An Adventure and Interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky
by ADARSHA BENJAMIN
Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the great masters of surrealist cinema. His trinity of violent, extraordinary and symbolic masterpieces – El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre – have made him into an icon. Jodorowsky is not only a cult filmmaker but also a poet, author, comic book writer and spiritual mystic who holds on to the mysteries of the universe like tightly-kept secrets only to be shared with those worthy of his message. Born to Ukrainian-Jewish parents in Chile in 1929, he eventually moved to Paris to become a mime. There, he was first introduced to the avant-garde movements of performance art and cinema. His first feature film, Fando y Lis, about a young man and his paraplegic sister on an odyssey through a post-apocalyptic landscape searching for a mythological city called Tar, was beset by riots when it came out in the theater. His subsequent films proved to be midnight cult hits that earned Jodorowsky the status of legendary cineaste. A spiritual guru, Jodorowsky heals deep-rooted psychological wounds with something he calls “psychomagic.” He has written two books on the subject; Psychomagic: The Sacred Trap and The Dance of Reality – an adaptation of which is set to start filming later this year. Here is the story of my afternoon with Alejandro Jodorowsky.
I’m locked out of the apartment I’m staying in in Paris. I don’t have my wallet. I have one roll of film rolling around the bottom of my bag. It’s raining. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s apartment is one hour away and I have twenty minutes to get there. No money for a metro ticket, since my wallet is locked inside the apartment I am locked out of. Like an angel from above, a nice French gentleman hands me a ticket. Small success. I run to the metro, but get lost. I find my way by memory. The last time I visited his apartment was on a trip with James Franco and his producer Vince Jolivette to discuss a potential creative collaboration. During that meeting, he chose three Tarot cards for me, which to this day enlighten and heal a certain side of myself, and have further inspired my artistic vision. This time around, I’m alone to photograph Jodorowsky for this story and for a future photographic series. I arrive at his building. I’m thirty minutes late. I ring the buzzer.
“Bonjour Alejandro, it’s Adarsha.”
He tells me to come to the fourth floor – in Spanish. I walk up the same familiar dark winding staircase. Last time, I was nervous and laughing hysterically the entire way up the spiral staircase. This time I’m out of breath, wet as a dog, and completely out of my mind with jetlag. Light peeks under the door. The hallway smells a bit funny. He opens the door and greets me kindly. The light inside is warm. Yellow Paris lights. I look around. I remember all the books. He leads me into the office. Pointing to a clock, he diplomatically acknowledges my tardiness. “Why yes, Alejandro Jodorowsky, I was thirty minutes late.” He doesn’t really mind. We move on. I’m here to photograph. He sits by the window. There is not much light. Remember, one roll of film. It’s also gray and rainy outside – Parisian skies. A little lamp suffices. I pull out my little Honeywell. He laughs at my modest camera. It’s a laugh of camaraderie. After all, he is an underground filmmaker, and I could only imagine some sense of nostalgia rushed over him in that moment. Snap. Snap. Snap. I take some portraits. We talk about film, but other than that it is mainly silent – silent, but comfortable. We move to a room of plants – orchids, succulents, and cacti. He points to a giant Bonsai. “They were once tiny plants.” “Bonsai?” I ask. “Yes!” “Now they grow,” he says wisely. His apartment is a living testament to his creative endeavors. The original film reels from Holy Mountain and El Topo sit on the bookshelf behind him. I take a few more pictures. He hands me a book of his – in Spanish – artwork from a previous, botched albeit grandiose attempt to adapt the 1965 science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert. Jodorowsky had planned to film the adaptation as a ten-hour feature starring Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Mick Jagger. Dune was later adapted by David Lynch in 1981 and panned by critics and audiences alike. I wrap up shooting – the film is almost done. I take one final photograph of both Jodorowsky and myself – kind of a self-portrait – a reminder to myself that I was there, in that magical moment, with one of the greatest artists of our time. There are not many words to describe an artist – a man – like Alejandro Jodorowsky. I leave his apartment – back into the Paris streets – past the opera house at Bastille – into oblivion and beyond. Once again, this magic man has further enlightened my path as an artist, without even trying. I asked him to choose three tarot cards for the future of art, and I hope in their mystical alliance you also find a token of inspiration to heal a side of yourself that may have been locked or dormant. I think silently, this is Alejandro’s wish as well.
What is it about cinema that is so important?
Cinema is a goddess becoming a bitch for the industry. Just as Christ has been converted by the masked pedophile priests. In the kingdom of dreams, the Gods are significant. Being the supreme being of art and film, the one which encompasses all the other arts, which is vital for the rise of our spirits. But now it is poisoned.
Can you remember the first moment you wanted to make films or what brought you to want to make films?
When I was seven years old I saw, The Hunchback of Notre Dame from the genius Charles Laughton. And Frankenstein, performed by the genius Boris Karloff. I wanted to become one of those two monsters; I spent the entire day making horrible faces.
How did your collaboration with John Lennon come about and what was it like working with him?
I never worked with John Lennon. He saw my film El Topo and he admired my work. Yoko Ono said I was a filmmaker ahead by thirty years. They decided to help socially and economically. Thanks to them I got to debut El Topo at the Elgin Theater. As well thankful for Alain Klein, who was his producer at ABKO, gave me a million dollars to do what I wanted to do.... I made Holy Mountain.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Lao-Tse, because besides being a poet he was a scholar. And Heraclitus, because besides being a scholar he was a poet.
Who do you admire working in film today? Is there anyone who you think is doing truly groundbreaking work?
Nicolas Winding Refn. Bronson and Drive.
What do you see as the most important lesson that a young artist can learn these days?
Don’t make movies to make money, but to find your soul. Never work for the bureaucrats in Hollywood.
"I don´t think with ideas, but with my testicles. I don´t search, I ejaculate."
What have been the biggest misconceptions about you and your films?
Sólo pedos de culos que se creen cerebros.
How do you think of new ideas for your comic books?
I don´t think with ideas, but with my testicles. I don´t search, I ejaculate.
Can you describe an interesting anecdote you’ve encountered during your psychomagic sessions?
A guru who had many followers came to see me. He asked me for a remedy to sleep because he suffered from insomnia. Surprisingly, I took him into my arms and made him suck on a baby’s bottle. He then burst into tears like a baby. Nobody could silence him. I had to hypnotize him to make him sleep.
Can society today still learn from psychomagic?
Obviously, the psychomagic of individuals is passed to the social psychomagic. The countries are sick, like children. We have to make them grow so we can be a planet.
What art forms do you think represent the now?
The spiritual kiss.
What does the future look like to you?
There is no future. We live in the eternal present. And this present is marvelous. As the world is, not as the world has been. If a cup of gold has mud, gold still remains.
If you were to choose three tarot cards for the coming ages, for the future of art and film, which ones would they be?
18, La Luna. 19, El Sol. 21, El Mundo.
Alejandro Jodorowsky's epic story of his emigration from the Ukraine to Chile amidst the political and cultural upheavals of the 19th and 20th centuries is told in fantastical, mythic form in the new book Where the Bird Sings Best. Jodorowsky’s book transforms family history into heroic legend: incestuous beekeepers hide their crime with a living cloak of bees, a czar fakes his own death to live as a hermit amongst the animals, a devout grandfather confides only in the ghost of a wise rabbi, a transgender ballerina with a voracious sexual appetite holds a would-be saint in thrall. This interview was originally published in Autre Issue 2 (2012). Text, interview and photographs by Adarsha Benjamin.