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NAKED BLOODY CORPSES, CHARROS, SHROOMS, AND THOSE WHO MADE THEM MONSTERS

There's no way you can introduce Alejandro Jodorowsky with only a few words. Like an old cat he's had many lives: filmmaker, dancer, writer, innovative theatrer and mime artist; he was also a script-writer for comics, a journalist, and a great magician, practicing tarot reading every week in a café in Paris. We met him at his place, in Paris. That an interview was supposed to take place had slipped his mind, but he still told us some fascinating memories.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky :

See this cat…? He's old, very old. He must be 25. He's limping, he's deaf and blind. But he's alive. He's a companion. Once, when I was very young, I was heading to Paris and the boat stopped over in Barcelona for five hours. We were allowed to get off, I was broke and I didn't know where to go. I saw a stray dog in the street and I followed him. He took me to the market, then in Barrio Chino, the whores block, then at the Sagrada Familia, the church decorated by Gaudi. It's a stray dog that introduced me to Gaudi. He was my guide. A dog can be a mentor, you know.

Have you always needed a mentor?

Yes, because I had no talk with my father. He abased me. He was an authoritarian and atheistic shopkeeper. He didn't care about anything. I got nothing from him, except two pieces of advice: "Buy cheap and sell expensive," and "Nothing's true." I needed a fatherly archetype to get me out of childhood, to give me what this father did not.

You shot your first movies later in life than most people, when you were 39…

I always wanted to be in films, it's the supreme art for me. I learned mime art with Marceau, theatre with Topor and Arrabal when the Panic movement was on, I learned dance and puppet shows, all I did was in order to make movies. My cinema masters are still the same: Buñuel, the great dreamers,

Freaks

by Todd Browning. And today some outstanding Asian filmmakers.

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What about your next movie?

I might do it in the end, I'll have more information this autumn… The script is about

El Topo

's child. I imagined a life in a devastated world, after the tragedy. The sanctity is buried between two gold rocks on a little island, but to get there you have to be a sinless man, a saint. We might shoot it between Spain and Russia.

What happened with King Shot

, the movie you announced three years ago, in which Asia Argento and Marilyn Manson had already agreed to be part of..?

The script was so good: a casino, the

King Shot

, in the middle of the desert, in a world falling apart. As always with me, you can't tell what it's about, there's no pitch in my movies. My works can't be summed up in ten lines. But as money comes from TV and banks, you need pitches. Only private investors mad enough are ready to make films with me. I can't wait for the TV's money. Film industry has become the ally of the food industry. Films need to be simple because people go to the movies to digest what they've eaten just before. And you can't scare them, otherwise they fart..

Your third movie, Holy Mountain

, was produced by John Lennon in 1973?

Yes, thanks to my producer Allen Klein (who died this summer), who was also the manager of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and who used to manage Apple, the Beatles' music company. Lennon was up for it, he had heard about El Topo. I only met him once. He could not have come on the set in Mexico anyway, for we shot in wild places in the mountains.

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The shooting was a little crazy, huh?

Every one wanted to kill me. Two thousand people marched in front of the Guadalupe basilica, saying I was like Charles Manson because I was looking for colonial houses. Yet in front of the most venerated basilica in Mexico there was a very beautiful colonial door. The scene was simple: a truck full of bloody naked corpses had to pass in front of that door. Nothing, in short. But to do that; you have to undress people and cover them with fake blood and you can't do that too far, you need to do that in the tent beside the Basilica. So we have 40 bloody naked people waiting in the street. Within two hours the whole town was saying that we were not making a move but a black mass, that I was insulting the holy Virgin, and here came two thousand people asking for me to leave… Then we had problems with the charros' association.

The what ?

The charros are the Mexican cowboys, virile men with big hats. I made them come for a scene where they were supposed to dance with other men, wearing gas masks. A drag ball with 300 gay couples ! A charro came with a gun and pointed it on my chest, calling me a fag. He wanted to kill me. When you read the papers, Mexico has not changed. Yesterday a lawyer was shot with 28 bullets. At the same time, you can make a movie with only $5,000. That's what I did with

El Topo

in 1971.

Was Chile that violent when you were a kid?

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Before Pinochet, no; after, yes. Soldiers, trained by the German army, began to become a real state. They had a beastly, dreadful mentality. I only started to live in Santiago when I was around ten. I was a little isolated in the village. My parents were both Russian-born. I was treated as a black was treated in the US. I couldn't have any friends, so I spent my days at the library. Now I think that it was the chance of my life, I made up my own world.

Where does your knowledge of religions come from?

From my father, in a way. He was an atheist. When I was four he said to me, "God doesn't exist." It gave rise to an incredible fear, so I started to read anything that could soothe me, metaphysically speaking. All religions, all esoteric movements, alchemy, the Kabbalah, I read about all this. Except astrology--that always pissed me off.

Hum…did you have a script for The Holy Moutain

?

I had a frame but I made up the story little by little, every night.

You were said to shoot after taking magic mushrooms…

No, well… Actually, only one scene was shot after taking shrooms. And we messed up. We had to reach a holy place, the top of the pyramid. The actors and I decided to be as mystical as the place we were in. But I made a mistake, I did not force my cameraman to take magic mushrooms as well. He was sober. He saw us and laughed at us as you laugh at drunkards. He decided to put a distorting lens, to shoot us in a ridiculous, psychedelic way. It was a shitty effect on a beautiful, rare, and clean scene which you should not touch. So we climb the pyramid, guided by our supra-conscience. Once there I scratched the ground and I extracted a stone, a cube which we brought on the top. On the top we found a little flower, a very little flower: it was magic, pure. And the fucking cameraman put a distorting lens to capture that, as if we were monsters.. I wanted to kill him. I realized what he did too late, we were in wild, virgin territories, I only saw the rushes once back in New York. I fled from Mexico because they wanted to put a bomb in my flat, yelling I was evil. I had 30 hours of film you know, he ruined more than a third. I was fool to believe that if the technicians were clean, they would work correctly. But on the contrary, they did not understand a thing about the movie, there was no communication between us and them. They looked at us as if we were wild beasts and thought they could do anything with the camera. When I think about what we messed up, I feel sick.

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On The Holy Mountain

set, you had subjected your actors to a severe treatment..

Yes, we all lived together, we were ten people and we had to sleep only four hours per night, from 12 AM to 4 AM. We would get up, and take a cold shower. Then we meditated: mantras, and so on. Friday, for instance, was the "objective" day. You could not say something like, "It's cold," 'cause it's subjective. You're cold, but it doesn't mean that everybody's cold. You had to reach the anti-subjectivity. We had a small bell to erase any sign of subjectivity. We must overcome our ego, you know.

How do you do that?

We saw ourselves more like metaphysical samurais. It was very American, in the sense that there was an amazing drug stock… I'm not keen on drugs at all, so I made them believe that the cops were watching us and I flushed the drugs down the toilet. As soon as they were in need of it, the nice followers became monsters… At that time I also realized that whenever they kept meditating for three hours they were simply stoned… Crazy times indeed. I had made a contract with an American guru, Oscar Ichazo, who ruled a proto-analysis group called

Arica

. He offered a quicker access to "illumination." He said that the various religious and esoteric disciplines had each its own technique to reach it. His own technique was an explosive cocktail--he mixed everything and promised illumination within only two months. "For you," he said, "I can give you illumination in eight hours."OK, I said, let's go… We give him $17,000 and he comes to a luxurious hotel in Mexico. We chat, he takes out a small pack of orange powder and makes me drink it. I had just paid $17,000 for LSD!!! It was not working, so he took out Thai marijuana, and then.. I was seeing Picassos, Renoirs by the window, it looked like Walt Disney with colors everywhere. It lasted eight hours.

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Speaking of "influences," did you know the movies of Glauber Rocha and Antonio Das Mortes, when you made El Topo ? The two films were in theaters at the same time, in 1971. I didn't know about Rocha's plan. I discovered his movie in the same time he was discovering mine. The sexy and rebellious heroes are close. To some extent we were friends. Glauber and I…he was such a drug addict that it was almost impossible to talk to him.

Where does this lonely anti-cowboy character come from then? From Vince Taylor?

It's possible, I liked Vince Taylor a lot. I had seen one of his shows in a Pigalle cabaret. I had been there with a bunch of surrealists writers, since the show was directed by Georges Bataille. After that I wanted Vince Taylor and his orchestra to play in a happening for the Panik movement. But that day he had a kind of mystical crisis, he believed he was God. So he shut himself away, in his hotel room near the café de Flore. I was only able to have his musicians. His drummer was the son of the surrealist painter Hans Bellmer. I think

El Topo

's figure comes half from him and half from an Elvis Presley movie that I had enjoyed. Nobody watched Presley's movies at that time in Paris. He was very despised.

Did the failure of the Dune

project hurt you?

Yes, but at the same time I was very lucky, I met Moebius and I did

The Incal

, and by doing this I think that we change the comics' world. For

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Dune

, I gathered an incredible team: Dan O' Bannon, Geiger, Moebius. A part of the team made

Alien

and Blade Runner; I made up this non-realistic science-fiction– I was against 2001 realism. I wanted operas, spaceships, something baroque and organic, and it was way before

Star Wars

. We were in 1974. The script changed the American vision on sci-fi movies. Do you know why we couldn't make the film? I just had an argument with Allen Klein, he locked the broadcasting rights of

The Holy Mountain

. No more production, no more money. Michel Seydoux came to see me and told me, "Give me an idea and we make it." I said

Dune

. I hadn't read it but a friend had told me it was great. They bought

Dune

's rights for like nothing. Frank Herbert told them they're crazy, there's no way you can put this on a screen. Meanwhile I was going to Paris and in the plane I started reading it. I realized it was impossible so I re-wrote the whole script. Orson Welles, Dali, David Carradine, Udo Kier, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, and Leonard Cohen agreed to play in the film; Pink Floyd and Magma were supposed to do the soundtrack. The visual team was great, they drew like thousand of costumes. It had to be an international release, nothing less than 2,000 theatres in the US. American managers refused because Hollywood did not want to see a French production on the same level as theirs. That's why the Americans were the ones to make

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Dune

. I've never seen the Lynch movie, I couldn't. But otherwise Lynch is a genius.

How did you meet Moebius?

For

Dune

. I was going home through Lyon by the highway, I stopped to drink a coffee in a spooky snack. There was a

Blueberry

comic lying around, I glanced it through and I asked Moebius for a meeting. I ran into him by chance in my agent's office, because he was delivering a film poster he had made. I asked him, Do you want to come with me in LA to sign for the special effects? "When?" In two days. "I don't know if I can." OK, too bad, I'm gonna see Druillet then… "OK, I'll be at the airport in two days." Before working we used to meet every morning in a café, down the office, and you know how the café was called? The Universe.

Photos by Maciek Pozoga Translation by Pauline Gérard