“Alejandro Jodorowsky has made only seven features in his nearly half-century career,” begins Dennis Lim at the top of his profile of the Chilean director for the Los Angeles Times, “but his legendary midnight movie El Topo, a wigged-out peyote western that played to New York audiences for months in 1970, sealed his place in the annals of cult cinema. Jodorowsky last made a comeback in 1989 with the Oedipal melodrama Santa Sangre, about a serial killer operating under the spell of his armless mother.” Now, at 84, Jodorowsky is back again: “Billed as a work of ‘imaginary autobiography,’ The Dance of Reality is among the most eagerly anticipated titles in this year’s Director’s Fortnight section at Cannes, which is also screening Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary by Frank Pavich about Jodorowksy’s fabled, doomed attempt in the mid-1970s to turn Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel into a big-screen space opera…. A onetime emblem of the counterculture, Jodorowsky is now, in his way, an elder statesman. Fando y Lis (1967), his violent first film, prompted a riot at its Acapulco premiere, but El Topo and the even more outrageous Holy Mountain (1973), both newly restored, have found appreciative younger audiences… To hear him tell it, though, Jodorowsky’s troublemaking days may not be behind him. ‘Wait until you see my new picture—maybe that will destroy everything,’ he said with a laugh. ‘I believe 100% in what I did, but this film is not similar to the past. It’s a step into nothingness.'”
It’s also “an unexpectedly touching and personal work,” at least according to the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Jodorowsky has returned to his hometown of Tocopilla in the Chilean desert to create a kind of magic-realist memoir of his father, Jaime Jodorowsky, a fierce Communist whose anger at the world—at his son—was redoubled by the anti-Semitism the family faced. Of course, the entire story is swathed in surreal mythology, dream logic and instant day-glo legend, resembling Fellini, Tod Browning, Emir Kusturica, and many more.” But: “For the first time, Jodorowsky is coming close to telling us how personal evasiveness has governed his film-making style; his flights of fancy are flights of pain, flights from childhood and flights from reality. And now he is using his transformative style to come to terms with and change the past and to confer on his father some of the heroism that he never attained in real life.”
“Some bits hold together better than others,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “but Jodorowsky’s investment in the material imbues the drama with emotional consistency. Equal parts autobiographical nostalgia trip and flamboyant B-movie, The Dance of Reality overcomes occasionally weak production values with the filmmaker’s clear-cut passion. More than a return to form, The Dance of Reality deepens its possibilities without sacrificing the macabre freakishness coursing through the director’s work—and that’s the prime reason for celebrating its continuation.”
The Directors’ Fortnight has posted video from the Q&A, albeit without subtitles.
Updates, 5/19: “It’s the kind of film in which men who’ve lost limbs in the mines populate the periphery to provide comic relief and the filmmaker intermittently turns up in an ice-cream suit to serve as an onscreen guide,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com. “Despite a sometimes slapdash look—the low-fi seagull effects are just this side of Birdemic—it’s hard not to find this sort of controlled chaos endearing, certainly not when it’s peppered with as much affection and warmth as it is here. At the Q&A, one fan actually asked to kiss the director, ascending the stage to embrace him. For his part, the 84-year-old filmmaker, speaking in French, seemed less mad than modest. ‘I did not create it,’ he said of his new film. ‘I received it.'”
“At more than two hours, The Dance of Reality unquestionably has its longueurs,” writes Variety‘s Scott Foundas, “but on balance it is alive with enough images and ideas for several movies—as if Jodorowsky were afraid he might have to wait 20 more years before making another. Low-budget production values can’t always keep up with their director’s ambitions, but cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou nevertheless manages some strikingly off-kilter tableaux. Pic was a true family affair behind the scenes as well, with another Jodorowsky son, Adan, providing the fanciful score, and wife Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky responsible for the elaborate, imaginative costumes.”
Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter: “Jodorowsky pulls out all the stops here—full frontal nudity, sexualized violence, characters urinating on each other, Nazi uniforms and drag queens and dwarves in fancy dress. And while these are all crucial ingredients for a fantastic party, they do not add up to a great film.”
Here‘s an unsubtitled interview with Jodorowsky.
Updates, 5/20: “Like Raúl Ruiz last year (Night Across the Street), a Chilean returns to his home country to conjure a past to stage in the present,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. The Dance of Reality “unabashedly fuses the compassionate grotesquerie of his Chilean town’s underclasses with sweetly archetypal familial drama and a fierce political struggle both naïve and direct…. I am reminded not just of Ruiz’s last picture—its gentle returns, the passing and re-passing over of time, people and memories, its elaborate, playful but deeply earnest political consciousness—but also of Agnès Varda‘s, the self portrait essay The Beaches of Agnès, wry, divergent, melancholy and hopeful. It is impossible to tell if this is a parting shot (Ruiz) or a new salvo (Varda, let’s all hope), but in either case the return of Jodorowsky is a most welcome immersion into a very missed world.”
More from Vitor Pinto at Cineuropa.
Update, 5/21: “I can’t lie and say the movie fully works,” writes Jordan Hoffman at Film.com, “either as typical foreign language coming-of-age tale, or magical realism, or even as a psychedelic freak-out, but taken as a whole (and with respect to Jodorowsky’s previous work) it is something as a minor success from a major figure.”
Update, 5/23: Xan Brooks interviews Jodorowsky for the Guardian: “My father was a monster. A monster! I cut with my family when I was 23 and I never see them again. Oh yes, it was a terrible thing that I did. But what I am doing here is recovering them and giving them what they never had. My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human.”
Screen‘s Mark Adams on Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune: “From his plans to cast Salvador Dalí as The Emperor and the years of long-training his young son Brontis underwent to prepare to play Paul Artredes through to his wooing of Pink Floyd to provide the music and sci-fi artists H.R. Giger, Moebius and Chris Foss to craft the look of the film, the development of Jodorowsky’s planned version of Dune was always a bold and extravagant one…. Nicolas Winding Refn (who made Drive) recalls being at Jodorowsky’s house and being asked if he wanted to see Dune. He showed him the legendary ‘Dune book,’ which compiles the script and drawings, and talked him through the story. ‘If he had have made it, then Dune would have been the first epic film of that nature and not Star Wars,’ said Refn. ‘I believe deep down that the people in America didn’t make the film because they were afraid of him. Afraid of his mind and what he was going to do with them. People were scared.'”
Updates, 5/19: “Never troubled by anything resembling modesty or irony, Jodorowsky claims that he planned Dune as ‘the most important picture in the history of humanity,'” notes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “In one of many unwittingly comic slips, he freely admits he never even read the novel and happily rewrote the ending: ‘I was raping Frank Herbert,’ he grins, ‘but with love.’ … However unreliable a narrator Jodorowsky may be, this documentary does a service to film history by making his lavish storyboards public, and even bringing some alive with brief animated sequences. Pavich’s uncritical fanboy approach is forgivable, even if it overclaims the historical significance of Jodorowsky’s stalled sci-fi spectacular.”
“Could Jodorowsky have pulled it off?” asks Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “Certainly, few believed raunchy puppet master Peter Jackson could go from Bad Taste to The Lord of the Rings, just as Tim Burton was an unlikely choice to reinvent the Batman franchise. But there’s also the risk that Jodorowsky’s Dune would have flopped and set sci-fi back before Star Wars came along.”
Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com: “This is the type of quixotic project that no longer exists, conceived in an era when money for artistic ambition was considered no object (although, ultimately, it was—Hollywood’s reluctance to foot the remainder of the bill is what finally prevented the movie from being shot). And although we’ll never get to see the results—Jodorowsky confesses to feeling relief when David Lynch’s 1984 version turned out to be bad—the documentary suggests the collaborations and creative ferment Jodorowsky fostered leave a legacy that lasts to this day.”
“I don’t hope to see a movie at this festival, or all year long, that’s as inspiring as Frank Pavich’s documentary,” writes Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir. “That may sound strange on a number of levels: How does one of the most famous collapsed productions in cinema history, a failure so dire that it derailed its director’s career for many years, become a source of inspiration? Especially when the resulting documentary largely consists of a man in his 80s sitting around and talking? Well, when the old guy talking is as brilliant, passionate, ferocious and hilarious as Jodorowsky, and when the stories he tells convince you that his quixotic dream of making an enormous science-fiction spectacle that combined star power, cutting-edge technology, philosophical depth and spiritual prophecy nearly came true, it’s as if you glimpse his vision of a transformed world where everything is possible.”
Update, 5/21: “Jodorowsky’s expansive, loopy Dune is definitely one I would have seen, even, as depicted in the documentary, the picture promised to be something of a holy mess,” writes Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay. “Pavich’s tale of its making, however, is a more bankable endeavor. Indeed, it is exceptionally canny programming here in Cannes as it simultaneously celebrates the purist ambitions of visionary filmmakers like Jodorowsky while ratifying the financial logic of the industry that routinely shuts them down. Indeed, for producers trundling the hallways of the nearby Cannes Film Market, the film is a master class in how not to rehearse directors for financier meetings.”
Update, 5/25: At Twitch, Ryland Aldrich suggests that Pavich “makes a hell of a case” for Jodorowsky’s Dune as ” the most important film never made.”
Update, 5/28: Film.com‘s Jordan Hoffman “can’t recommend Jodorowsky’s Dune for folks who aren’t hardcore movie nerds. It never quite elevates itself above something like a really well produced behind-the-scenes featurette on a high end Blu-ray. But if you’ve got that Jodorowsky T-shirt aping the Judas Priest logo, you may as well start lining up now.”
Update, 5/31: “Orated by its insane author, his surviving merry men and a sprinkling of critics and admirers, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fantastic docu-fable that brings to life a mythic failure with such verve that it might almost be better that it allows the film it sketches to live on in the imagination rather than in what could have been a catastrophic failure the likes of Lynch’s attempt,” writes Jordan M. Smith at Ioncinema.
Updates, 6/3: Simon Sellars collects highlights from recent interviews with Jodorowsky by Raffi Asdourian (Film Stage), Margaret Barton-Fumo (Film Comment), Klaus Biesenbach (Flash Art), and Hannah Lack (Dazed Digital). And Ed Halter‘s tweeted a link to the “really weird interview I did with Alexandro Jodorowsky in 2000 with Mike Galinsky.”
Update, 6/17: Ariston Anderson gleans “10 Lessons on Filmmaking” from her conversation with Jodorowsky for Filmmaker.
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