French-Chilean filmmaker, screenwriter and author Alejandro Jodorowsky’s avant-garde films brim with a mélange of divine, supernatural and dreamlike imagery that have amassed the acclaimed auteur an admirable cult-following throughout his five-decade long cinematic career, undoubtedly bolstered by his strikingly determined commitment to the exploration of the boundaries between reality and the supernatural.
Born in the northern Chilean town of Tocopilla to a Jewish-Ukrainian father and a Polish mother, Jodorowsky’s affinity for cinema has its origins firmly rooted in the helmer’s childhood, after which he pursued his artistic proclivities by dropping out of college to become involved in theatre, before founding his own theatre troupe, Teatro Mimico, in the late 1940s. The auteur’s settlement in Paris the following decade signaled his foray into the world of cinema, during which time he released his inaugural short film, La Cravate (1957), a 20-minute-long mime adaptation of a work penned by German novelist Thomas Mann, recounting the experiences of a rogue Paris-native who peddles human heads in order to make a livelihood.
In the earlier stages of his career, Jodorowsky’s artistic endeavours garnered him substantial notoriety for his political outspokenness, most markedly in the early 1960s when he became a founding member of Paris’s anarchist Panic Movement, a collective centred on surreal performance art concerned with the goal of invoking shock in audiences. The helmer’s follow-up short drama, Teatro sin fin (1965), draws on his extensive experience with the époque’s European theatrical and commemorates his involvement in the subversive theatre circle by presenting an aggregation of footage of an outrageous performance enacted by the Panic Movement during the summer of the film’s release year.
The release of his debut directorial feature, Fando and Lis (1968), a fantastical adventure film following the eponymous lovers in their search of the numinous city of Tar – the tale itself based on Jodorowsky’s memories of a play by Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal – garnered the auteur further infamy by causing a large scandal in Mexico and consequently being banned in the country. Jodorowsky gained further wide-spread international recognition and amassed the initial surges in his cult-following with the release of his second feature, El Topo (1970), an acid western drama tracing an enigmatic gunfighter’s search for enlightenment, as he encounters a series of cryptic characters against the backdrop of an arcane Spaghetti Western landscape.
Jodorowsky’s breakthrough film, demonstrating his employment of intensely surrealist imagery characterized by a hybrid of Oriental philosophy and Christian allegory, became a sizable success in the US ‘midnight movie’ circuit and garnered him the Special Jury Award at the 1974 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival, leading to his increased recognition within the industry and a substantial $1 million sum to finance his follow-up production. In this work, the helmer extended his exploration of surrealism in the context of arcane Western traditions with the supranatural adventure drama, The Holy Mountain (1973), a meditation on the crooked and self-aggrandizing nature of the modern world through the journey of a compelling alchemist (played by Jodorowsky), a Christ-like figure and a number of contrastingly avaricious figures who are indicative of the materialism proponed in modernity.
Within a ten-year period, Jodorowsky produced a trio of charmingly diverse and deeply preternatural works, beginning with the poignant family drama Tusk (1980), a French-language tale that sheds light on the common mortality that binds humankind with the animal world, through the journey of an English girl and an Indian elephant who share both a birthday and a common fate. He followed this up with the esoteric horror production, Holy Blood (1989), a grippingly raw tale of the callously grim and startlingly violent events in the life of a psychiatric patient, depicted through his flashback to a depraved childhood and broken family home – the viscerally transfixing cast’s performances combined with Jodorowsky’s astute directorial prowess that garnered the film a string of nominations on the international film festival circuit.
The final of the three productions, The Rainbow Thief (1990), extends the auteur’s exploration of the fantasy drama genre in its uniquely eccentric portrayal of a small-time criminal who befriends an heir to a large fortune in the hopes of financial gain – the production also reunites Lawrence of Arabia’s cast members Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in the story’s unconventional friendship. In recent years, the release of Jodorowsky’s Spanish-language autobiographical musical, The Dance of Reality (2013) – marking his first film in a span of 23 years – demonstrates his unwavering devotedness to the fantastical nature of the adventure drama genre in the film’s portrayal of a history uncannily similar to the auteur’s own adolescent experience (Jodorowsky plays himself as an adult) and retains the intensely surrealist streak that is ingrained in his impressive catalogue.
The poignant drama Endless Poetry (2016) is Jodorowsky’s most recent production and it demonstrates his recent cinematic commitment to a heavily personal, more nonfictional approach to his work, a sequel to The Dance of Reality. The film’s narration of the later period of the Chilean vanguard’s youth, during which his involvement with avant-garde artistic circles allowed him to break-free from the shackles of his childhood and gain inspiration from the giants of twentieth-century Hispanic literature, adds a deeply personal flair to audiences’ understanding of the auteur’s sensitively passionate search for truth and his ascension to dizzying cinematic heights.