Art films and entertainment don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Most avant garde filmmakers have a too-easy escape for retreat into “artistic license.” It's a convenient catch-all excuse for any time they create muddled, poorly paced and, yes, boring work without the same level of rigor that even mainstream hacks are expecting to maintain. That’s why Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work holds such unique appeal. You’d expect that films from the godfather of the midnight movie--films dense with intricate symbolism regarding the Tarot, Gnosticism and other esotery--would be impenetrable to anybody without a master’s in Comparative Religions.
What you’d find, though, is that they’re actually quite fun.
We’ll all seen enough actors hopping around into director’s chairs to be well-aware of “multi-hyphenates” at the movies, but how many curriculum vitaes have you seen that can list titles like director, comics writer, composer, actor, mime, psychiatrist and Tarot master with equal legitimacy? Jodorowsky’s one of the few talents for whom “artist” is the only adequate label. Despite his filmography being tragically limited to only six features over five decades, he’s officiated a marriage of the high brow and the low brow in his work that’s distinct the world over.
Indeed, invoking the world is essential in any discussion of Jodorowsky, because he’s a true global citizen. A Russian Jewish immigrant raised Chile, he made the Severed Heads while miming in Paris, provoked censorship with Fando y Lis in Mexico and, as mentioned, essentially created the midnight movie in New York with El Topo. There are too many twists and turns his body of work to cover everything here, so I’m focussing on the two flicks that best relate to the “divine intervention” thematic kick we’ve been on since the release of Immortals.
Not coincidentally, these two flicks are also his best -- El Topo and the Holy Mountain.
There’s not much to say about the Holy Mountain that I haven’t already expressed in my last examination of the movie. Still, looking back again, it’s the fact that the film points its parade of provocative imagery and sublime ideas to a very David Hume conclusion that endears it so much. For as enlightening as all the secrets of the universe can be, man is actually better served by minding the affairs of his own humble, daily reality--that's the message, clear and succinct. From that, you get the ironic exercise of a film loaded with esoteric theology which ultimately (and reassuringly?) advocates turning away from the heavens. It's a conscious contradiction that actually seems humorous the more you dwell on it.
I think Jodorowksy’s founding of the Parisian performance art group, the Panic Movement, influenced this philosophy of expression the most. That group was a handful of angry young men who rebelled against the more staid surrealism of their time by ridiculing themselves and any critics who took them seriously; who consciously embraced destructive energies in the pursuit of artistic beauty. Such an ethos shaped my enjoyment of Howard Hawks’ Scarface, as well, and I again think that such an ethos allows deeper points about religion and what have you to be made in a more effective fashion than in any humorless meditation on film.
The same attitude shapes El Topo, an “acid Western” about a messianic gunslinger who, after drifting through a massacre, seeks enlightenment and glory through challenging the “four great gun masters” of the desert to duels. Even though each master represents a religion or philosophy (likely obscure ones, too) the showdown scenes still deliver the goods (as Tarantino would say) of gunplay that Western aficionados expect. Again, you just have to appreciate how Jodorowsky doesn't deny or even try to cover up his enjoyment of any of the "base" filmic elements that so many of his pretentious contemporaries in the art house act like they're above.
Indeed, this is a man unafraid of statements like this…
We really only have room for a brief survey of Jodorowsky's works here. All I want to get across here is that, if Immortals or any of our subsequent discussion on this site has piqued your interest in "divine intervention" in film, then I strongly encourage you to check out this man's work. A handy box set of it even just came out recently. Don't be scared off by the foreign language titles or the unwieldy names. Believe it or not, these are actually rather accessible films that are always aiming to keep you entertained even if you aren't always grasping the headier concepts at play in them.