The legendary Chilean filmmaker, recipient of this year’s Pardo d’onore Swisscom, is still very much active at age 87: his latest film, Poesía sin fin, premiered to great enthusiasm in Cannes before being chosen for Locarno’s Piazza Grande line-up. The prolific artist, who is also an author, poet, theater director and comic book writer, among other things, is also participating in a conversation at the Spazio Cinema (Forum), moderated by Édouard Waintrop. As a tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s presence in Locarno, here are a few interesting facts about him.
Jodorowsky moved to Paris in 1953, aged 24, because he felt there was little left for him to do in Chile, where he grew up in an abusive household and faced discrimination for being the son of immigrants. Upon arrival in France, he studied mime and ended up touring with the legendary Marcel Marceau. Once he was back in Paris, he moved on to theater directing, working on Maurice Chevalier’s music hall comeback.
He directed his first film, a 20-minute Thomas Mann adaptation titled La cravate, in 1957. The short earned praise from Jean Cocteau, but was subsequently considered lost until a print resurfaced in 2006.
In 1968, Jodorowsky’s first feature film, Fando y Lis (Fando and Lis), caused a full-scale riot to break out when it premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival. As a result, the film was banned in Mexico, which led the director to decide not to release his next film, El topo, in his adopted country, fearing another scandal.
For the American release of El topo, cinema owner Ben Barenholtz, who had attended a private screening of the film at MoMA, decided to screen it as a midnight feature at The Elgin. This proved to be a successful strategy, as midnight audiences embraced the film, which kept running in New York seven days a week from December 1970 to June 1971. The midnight screening platform was retained for the film’s distribution across the United States, which reportedly happened thanks to a very high-profile fan: John Lennon.
In 1974, Jodorowsky was hired to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune. The project would have featured an eclectic cast consisting of, among others, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dalì, with the director’s own son playing the lead. It was eventually shut down due to budgetary issues, but Jodorowsky has suggested someone could revive it as an animated film, using his storyboards. Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune provides an insightful and often hilarious account of the project’s history.
He is considered a spiritual mentor by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, and has been mentioned in the “Special Thanks” section of the closing credits in three of Refn’s films: Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon.
All three of Jodorowsky’s sons have appeared in his films. Most notably, Brontis (born 1962) plays his own grandfather in both La danza de la realidad and Poesía sin fin, while the latter also features Adán (born 1979) as Alejandro himself.
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 AUGUST 2016 | the article first appeared in Pardolive