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ANARCHY AND ALCHEMY: THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY
By BEN COBB (Creation Books; 2007) 

A long-overdue volume, and in my view an essential one, a thorough study of the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, arguably the premiere wild man of the cinema.  The Chilean-born Jodorowsky is the creator of the seminal midnight movie classic EL TOPO, as well as the mind-roasting HOLY MOUNTAIN, the scandalous FANDO Y LIS (which caused riots upon its premiere in Mexico) and the surreal carny-themed horror fest SANTA SANGRE.  Author Ben Cobb covers the production, reception and narrative of each film in depth.  Unfortunately he also devotes equal time to lesser Jodorowsky projects like his unimpressive debut short LA CRAVATE, his misguided children’s film TUSK, and his thoroughly uninspired Hollywood production THE RAINBOW THIEF--unfortunately Jodorowsky’s most recent film.

     The 75-year-old Jodorowsky, now living in Paris, has of course done far more than just make films.  He’s an accomplished mime who worked with Marcel Marceau back in the late fifties, as well as a world-renowned Tarot expert, a theatrical provocateur and one of the top comic scripters in Europe.  Jodorowsky’s work in the latter field includes THE INCAL, MADOWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART, THE METABARONS, SON OF THE GUN and quite a few other series all bearing his unmistakable stamp.  But this book, as its subtitle makes clear, focuses on its subject’s films, which contain more than enough material to fill 280 heavily illustrated pages. 

     EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and SANTA SANGRE all-but overflow with an encyclopedia-worth of arcane symbolism and literary references, and any serious study of them must take those symbols and portents into account.  Ben Cobb is up to the task, packing his book with voluminous footnotes referencing the many, many mystical and alchemical elements Jodorowsky packs into his films.  You may find the author’s exhaustiveness in this regard dull or even off-putting, but it’s essential in dealing with films like these. 

     Cobb is careful to let Jodorowsky’s insanely colorful, almost schizophrenic personality shine through, with quotes from a plethora of sources and a lengthy concluding interview.  Jodorowsky’s charmingly clipped English (“What you need to do...you need to do it because maybe tomorrow you die”), decidedly idiosyncratic worldview and wild recollections (such as his childhood “memory” of floating into the air and encountering a ghost plane filled with vampires) add up to a mighty unique individual, one of the VERY small handful of filmmakers who’s every bit as interesting as the films he makes. 

     The author also includes much biographical info detailing Jodorowsky’s early years with the self-created “Panic” Movement, including a transcription of the outrageous four-hour “Sacramental Melodrama” Jodorowsky and his Panic pals Fernando Arrabal (who inspired FANDO Y LIS and wrote and directed the Jodorowsky-esque VIVA LA MUERTE) and Roland Topor (author of the Roman Polanski-adapted THE TENANT) put on in Paris back in 1965.  Highlights of this transcript include Jodorowsky getting whipped repeatedly, pulling live fish out of a doll baby’s belly, ripping a rabbi’s brain from his head and emerging from a six foot rubber vagina.   

     Of course you non-Jodorowsky fanatics will likely want to skip this volume, as with its sheer obsessiveness it’s tailor made for Jod nuts like myself.  But who knows?  Maybe reading this book will make you a fan.  Stranger things have happened--for proof just view any of the films referenced above!
 


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