Alejandro Jodorowsky has enjoyed something of a career renaissance in cinema lately, mostly thanks to the Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary that related how his attempt to film Dune went totally off the rails. After becoming a cult figure in the 1970s, Jodorowsky’s career hit a speed bump after his Dune project collapsed, and he had dropped out of directing entirely from 1990 to 2015, but since then he has made three new films, each with a hefty dose of autobiography.
For a long time his work was difficult to get – especially El Topo and The Holy Mountain, the two 1970s works which really put him on the map and got him attached to the Dune project in the first place. Arrow Video have now stepped in and produced a boxed set of blu-rays providing a useful cross-section of his work: his debut feature Fando y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and his latest release – Psychomagic, a documentary about his homebrewed style of art therapy that he has been practicing in recent years.
I’m going to be honest: over the course of watching these movies I have come to seriously dislike Jodorowsky and his work. He clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the Surrealists, but I think he increasingly uses the tools of Surrealism for the sake of shameless self-promotion and creating this Messianic aura around himself. In addition, in relation to El Topo in particular there is furious controversy around his claim that he actually raped one of the participants in the film. I will cover that in more detail when we get to that, so consider this a content warning.
Fando y Lis
The Final War has come and gone and all the cities are in ruins. Well, maybe not all. When he was young, Fando (Sergio Kleiner, or Vincente Moore when appearing as a child) learned of the hidden city of Tar from his father (Rafael Corkidi). If he could just find Tar, he’d have eternal happiness – and his lover, Lis (Diana Mariscal, or Elizabeth Moore when shown as a child), would both have eternal happiness and be cured of her paraplegia.
So off they trek across the blasted wasteland, Lis sat on a trolley as Fando totes her along. As they go, they have various encounters – real or imagined – with various figures of a largely symbolic or metaphorical nature, and bit by bit we as audience members find more and more reason to worry about the duo’s relationship. It doesn’t seem as idyllic and healthy as it seemed to at the start of their quest. Fando keeps wandering off – despite the fact that this almost never ends well for him – and increasingly gaslights and lies to Lis. Eventually he does something barbaric and irreversible. Maybe there really is a city of Tar out there – but will it take in someone who’s been as senselessly cruel as Fando?