With a strange mix of underground horror shock and existential atmosphere, Calvin Lee Reeder made a name for himself with short films like Piledriver and Little Farm. His features films The Rambler (Anchor Bay Films) and The Oregonian (Factory 25) divided and excited Sundance audiences just as his shorts had before them. Reeder specializes in turning lo-fi splatter pics into art films by meshing high-concept thought and design with genre storylines. Follow him here.
Alejandro Jodorowsky makes odyssey pictures – people remember a Jodorowsky trip. It’s like an involuntary timestamp: a brain simply can’t dismiss this type of thing. Jodorowsky works in an unknown zone and I usually need to watch his movies a few times before I even know what happened.
It used to be difficult to find a Jodorowsky film at all. If you came upon El Topo or The Holy Mountain, even the most crud-covered and faded VHS, you felt lucky. My time-traveling partner, Carlos Lopez, was always the one to unearth these little mysteries. We watched ’em a bunch. They burrowed in, we changed a little. Jodorowsky’s work is like a window into some place where laws and rules have no meaning; art, I guess. This was formative stuff for me. It’s not cute and it’s not academic. There is no formula. It’s mystical with ideas, power and voice. It’s difficult to brand that sort of thing. In another life, Jodorowsky could be a cult leader; in this one, he’s the father of midnight cinema. It was fitting that I was planning to see Carlos when the Talkhouse asked me to write something about Jodorowsky’s new movie, The Dance of Reality. New legs for an old trip.
Carlos was babysitting quarter horses up in Mt. Vernon, WA. Quarter horses are named for their speed and are known to outdistance a thoroughbred in a quarter-mile race. There might be some kind of metaphor in there. One Jodorowsky movie is the creative equivalent of most filmmakers’ entire careers. He doesn’t need to run every race, he just waits for a good one. He’s potent.
Anyway, we did the chores, got messed up and watched The Dance Of Reality. It’s the story of Alejandro Jododrowsky’s strange childhood in Tocopilla, Chile. It cuts deep, there’s no half measures and wise isn’t even a good enough word for it. Imagine your surrealist grandfather recalling his backward beginnings in a village full of circus freaks, amputees, commies, fascists and other stuff. The movie is like a dream but it doesn’t fade like one. It’s his story so whatever I say here is basically just an effort to get you to see him tell it for himself. It’s not all true, but it’s a Jodorowsky movie for Christ’s sake.
If you’re at all familiar with his work you’re aware that written or verbal descriptions are of little use. You’ve got to feel your way through: it’s not made for easy digestion, it’s #5 curry and chewing gum and gravel. You have to think; there’s no easy way out. He makes you face fears and insecurities. He’s also pretty nuts. There’s a lot of events and a lot of ideas in all of his work. I’ve heard people describe his films as “episodic;” I think those people watch too much TV. But if you’re feeling cautious about watching this movie because you think he may have lost his edge, fear not. He’s 85, but he’s still got it. Because what he’s got he can’t not have; it’s in the blood.
A lot of Jodorowsky’s movies have characters who start out with some kind of identity crisis. The Dance of Reality is no different and since it’s based on his own life, it actually sheds light on a lot of his creative choices. We sink into the deeply confused life of a child, the strange human manifestation of two completely delusional parties. We meet his father, Jaime, a Stalin-loving communist hellbent on making his son tough enough to bear the family name. He’s also a staunch atheist: “God does not exist! You die, you rot, there is no beyond!” He actually seems to fear God more than a guy like that should. His mother, Sara, only speaks in song and sees young Alejandro as her dad reincarnated through her own womb. She dresses him in a long blond wig and calls him “father.” He’s a messed-up kid and lot of things happen to him, but this particular odyssey belongs to the father, brilliantly played by Alejandro’s real-life son Brontis Jodorowsky. He drills his idea of manhood into young Alejandro’s brain, but it’s clear he’s a little confused about it himself.
He shows a deep hatred for the Chilean government and eventually hatches a plan to kill Chilean dictator Carlos Ibáñez. He leaves his family for this crazy whim and embarks on a Christ-like journey from would-be commie assassin to crippled amnesiac/hunchback dwarf lover turned carpenter’s apprentice, then comes back home to Tocopilla. It’s a wide circle. Even when his travels are through, he’s got a lot to accept. Sara, mom/wife, sings at him some more: “You found all that you admired about Stalin in Ibáñez,” and it’s true. I think the film really probes the idea of allegiances and the punishing effects they can have on a fella’s psychic profile. The agendas of others – especially religious or political leaders – can really fuck a guy up. Depending on how deep it sinks in, it can take a lifetime to get rid of that stuff. At least that’s what I got out of it. I’m not nearly wise enough to decode the message entirely, but that’s the beauty of a Jodorowsky movie. They seem to mean different things at different times in your life; you grow into them.
Money and God are intrinsic to the plot, both religious figures that can empower and corrupt. We already know that stuff, but to hear Jodorowsky tell it is something special.
When the film was over, Carlos and I walked around the woods and drank Rainier until the sun came up. The movie really burned in. We fed the horses, fed the chickens, took out the trash, fed the dogs and talked about the movie some more. When I finally got to sleep, it gave me intensely lucid dreams of Christ, Buddha, God and folks you haven’t heard of yet. I never think of or dream about religion. Jodorowsky bled that stuff out of my subconscious. He woulda made a great cult leader.
Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about Jodorowsky’s ill-fated attempt to make a movie of Frank Herbert’s novel back in the ’70s. If the documentary sheds more light on his work in general then that’s great. People should know this guy as well as they know Fellini. However, we have a full-blown Jodorowsky movie right in front of us. His first film in 25 years. It will be a crying shame if Jodorowsky’s Dune somehow ends up getting more attention and praise than The Dance of Reality. It seems like people are a little scared of the real thing these days. I hope I’m wrong about that.