No matter what you think of his movies, it’s hard to deny that Alejandro Jodorowsky is a living legend. This is a man whose beautiful, dreamily surreal films helped usher in the popularity of the midnight movie (with things like “El Topo” and “Holy Mountain”) and whose visionary work has inspired a whole generation of filmmakers, artists, and technicians (as exemplified in this year’s wonderful documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about his failed attempt at adapting Frank Herbert’s sci-fi odyssey for the big screen). His newest film, “The Dance of Reality,” is the Chilean director’s most personal work to date, a luminous coming-of-age tale inspired by Jodorowsky’s own autobiography and starring members of his family. We got to sit down with the director during this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, where we talked about the philosophy behind “Dance of Reality,” why it took so long for him to make the movie, what movies he is inspired by, his thoughts on “Iron Man 3,” and whether or not Luc Besson really ripped him off for “The Fifth Element.”
Our discussion came at the height of a mini-resurgence of Jodorowsky-mania, since it was also around the time of “Jodorowsky’s Dune” (read what he had to say about that here) and you could tell that the 85-year-old filmmaker and comic book legend was feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by the interest surrounding his work (both realized and unrealized).
Amongst the topics we covered for those Jodorowsky die hards: we talked about his unfinished children’s film “Tusk,” what went wrong on “Rainbow Thief,” his thoughts on the wonders of digital technology, and how he is working on a sequel to “El Topo”… in comic book form. It’s a highly entertaining and in-depth read and further cements his place as a legend we are very lucky to still have around, creating all sorts of crazy art.
This is your first movie since “Rainbow Thief.” Why this movie and why now?
I was making pictures—”El Topo,” “Holy Mountain”—where I was free. I was doing whatever I wanted. But always with very little money. In movies, images cost —if you want a big image, it takes more money. I have no opportunity. Then I wanted to know about the experience of making the industrial picture. Then Alexander Salkind, a person who produced the first “Superman,” a very good industrial producer, wanted to be an artist. So he had a script [“The Rainbow Thief”]. And I said “Okay, I will do it.” It was $50 million and it had stars—Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Christopher Lee. Then I start to shoot. And it was the worst experience in my life. Because I was not free. If we wanted to change the script, we had to call the producer, the rushes I did the producers see first. I had to deal with Peter O’Toole, who was terrible. It was terrible for me. If I have to make another picture like that, I won’t do it. The industrial picture is an illness. For an artist, it’s not possible. I am a poet, I am not a worker. I need to be free. And then I wait 23 years. A lot of people offer me serial killer movies all the time or sexual pictures. All the stupidity. I say, “No, no. I will wait until the moment I can be free to do whatever I want.” Then I did it.
What’s the craziest thing people have offered you?
Well, all the time it’s about serial killers or degenerates who kill women. All the time, it’s that. I say, “Why can’t I kill hippopotamus?” A hippopotamus serial killer! He goes into all the zoos in the world, killing the hippopotamus. Why not?
Can you talk about the whole idea behind “Dance of Reality?” How is everything a dance?
For me, everything is a kind of dance. Miracles dance. You dream every night. Every person in the world, even if they don’t remember, is dreaming every night. And then, every person has an image of the reality. It’s not reality. It’s the image you have. Every person is a crazy person in his own version of reality. And producing a reality in his vision of reality. You are a human being. You’re American. But you are seeing the picture like a Texas American. Then my picture is being seen in Paris by a French intellectual person. But it’s a person. It’s a human being like you. He’s seeing the world from another point of view. You have Palestinians and Israelis. But they are both Semites and they are fighting. They are the same! Why? The dance of reality is to see we are the same and to see the beauty of the world.
You shot this movie for a long time. Can you talk about that experience?
I didn’t shoot for that long but the techniques have changed. The machines are pneumatic now. It’s another way to shoot now. You have less light, the colors you work later, and you can change and approach the image in a different way.
Do you like this new style?
For me I am filled with a whole, complete happiness. It’s a new technique and you can do a lot more things than before.
How do you feel when you hear filmmakers like Nicholas Winding Refn cite you as an influence today?
Now, at the age I am, I think that is natural. Because I am an old man now. I am at an age when, if I didn’t influence anyone, maybe I was an idiot in my life. When you live, you need to put seeds into others. For me now, I say, “That is natural.” If I have 40 years of happiness, my head will grow bigger. I am happy this didn’t happen before. Today, though, it can be natural.
What filmmakers are you inspired by? Or what filmmakers do you watch today?
In Paris, there is a Chinese neighborhood and there are little bookstores where I get pictures from China, Hong Kong, Korea. Every month, I buy that. I don’t know what I buy, but I see those. They are not intelligent. They are action movies or monster movies. They spend big money. They are silly but they are very well done. I also like it because I don’t know the actors. They are stars there but here they are unknown. It’s magical. They are flying in the air. They are good movies. The American movies make my soul suffer. They are so full of ideas—political ideas that are so subliminal—and they are such an induction for people to buy. I thought I was dreaming when I saw “Iron Man 3.” I was dreaming. Because in the beginning, they’re advertising and the advertising was a part of the picture—a car! And then, at the end of the picture, the little boy who helped Iron Man received a gift and what did he get? The car! Then I see Leonardo DiCaprio selling a watch! Merde! They are prostitutes that’s what they are! The movies are for selling things—selling politics, selling alcohol, selling tobacco. This is not possible. They need to stop that.
Would you ever do a movie in 3D?
I would cut off my balls if I did a picture like that. I don’t want to have an Oscar. It’s a malediction. I don’t want that.
When you were talking about “Dance of Reality” you said you wanted it to be a movie that lost money.
I should explain. I don’t make pictures because I want money. But if the picture does make money, I open my pocket, because it allows me to make another movie. It isn’t a goal for the pictures to make money. But if they do make money, it’s very good.
Are you working on something right now?
Yes. I am working on something based on a comic book with Moebius’ grandson. It’s some kind of Mexican killer who step by step opens his mind … and became a saint. I have half of the money. I need somebody to pay for the second half, without actually asking what I’ll do with the money.
Do you have any actors in mind?
No I don’t use actors anymore. I will search for who is the real character and I don’t think in famous persons. I think it’s bad for my movies, because it changes things. The context and the meaning of my picture … start changing. It needs to be in service of them, their egos. Like O’Toole. Then you become an employee. I want to be a poet.
One of your older films that has been incredibly hard to track down is “Tusk.” Is that something that is going to come out at some point?
With “Tusk” I am searching for the negatives, because at the time we never finished the picture and now I want to redo the color and it could be a fantastic tale for children. It’s beautiful. We are searching, because the producer died and we are wondering where the negative is.
How has this new digital technology helped you realize your vision?
I did it with “El Topo” and “Holy Mountain,” I re-mastered them myself. It was fantastic. After 30 years I finally have “El Topo” and “Holy Mountain” as I want them, with the real color I want. When you change the color of the picture, it was not an artist who do that. It was a technician who wanted more money. And they did it for television. But it’s a real artist who changes the color, you will love! It will not be a business, it will be an act of love.
You also have an extensive background in comic books. And in America almost every big movie is based on a comic book.
Yes, when I go back to Paris, I will start on a fantastic project that is “Son of El Topo.” Because I don’t have the money to make the movie, I will make the comic. For a long time I wanted to make a continuation of that picture, but I could never do it because it was very expensive, with a lot of effects. So I have that script and I will be making it a comic.
Do you read comic books now?
Yes. I work in comics. It’s my way of life. With movies, I would be in the street. I live making comics. I made a classic comic in “The Incal.” I’ve done something like 70 books. In Europe it’s not like in America where comic books are very cheap and for children. But in Europe, it’s art. They’re very expensive to produce, they work a year to make a comic, and it’s like a painting. It’s a work of art.
“Incel” was obviously an inspiration for Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.”
But there was some kind of lawsuit there, too, right?
No, no, not myself. I was happy. I say if somebody steals something of yours then it’s good, he loves what you do. But it was the editor who sued. I didn’t do it. I didn’t have the right to stop it or say anything. But they lost the battle. But the other reason was that Moebius worked on the picture. So he stole from himself! He needed it for money.
There’s that great montage at the end of the “Dune” documentary where you see all the artists who have been influenced by your work.
Yes, it was good. In America you have the legend of the man who puts the seed of apple trees all over America and the trees grow everywhere and you are eating the apples. I was putting seeds in the apples of cinema. Seeds all over the place. I feel very well.
“The Dance of Reality” is in limited release and very much worth seeking out.