Down at the bottom of the box office charts of the past few weeks, a couple of interesting items have been floating around. Two films from the legendary Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky have been revived and playing continuously for seven weeks on three screens apiece, El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). Unfortunately, said films only played for two days each at my local repertory house, and I missed them both. But they're both legendary in the annals of cult films as well as hard-to-see films. Jodorowsky, who recently turned 78 and is reportedly working on a new film, had a strange start and indeed his life story would make for several interesting books (maybe a biopic?). (Note: a new book "Anarchy and Alchemy: The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky" is due out this June.) He was a circus clown and a puppeteer. He studied mime in Paris with Marcel Marceau. He worked with surrealist playwrights such as Fernando Arrabal. He has written comic books and is apparently a licensed psychotherapist as well as a Tarot expert. He has become both a Mexican and a French citizen. His first film, Fando & Lis (1967), reportedly caused a riot at the Acapulco Film Festival, during which Jodorowsky was pursued by an angry mob and saved his own life by hiding in the trunk of his car.
Fando & Lis is currently the only Jodorowsky film available on DVD, though its distributor, Fantoma, announced last year that they were putting the title on moratorium. It tells the story of Fando (Sergio Kleiner) and Lis (Diana Mariscal) searching for the mythical city of Tar, where all their dreams will come true and they will be happy forever. Lis is paralyzed from the waist down and must be pushed around by Fando on a cart. They tromp around a rocky landscape meeting all kinds of kooky characters like mud people, a blind man who drinks blood, some old ladies who play cards for peaches, a group of drag queens, and a woman in a bikini with a whip. We also see flashbacks to Fando and Lis' miserable childhoods, and there's even a man playing a burning piano (an homage to Salvador Dali). Jodorowsky also throws in purposely annoying sound effects for some scenes, like sirens, buzzing mosquitoes, and a gurgling noise when Lis is having her blood drawn. ("I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs," Jodorowsky once said.) It's a truly bizarre experience that I embraced, though most audiences -- understandably -- have not.
Fantoma's DVD comes with a great documentary about Jodorowsky (La Constellation Jodorowsky, from 1994) that contains clips of much of his later work. Today, it's just about the only place to see such clips. El Topo, a surrealist Western about a gunfighter who stumbles upon a ruined town, became a midnight cult hit during the 1970s, riding the wave of films that included Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead. It was once available on laserdisc and imported DVDs, but both have gone out of print. The same goes for The Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky's next film, Santa Sangre, received a U.S. release in 1990 followed by a video release. A friend once loaned me a VHS tape, and I never got around to watching it. The tape has now gone out of print. His most recent film, The Rainbow Thief (1990), apparently did not receive a theatrical release. It stars Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and Christopher Lee. I once asked Mr. Sharif about the film, and he laughed, suggesting that Jodorowsky was a kook.
My point is that Jodorowsky may or may not have been a madman and his films may or may not stink, but we can't find out until we actually see them. Hopefully this successful revival will lead to a career-wide DVD release (a box set, anyone?) and a re-evaluation. Hopefully, many of today's timid, workaday filmmakers will get a taste for a fresh kind of madness and begin including it in their own films. How many of us would rather see an unforgettable film by a true eccentric than yet another polished, soulless factory product? Also at the bottom of the list, we have two more classics not yet available on DVD. Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (2 screens) is a 1969 film that received a large number of critical votes as the best movie of 2006. This great film has been playing somewhere in the U.S. for 45 weeks. Another classic, Peter Glenville's 1964 Becket (6 screens) has been re-released to cash in on Peter O'Toole fever -- ignited in a few of us after his amazing comeback performance in Venus (143 screens).Otherwise, I've noticed quite a few little films that I've grown quite fond of, which have been treated poorly and never found an audience. Among them, David Von Ancken's Western Seraphim Falls (8 screens) has all the makings of a genre classic, if not for one stupid flashback sequence that betrays the entire movie. And, as with so many other movies in their stable, the Weinsteins have dropped the ball on Chris Noonan's delightful Miss Potter (7 screens), changing release dates, pulling it out of release altogether, etc. It's a silly, warm-hearted biopic that might have been a perfect family Christmas treat, if the Weinsteins had actually opened it. (It's scheduled for a wider release this week, but anything can happen.)