“Pilgrims” would perhaps be a fitting term to describe the horde of fans who flocked to the Egyptian Theatre to witness the surreal cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and see the master himself in a rare appearance (his first time in Los Angeles in twenty years). The first feature of the evening, The Holy Mountain, was about a spiritual quest, and one could sense a similar ambition in the air tonight from the moviegoers themselves. One had flown in all the way from New York to see him. The appeal, according to one fan, was “the sheer surrealism, the trip that is THAT.” Another, less eloquent but no less fitting, was excited to see some movies he described as “weird as [expletive retracted]."
There was a patron who hoped for some deep wisdom from Jodorowsky. Perhaps they would get it from The Panic Fables or The Way of Tarot, his books being sold in the lobby. Or from the films being screened, for which no introduction can suffice, nor explanation given. They must be experienced, rather than discussed. Tonight only, the man himself., Alejandro Jodorowsky, had quite a lot to impart, much of it profound and stirring.
Nicolas Winding Refn is of course an acclaimed director in his own right, but tonight he was another disciple, and he introduced Jodorowsky on a personal and poignant note. He described himself as the director’s “spiritual son,” and they told us the touching story of their friendship. They met in Paris after Jodorowsky had seen Refn’s film Bronson and admired it. Refn was beyond happy that this artist even knew he existed.
Jodorowsky said that in order to show The Holy Mountain. he had to wait 30 years, because nobody got it. The story of the film’s production involves John Lennon haggling a $1,000,000 budget from producer Allen Klein, who was ultimately confused and frustrated by the result. Klein would tell Jodorowsky that he couldn’t show this movie, that nobody would see it. He did not foresee the cult following that would be attained, or that this filmmaker would “kick off the counter-culture of cinema,” as Refn put it.
This would be a recurring theme throughout the discussion: that Jodorowsky was not into making films for fame or fortune. He considers himself a cinema auteur, a poet. He draws a distinction between himself and “industrial filmmakers” like Refn (though he insists they are compliments) and Guillermo Del Toro (whose film The Shape of Water he praised). Jodorowsky is in search of the soul, “the profound meaning of love.” He wants to be “alive not in the darkness, but in the light”. Film must be on “the same level as a sacred book”. An artist opens perceptions and shows you something you want to see. There was an amused reaction when he insisted that he wanted to “lose money, such were his priorities.” Above all, Jodorowsky wants to be free.
His method is unconventional, to say the least. At one point, Refn asked about how much planning went into his movies - did he go in with a script and a clear direction? To which Jodorowsky replied, “I am not like you…I have no concept.” Everything is organic. It comes to him like a dream when shooting. He used an example from Santa Sangre, the second film of the evening. A drunk woman wandered onto set and started singing. “Very well. Use it.” He employs non-actors throughout. When he can’t afford actors, he uses his sons. And when George Harrison, who Jodorowsky wanted to have play The Thief, balked at the nude scene with the hippopotamus, he turned to a Mexican comic.
We were privy to Jodorowsky’s own spiritual journey. When he was five, a priest gave him a medal. His father took the medal and told him there is no God, and that nothing happens after you die. This was a point-of-view Jodorowsky took with him into adulthood, until he started to look for something beyond nothingness. He read books from all the world religions in search of hope of an afterlife. His conclusion was thought-provoking and profound. “Nothing cannot exist, because we are here. A part of you is alive forever. A part of eternity.”
To Jodorowsky, art speaks to the value of human beings and the beauty of planet Earth. He told us that we are all sacred creations, masterpieces. He spoke of the love of humanity, the love of the planets. There is no age in the spirit. Though his metaphysical philosophy was a lot to process, it was resonant, and tied in perfectly with the work before us.
Refn and Jodorowsky discussed the future of cinema. Jodorowsky noted the shift in technology, how films can be made on phones now. He saw this as an indication that the days of the theater are numbered. This got a morose reaction from the audience, but he continued optimistically that to be driven by money is not happiness. To be driven by work, when work is art, therein lies true happiness.
The questions from the audience ranged from the use of animals on set (apparently the chimpanzee in The Holy Mountain “became like Hitler” by the end of production) to simple requests for advice. To the aspiring independent filmmaker, Jodorowsky suggests that they be more than one thing. Learn to make pancakes, for example, in addition to your art. You have to live, he pointed out.
On Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky informed us that a key influence was an encounter he once had with a serial killer. A man who had murdered 15 women, spent ten years in a mental hospital, and now was living, he insisted, as a “normal person.” This fascinated Jodorowsky, who explained that the second film being screened was not symbols, only feelings. The feeling of forgiveness, as indicated by that meeting, was key.
We were witnessing the surreal and the spiritual, the profound and the sacred. The sacred, Jodorowsky tells us, cannot be done for money. Truer words, and all were glad to have the chance to hear them in tandem with these films that expressed such themes.