Before provocateur Alejandro Jodorowsky became an underground cinema superstar, he was co-founder of "The Panic Movement," a guerrilla art troupe that applied Antonin Artaud's "Theater Of Cruelty" theories to stage productions that devolved into raw savagery. In recent years, Jodorowsky has spent his time staging therapeutic "happenings," in which he forces his patrons to confront their wretched childhoods, whether they like it or not. That's Jodorowsky's life and work in a nutshell. He's an intense dude, and he wants to wind people up.
The first three films in the DVD box set The Films Of Alejandro Jodorowsky poke at viewers through a combination of deliberate shock and thematic heaviness. The 1957 short "La Cravate" re-imagines Georges Méliès for a post-Marcel Marceau world, reproducing the former's cinematic trickery in pantomime, for a goofily allegorical story about people who get fitted for new heads. Eleven years later, Jodorowsky made his first feature film, Fando Y Lis, a pat piece of post-apocalyptic surrealism adapted from his memories of an absurdist play, gussied up with mind-blowing images of death and rebirth.
Then, in 1971, Jodorowsky released his biggest hit, El Topo, a psychedelic Western that starts as the blood-soaked Sergio Leone/Sam Peckinpah-style saga of a gunfighter, then becomes the story of that same man, reformed, striving for enlightenment. Like Fando Y Lis, El Topo is never boring, but neither does it hit the trippy heights of something like The Saragossa Manuscript, or the best of Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini. And with its emphasis on one virile stud's journey to manhood—with women grasping at his cloak—El Topo isn't just drippily New Age-y, it also offers the kind of stealthy paternalism common to the counterculture.
Jodorowsky finally earned his reputation as '70s cinema's mystic of mayhem with the big-budget 1973 folly The Holy Mountain, a scabrous satire of organized religion that follows a Christ figure, his disciples, and their bloody quest for the home of the gods, whom they plan to depose. Witty, disgusting, eye-popping, and incomprehensible, The Holy Mountain is every bit as pop-philosophical as Jodorowsky's earlier work, but it also contains original visual ideas nearly every 30 seconds, from frogs in armor to crucifixes made out of painted bread. It's all in service of a typically Jodorowskian call to action, urging us to abandon fantasy and embrace reality. But when fantasies are as sumptuous as The Holy Mountain, who'd ever want to leave?
Key features: Ponderous commentary tracks accompany each film, but the most important bonus is Louis Mouchet's La Constellation Jodorowsky, a 90-minute career-spanning 1994 documentary that captures the artist in all his nagging pretension and occasional genius.