My Evening With Alejandro Jodorowsy

Alejandro Jodorowsky

“I’m a lesson to fight [sic].  To do what you want, you have to have faith in yourself and then do it!  And have a cat.”  Alejandro Jodorowsky

Back on New Year’s I wrote about the effect that Frank Pavich’s incredible documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune had on me.  The film tells the story of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mission to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune in 1974.  Needless to say, it didn’t make it to the screen and passed into legend as one of the great unmade movies alongside Kubrick’s Napoleon.  The documentary is a masterwork and quiet simply the most uplifting film I’ve seen in many a year.  The story of Jodorowsky gathering his spiritual warriors to recreate Cinema as the Art it should be, leaves you by the end a fully paid up member of Jodorowsky’s mission.  I would have walked through fire for the man by then end of the screening at the London Film Festival.  On Friday night I saw the film again, Alexandro Jodorowsky was there too.

The occasion was part of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition.  The point is to explore effect comics have had on pop an sub-culture, especially in the UK.  I've not been to have a look round yet, but everyone who I've spoken to that has gone along has raved about it.  It runs to the 19th August 2014, so I'm going to pop along before they put the gold back in the low oxygen vaults.  So with this backdrop, and given the influence Jodorwsky has had in the comic world after Dune collapsed, a screening and an “In Conversation” was arranged.  In the queue, I befriended Francis, a lady who had a reserved front row seat and managed to bag a spot next to her and I told her, as she was yet to see the film, she was going to be in for a real treat.  Frank Pavich, the director, introduced the film and despite a false start with the film, we got under way.  Put simply, it is even better the second time around.  The cinema echoed to sound of laughter and the stillness that only empathy with the death of a dream brings.  As the lights came up, the applause roared, I looked over to Francis who had a grin on her face bigger than mine, “Incredible” she said, truly moved.  I looked around; everyone wore a look of joy.  Looking at the faces of my fellow film goers, it is easy to see why the film is 99% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  But now, we were going to meet the man.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is now 85 years old.  Born in Chile, he is a writer, actor, director and producer who now calls France home.  In the 1970’s he burst on the cinematic screen with the psychedelic western El Topo.  This film had such an effect on John Lennon he funded the follow up The Holy Mountain to the tune of $1m in 1973.  The Holy Mountain is insane, it is beautiful and it could never be made now.  The plot hinges on a golden poo…  You have to see it.  After Dune, he made the odd film, but channelled most of his energies into Comics with fellow Dune Warrior, Jean “Moebius” Giraud.  The result was the seminal book The Incal.  The book was so influential that Luc Besson used elements for The Fifth Element.  Jodorowsky and Giraud sued, but as Giraud had worked on The Fifth Element with Besson they inevitably lost the case.  While filming Jodorowsky’s Dune, Jodorowsky reconnected with his old producer Michel Seydoux (currently chairman of football club Lille OSC and granduncle of the rather lovely, hugely talented Lèa Seydoux of Inglorious Basterds and Blue is the Warmest Colour fame) and they would go on to make the autobiographical The Dance of Reality that premièred at Cannes in 2013.  They are currently working on a sequel to El Topo called Abel Cain.

So with that snapshot of the man in mind, onto the stage walked a visibly 85 year old Jodorowsky.  As he took his seat with interviewer Ian Sinclair (who would prove to be superfluous to requirements as the evening wore on), from my vantage point in the front row, as I caught Jodor’s eye, the force of will evident in the documentary was in full effect and he was going to turn it up to 11.  My words will fail to capture the passion, energy and confidence in himself and, amazingly, in you, that he brings to the discussion.

Sinclair started by asking about Jodorowsky’s early years and tried valiantly to keep to a timeline of Jodor’s life, Jodor had different ideas.  After explaining that his English was rubbish and called on any Spanish speakers to help him out when needed, he proceeded to give a master class in passion.

Looking back at the notes I took for the hour or so Jodor chatted and answered questions, it was clear the loss of art in our lives was truly breaking his heart as much as the claim that creating it was difficult and the fear of failure to much to dare to start.  To this he said:

“To fail is the way to shine the torch to show you the way.  The difficultly is to want.”

Being seen to have ambition to Jodor, seems to be the greatest thing in life.  Having ambition leads to the want and even if you fail, you’ve tried to create and that is beautiful. So to try to pass on the thoughts of the man, here are his opinions on life, art, cinema and ambition.

On Art: “The goal of art, of poetry, is to show the soul, the conscience, of the poet.  You see art and you discover yourself.”

On making a film: “Make pictures like a poet, do everything, write, produce, direct, act.  Film is an Art, not a business.  For Americans it’s not an art, it is a business.  For me, I know nothing about pictures, but I know what I want.”

On working with Peter O’Toole: “Getting the Elephant to act was easier than working with O’Toole.”

On his Father: “Looking back, I felt my father crushed me, pushed me down.  But as I grew, I saw that my father was the child who never grew and that is why he tried to crush me.  I pitied him.”

On the American Comics and Cinema industry: “American comics? [He looked pained] I’ll try to be polite.  It is an industry without respect for the artist.  The artists and writers own nothing, the censor the work.  Comics are an art and can say deep things.  When American comics try to do that, they are dismissed as hippies.  They’ve castrated Superman, America lost their way.  Comics need to show more than the dark side of humanity.  We have enough of that, we need to be positive.  Comic book movies are part of the cultural colonisation by America of the whole world!  Transformers?  What is that?!  America lost their way.”

On meeting Kanye West: “He came with 5 people and Spike Jonze.  They sat at a table and they said nothing so I said, “What do you want?”  I liked Spike but I have no idea what they wanted.  I read Kanye’s Tarot (The Sun, The Fool and The World.  Good cards apparently, I agree that Kanye is a fool…  My words, not Jodor’s!) and they left, they only drank water, fantastic!”

On humanity: “A person is mortal, humanity is immortal.”

Ok, you can read that all as fortune cookie philosophy but it has lost everything in my retelling of it.  The charisma of the man is incredible, and when you learn about his life you see this is the belief structure he lives by.  He wants to create art to let people see his soul and look for their own.  It’s an admirable goal.  One of the final questions that was asked was if his Dune would be made as an animated feature.  His response was beautiful, he said that we had seen his Dune, Pavich had made his Dune and if we wanted to it, we should watch it again!  From the look on Pavich's face, the highest of high praise had been given.  It was a true pleasure to spend an evening in his company.  As I left, I managed to grab signed copies of Final Incal and The White Lama, a lasting memento of my evening.  So I headed off into the London evening to meet friends in from Stockholm at St John's restaurant by Smithfield Market.  Sat in the bar having a pint while I waited, I broke out my Final Incal and started to read.  A few minutes later, as Iiro and Marita walked in, a man appeared at my shoulder and started speaking to me in French.  Using my stock response when someone speaks anything other than English to me, "I'm terribly sorry, my French is worse than my English", the man simply said "You know of Jodorowsky?"  I smiled and responded "of course!"  I then had the pleasure of telling him I had just spent the evening with the man and then blew his mind when I showed him Jodorowsky's autograph on the fly page.  The Frenchman patted my shoulder, said "Jodorowsky is a god" and returned to his friends.  God? No.  Legend?  He may very well be the definition. 

“You need nothing to make art, just the will.  It only takes one person.” Alejandro Jodorowsky