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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 02:33 pm

The cult of Jodorowsky

Mexican director’s influence goes beyond his name recognition

Untitled Document His is hardly a household name, but the influence of Alejandro Jodorowsky goes beyond name recognition. His best-known film is El Topo (1970), which translates to The Mole, a cult classic that created the midnight-movie phenomenon of the 1970s. He was the world’s premier director of weird cinema before David Lynch stole his thunder. El Topo — along with two of his other films, Fando and Lis (1968) and The Holy Mountain (1973) — has finally received a proper DVD release. Born in Chile, Jodorowsky emigrated to Mexico, where he shot most of his films. His debut feature, Fando and Lis, follows a troubled young man and his paraplegic girlfriend as they search for the fabled city of Tar. The journey, rather than the destination, is the dominant feature; the pair encounters an array of demented characters in a search that never seems to go anywhere. Some of the imagery is mildly disturbing, but it hardly justifies the riot the film caused at the Acapulco Film Festival. The DVD includes the documentary The Jodorowsky Constellation (1994), which manages to say almost nothing about his films. El Topo is a mystical Mexican Western in which the title character (played by Jodorowsky) roams a landscape of sex and violence. He stumbles upon a massacred village and becomes an avenging angel. El Topo was apparently too strange for normal distribution methods, and its alternative midnight showing struck a nerve in the counterculture. Mainstream audiences would be baffled and infuriated by its ambiguities, but fans of the weird immediately embraced it as a cult classic. Jodorowsky attempted to repeat the formula with The Holy Mountain. He struck further into bizarre terrain, leaving all sense behind. Any meaning is lost in its overreliance of grotesque images. Barely noticed at the time of its release, it is now building a cult following because of spillover from El Topo. Santa Sangre (1989) is not part of this new set, but it is Jodorowsky’s greatest film. Here he succeeded in fusing his bizarre extravagances with a coherent narrative. A young boy is traumatized by a horrible tragedy involving his parents. Years later he escapes from a mental hospital to aid his armless mother in a killing spree. Santa Sangre, a modern classic, is actually much stranger than that brief plotline suggests. Thanks to DVD, Jodorowsky is finally being rediscovered as he deserves.
New on DVD this Tuesday (June 5): Norbit and The Messengers.
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