"I never make boring pictures" - an interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky

Jodorowsky is unable to attend the screening of his latest …

Jodorowsky is unable to attend the screening of his latest film in Reykjavik but is very happy that Icelanders can see his films. Photo/ AFP

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a legendary Chilean film-maker born in 1929 to Ukranian immigrants. His latest film, Endless Poetry, will be shown at the Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) on Friday night. Jodorowsky, 87, says that the only purpose behind his film-making is to make art and that the purpose of art is to give us an insight into ourselves and the beauty surrounding us.

Jodorow­sky finished filming Endless Poetry thanks to a crowdfunding effort on Indie Gogo. Filming this second part of his autobiography was a tiring process and he is unable to attend RIFF as honorary guest, with his son Brontis representing him instead. Brontis Jodorowsky, who first starred along with his father in the legendary film El Topo from 1970, will be doing a Q&A session after the screening of Endless Poetry, and its autobiographical predecessor Dance of Reality at RIFF. He will also be hosting a Masterclass on Saturday on Jodorowsky‘s work.

The Holy Mountain ( La montaña sagrada) from 1973 is undoubtedly Jodorowsky's most famous film. It's a surreal, psychedelic exploration of alchemy and Western esotericism and could be categorised as a work of art rather than a film. It was financed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the time, with Lennon having been bowled over by the previous El Topo. The film was produced by infamous Rolling Stones and Beatles manager Allen Klein but didn't go into distribution until the turn of this century.The Holy Mountain has influenced a multitude of contemporary artists including Matthew Barney.

Jodorowksy is not only a film maker. He's a philosopher, a magician, an actor, a Tarot specialist, he's written numerous books, plays and comics and he is seen as a contemporary prophet. He also attempted to film Dune, a project later undertaken by David Lynch. This ambitious but unsuccessful venture was made into the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune.

I discovered Jodorowsky's films some eight years ago and was entranced by his visual imagery filled with symbols, mysticism and surrealism. To get the chance to interview him was incredible. He was deeply sincere, funny and inspiring. On top of that, he actually did a most disturbingly insightful Tarot reading for me over the phone, just to stress a point.

Jodorowsky has lived in Paris since the age of 24 and it's to Paris that I make the phonecall on a sunny Reykjavik afternoon. A woman answers the phone in French. She calls out, "Alejandro, c'est le journaliste islandais," and passes him the phone. I can hear the sound of traffic and police sirens in the distance. I'm trembling with anxiety, but he immediately dispells that with his friendly voice, speaking English with a thick Spanish accent. He asks me to kindly speak more slowly as his English is not that good.

Jodorowsky stars as an alchemist in his 1973 cult film, …

Jodorowsky stars as an alchemist in his 1973 cult film, The Holy Mountain. Still/YouTube

Doesn't make movies to make money

Mr Jodorowsky. The Holy Mountain was screened here in Reykjavik in January as a fundraiser for Endless Poetry. The screening was a huge success and it sold out two venues, which is very good for such a small country. One thing I remember very well was a young man, maybe around 20 years old, holding his cinema ticket saying: I can't believe it, I can't believe it.“ Why do you think that the film has such a powerful impact on people even today ?

"I made this picture to make art. Commercial pictures have a very short life because you see them and then you forget, in one or two months you forget. When you see art,  the artist is always there, always changing. The picture is alive, like a human being, when it is honest. I think young people are searching for a movie that will give them something, something which is not only entertaining but also fun. Because I never make boring pictures. I make something strong, pictorical, it's art. I think it is about being honest, that is all. I don't do something to win something. Not celebrity, money, admiration. In order to be able to show The Holy Mountain I needed to wait thirty years. No one wanted to show that picture. The industry hated it because it's not industry. Step by step it got there and the young are able to see it."

To make Endless Poetry you had to organise a crowd funding campaign. How did that go and how is actually producing films today as opposed to in the past? Is there any sense to it?

"Well, I say I am doing that because really I believe that my life is in art, I am an artist, I am not a business person. And then I don't care if I make money or not, I just care about being able to do it, to find money to be able to do it. Art is not business. It went very well, the crowdfunding. I spent twenty years without making pictures and I was economising. I started to make this picture the dance of reality, and I lost everything." He breaks out in laughter. And you laugh? "Yes! I always say I am making movies to lose money not to gain money," he says and laughs even harder. "But I had a little left-over money to be able to start Endless Poetry, and I have a young associate, Xavier Guerrero who believes in art also, who told me that we could start the picture but we wouldn't be able to finish it. So I told him, well, there are lot of novels who are unfinished and they are a success. In the end I lost my camera, and we couldn't finish it. So we started the crowdfunding and made something like a million dollars. So I got a new camera. I finished the picture. I became a sacred beggar!"

On Endless Poetry: With this movie I want to show …

On Endless Poetry: With this movie I want to show emotions to the viewer, so that they can find emotions themselves. Still/ Endless Poetry

The real truth is love

Why did you embark on making a series of autobiographical films?

"Because when I was making my first pictures, The Holy Mountain, El  Topo and Santa Sangre I was young and I didn't know the suffering in life. Because when you get older you lose things. Friends and family who die, you lose your body. And then you discover the feelings in your soul, what is in the heart, and you go from the head to the heart and you want to talk about feelings. And what feelings? Well, my feelings. And then I will start to tell the story of what was my life, because every life is like a novel. Every person, even the most boring person, has something to say. So I decided I will make a biography, that is all. And I did it, and am doing it."

What does the title mean? Is poetry inextricably linked with your experience of the world?

"Yes. Listen, when we speak we cannot find the words and find the truth. Because our language is not the truth. Words are not the truth, they are an action. The only thing that a human being can find is beauty. It is not possible to find truth, only beauty. And therefore, poetry is very important. From there comes the truth. The real truth is that I love. I love everything. That is the truth. Going from the human love, to the cosmic love, the sacred love. That is the definition of art. And then I started making this study of pictures. I am going to make one more and finish the series.  Number three, called Essential Work, will be take place in Paris and in Mexico.“ I thought you were going to make five? "No, because I'm losing too much money!" he says and laughs. "I started to do something and I cannot continue it because I cannot beg all my life to other people! I am trying to do another movie though, a fourth, to follow El Topo. It's the son of El Topo. An adventure, it is not about me, it is a picture with many different levels and there is a level for a young person, and a silly person. A movie that even a silly person can love."

Healing has become a focal point in Jodorowsky's life. He experienced a difficult childhood with a violent father and cold-hearted mother and his son Theo died in 1995, factors in his life which have required a lot of self-work. He has famously developed what he calls Psycho Magic, which he believes helps a lot of people to deal with both psychological and physical ailments.

In your later years it seems that you have been making movies with the purpose of healing .

"Yes! The purpose of art is to heal the pain and to discover the marvellous values you have. That is the search. We need to search. When you are looking at an incredible painting, you discover something inside yourself, don‘t you? With this movie I want to show emotions to the viewer, so that they can find emotions themselves.“

Could you explain to us the healing process which you call Psycho Magic?

"Listen,  it's hard to understand because it's so weird. I have been continuously fascinated by psychoanalysis on one side and on the other side, the old magic. The kind of magic that heals people with very strange things, like serpents or spiders or something like that. As you know I have a background in theatre, I performed over one hundred shows in Mexico, improvised theatre. Following that, I started to create Psycho Magic. It is about making metaphors and understanding them. If you say to the person in psychoanalytic theatre, this chair, where you are sitting, is your mother. And then your chair is your mother and you start to speak with the chair. And finally you are quarreling with the chair and you start to hate the chair. Or you can use photography. Or the grave. If you have a problem with a person who died, you can go to speak with the grave. Where the body is. And then the subconscious is doing something. It's the same with placebo, it is a medicine which is not a medicine, it's an act, changing how your mind works."

Alejandro Jodorowsky with his son Brontis, in the masterpiece El …

Alejandro Jodorowsky with his son Brontis, in the masterpiece El Topo from 1970.

The Tarot is like a language

Do you still hold weekly tarot readings in Paris?

"I have been using the Tarot for fifty years, but you know, I don't read the future. I read the cards like a language. It's a visual language. The Tarot speaks through figures, colours, numbers. When a person picks a card, there is something there, and you can read it. I know how to read the Tarot and I translate it, just like a language, in my head. I see the images and then I translate them to people, to show them what chance the cards show them. Before making Endless Poetry I read the Tarot every day, always in the same café in Paris and it became a famous event. Nearly 300 people would turn up every single day. It was impossible to read cards for all of them so I ended up making a lottery where I would draw people‘s names out of a hat, and around 20-30 people got their Tarot read every day. I‘ve never charged anything for these readings but when I began the film I asked people to support the film as an exchange for the readings. Listen, I'm going to tell you a story. Once there was a great big machine that broke down. They called out all kinds of specialists to repair it but they found no one. Then an old man came along with a hammer, tapped the machine once with a slight 'tack' noise, and the machine was repaired. Then people asked the old man how much the repair work cost. He answered, One million and one dollars. Everyone was outraged and said, what, for that one little 'tack?' And then the old man answered, no, the 'tack' cost one dollar, but the million dollars are for all the years that it took for me to learn how to do it. It's the same with the Tarot, it‘s very difficult to learn to read it and it took me decades."

To accept death

Jodorowsky is unable to visit Iceland this time. "I am very sorry not to go to your country because I have an enormous curiosity towards it. But you know, I was so tired after this last picture. Every day I have to take medicine, I have problems with allergies and rheumatism, I was tired and not so strong, but I am feeling better. I will come another time. I want to know, its a very mysterious country for me, Iceland. I have never been there. But I am so happy that you can see my pictures. I am too old, you know. I am eighty-seven and a half. I do not know how long I will live. Because all of the persons of my age they have died. I am really old!" he exclaims and breaks out in laughter. "But you know, when people see me they think I am sixty. But no, I am eighty!" Well you do look more like sixty. "Well, yes I don‘t smoke, I never drink alcohol. All my friends died. They didn't live longer than sixty years. Because they drank too much and they smoked too much. And they took too many drugs."

So how long you want to live? "I want to live until I'm 120 because I have a lot of things to do and a lot of movies to make. I have a wonderful wife and I don't want to die before her."

With your deep sense of spirituality how do you feel now that you are reaching the late part of your life? Are you preparing your soul for death?

"I don't need to prepare for anything. Life is about learning to die. And to accept the fact that you are going to die. If you don't accept that, you will be filled with despair. Look, in Endless Poetry, my young self meets my old self and the young me asks the old me, how does it feel to get old? Well, to become old means that you lose people, you lose fame, you lose sex, but you become yourself. And then you become nothing except pure, clear light. If I despair, I will not understand that. Every night when I go to sleep, I am oblivious until I wake up again. I go somewhere, and I don't know where, but that's not a problem. Death is exactly the same, it is not a problem. I will feel nothing. If I feel something, then I will wake up. To despair is a problem of the ego. I do not want despair. Nothing belongs to me. Not my body. The universe lends me a body. When you have begun a spiritual awakening you become connected. You are no longer alone. The interior is connected to the exterior and to time and you are just a drop in the ocean. And then you become that ocean. And it is not important that you become that ocean. When you realise this, you stop despairing. But you will understand this when you become old. You cannot find what is impossible to find. If there is something, you will have it, if there is nothing, you will not know it. I am now approaching death and the only thing on my mind is to have fun finishing what I have to finish, and if I don't finish it it will just be unfinished," he exclaims with a laugh. "Every day I wake up, and I think, how great, another day! Fantastic!"

Brontis Jodorowsky will be hosting a Masterclass on 1 October in Bíó Paradís between 5 pm and 6.30 pm. Admission free.

He will also be doing a Q&A session after the screenings of Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry on Friday 30 September. All screening times and tickets are available at www.riff.is

Brontis Jodorowsky, above, will be hosting a Masterclass on 1 …

Brontis Jodorowsky, above, will be hosting a Masterclass on 1 October in Bíó Paradís between 5 pm and 6.30 pm.

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