the film El Topo, a feeling that things will become increasingly worse.
AJ: The apocalypse is now! Americans know this, that the only hope is the flying saucers. Do you know how I see the world? Like a person dying. Itís a worm who is dying to make a butterfly. You and I will be the first movements in the wings of the butterfly because we are speaking like this.
JL: Did you enjoy working on The Rainbow Thief?
AJ: No, I hated it. I wanted to know what it was like to have twelve million dollars. I had to work with these old movie stars, Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole. I hated working with Peter O'Toole. I hated that guy and he hated me. The producers had ultimate control of the film. This was the producer of Superman, and his wife wrote the script.
JL: What made you do The Rainbow Thief?
AJ: Because his wife has talent, and she was influenced by my films. But I was signed with two conditions: no violence, and respect the script. That was a downer because I feel poetry is violence. Everyday I was surveyed. And I think the most disgusting thing in pictures are the stars. Iím looking forward to the year 2000 when we have no more actors.
JL So there are no actors you appreciate then?
AJ: No, no one. The only picture I liked all the actors in was Freaks.
JL: Todd Browning's Freaks?
AJ: All the actors in that film were good. My favorite was the man who has no legs or arms. That was a good actor to me. That's one I remember very, very well. I like Todd Browning a lot. Heís like a father to me. I think maybe I'm a reincarnation of Todd Browning. Who knows?
JL: I also see that elephants are an influence on your films. Like the part in Santa Sangre with the elephant burial scene. What do the elephants represent?
AJ: I know the elephant very well. The elephant is the image of Christ. In the scene with the elephant coming down and the people running down were fighting for the meat. I had no money to give them, so I allowed them to eat the meat. They fought over the meat.
JL: Was eating the elephant in the film representative of eating Christ?
AJ: Yes, because every Catholic knows every time they take communion they take in the body of Christ in their mouth. Christ was the first vampire. He gave his blood to his disciples. In the last supper, they take the blood of Christ through wine. The Pope is the biggest vampire, he takes the blood of Christ everyday. And heís a cannibal. They are vampires and cannibals.
JL: So you donít like religion, yet you know so much about it.
AJ: No, I donít like religion-religion is killing the planet. The churches are taking the money, priests are molesting children. It's a disease in the world. I believe in mysticism. Though yes, I do know quite a bit about religion (laughs).
JL: But you donít view religion as you do violence. I mean, you say you love violence, that it's poetry.
AJ: It's true-I love that I hate religion. I donít love violence in the way that you see in American pictures. I love it in a different way. When a child is born, it is violent. When a flower opens up, it's violent. Even when you die it's violent. Life is very strong. Myself, Iím not searching for an audience. Because even when you go to a picture and the moment is strong, the only thing you hear is the mouth of people eating popcorn. If you take out the popcorn from America, you take out the sound of the planet.
JL: One last question. What are some of your ideas for the future.
AJ: I'm trying to make a picture about a criminal bodyguard in Mexico. He starts off as a criminal, but he becomes a saint. When I make a picture I need to be free. The producers are very difficult-they want to produce a star. They want a big audience. But I'm doing it. I will live to be 120. My father is 94 and he's alive and well. Everyday I get a clearer and clearer. I'm 67 years old now, and I live with a 23 year old woman. I don't believe in age; I'm not worried and I'm not in a hurry. Every eight years Iíll make a good film. by the way, how old are you?
JL: I'm 23.
AJ: You can be my woman (laughs).
(Also included in this article were these two tidbits.)
The Incal is a graphic novel that sprang to life from the collaboration of Jodorowsky with the king of comic book illustration Jean "Moebius" Giraud. It is a fantastic tale giving us a peek into the future, where society is stratified and the apocalypse looms close at hand.
From this rather bleak and explosive world emerges our hero, John D'Fool, a class-B private investigator with ambiguous moral fiber who is thrown into the cosmic race between good and evil when the Light Incal falls into his possession.
The story and is electric and is made even more colorful by a cast of bizarre characters, from the icy god mother of the nether world Amok, to the President, who clones himself into delicious new bodies and traipses around in aristocratic frills and heels chasing little boys.
The fruit of this collaboration is one intense, exciting and fascinating graphic novel, which leaves the reader with bizarre images floating in their head, and millennial bells ringing in their ears.
1965 - Sacramental Melodrama Four hour play whose set consisted of Jodorowsky in motorcycle leather who proceeded to slit the throats of geese, smash plates, strip and whip, append snakes to his chest, dance with a cow's head, and castrate a rabbi.
1967 - Fabulas Panicas Weekly comic strip in Mexico City. Later Pauline Kael in her review of El Topo was to link it with the underground comics of R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, and others.
1968 - Fando and Lis Premiered shortly after the Mexican army crushed the student movement, with a massacre in downtown Mexico that Jodorowsky had witnessed the aftermath of. The film is the journey of Fando and his paralytic friend Lis, through trash and despair to the elusive city of Tar. At one point a man drew blood from Lis's arm, poured it into a wine glass, and drank it. Jodorowsky claimed that everything was real. Critics compared the film unfavorably to Fellini's Satyricon.
1970 - El Topo (The Mole) Jodorowsky wrote, directed, scored the film, and stars in it. As the film starts it looks like a western and a man and his son (played by his real son Brontis) arrive at a frontier town filled with human corpses, butchered animals, and rivers of blood. El Topo later falls before an upright stone and water/urine/semen squirts his face. Jodorowsky writes in the script, "The stone is an exact replica of my phallus: thick, not very long, but with a voluminous head. That's how the rock is. That's El Topoís sex." El Topo seeks out masters to kill, dispatches them one by one and eventually wanders into a hell town filled with symbols of America, the ultimate representation of a warped society.
1970 - Holy Mountain It opens with a Christ-like thief crucified in the desert and a marketplace of crucified lambs. The plaza is taken over by the "Great Toad and Chameleon Circus," whose colors are red, white, and blue. At the end Jodorowsky says, "This is maya." He topples the table, and instructs the camera to zoom back. As it does it reveals lights, microphones, and technicians.
1988 - Santa Sangre Santa Sangre is Alexandro Jodorowskyís most recent masterpiece. A young boy, Fenix (played by Alexandro's sons Aden and Axel Jodorowsky) is raised by his brutal father and fanatic mother in the dark, maddening world of the circus. He is committed to an asylum at the tender age of eight, after witnessing the gruesome scene of his father butchering his motherís arms from her torso and then slitting his throat. At twenty, Fenix escapes from the asylum, finds his mother, and is entangled in her sad, twisted world of demands, indescribable pain, madness, and murder. Salvation, for Fenix, comes in the form of the innocent Alma, who has loved Fenix from childhood and makes it her goal to rescue him from the clutches of his mother before it is too late. Jodorowsky spent six years creating the tale that became Santa Sangre, his personal, poetic vision of madness and murder.