On Friday, March 14, the great, elusive filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky made a rare appearance in New York City for a screening of his first film in 23 years, La Danza de la Realidad—The Dance of Reality. The event was hosted by MoMA and introduced by artist Marina Abramović, who said of Jodorowsky, "I divide the world into two categories: the originals, and the ones who follow. The originals are the people looking differently, who take the simple elements of everyday life and make miracles. And for me, Alejandro, you are the one original." We were thrilled to attend the screening: Restless Books will be publishing Jodorowsky's memoir, Donde Mejor Canta Un Pájaro (Where the Bird Sings Best), this September. The film—and the talk afterward—gave us a taste of the strange and electrifying Jodorowsky sensibility.
The Dance of Reality is set in Tocopilla, Chile, the isolated mining town where Jodorowsky grew up. Called a "psychomagical" filmmaker, Jodorowsky tells the story of his childhood with his dictatorial, Stalin-loving father and his emotionally distant mother. The movie opens on a circus ground, neon-bright in the washed out landscape. Young Alejandro, with a Robert Plant-esque mop of blond curls, is there with his father, Jaime, who is challenged by two clowns to prove his strength. Alejandro's father then puts his son to the test, telling him he must be tough to earn his respect. The character-building starts adorably, with Jaime ferociously tickling his son's feet with a feather and yelling at him not to laugh. But then it turns brutal, with his father slapping the boy harder and harder, warning him not to flinch, until he dislodges a tooth. Paternal respect is finally earned when little Alejandro tells the dentist who extracts the tooth not to use anesthetic.
Maternal relations are no less fraught. Alejandro's mother, Sara, is played by the voluptuous opera star Pamela Flores, who sings all her lines. She is horrified when Alejandro's beautiful blond locks are shorn, revealing a wiry scruff of dark hair—she had kept the boy's hair long in honor of her own father, and called her son "mi padre." The parent/child elision in the film doesn't end there. The cast is full of Jodorowskys: The filmmaker's son Brontis Jodorowsky plays his father (i.e. his own grandfather), Jaime; another son, Axel Jodorowsky, plays a loincloth-wearing theosophist; and a third, Adan Jodorowsky (a.k.a. Adanowsky), plays an anarchist colleague of Jaime's and also wrote the film score. To top it off, Jodorowsky père appears in the film as a spirit guide to his younger self. In Jodorowsky's world, this is not magical realism. Asked why it took him so long to make this movie, Jodorowsky quipped, "I don't live in time. Time doesn't exist for me. I make a picture, then I make another picture."
This September, readers will get a fuller look at Jodorowsky's family past when Restless publishes his memoir. The title, Where the Bird Sings Best, is taken from a line of Jean Cocteau's: "A bird sings best on its family tree." In the Q&A following the film, Jodorowsky reflected on his family. In real life, he said, "My father cut my hair, and from this moment, my mother never touched me. I disappeared." The act of making the film was one of healing. His frosty mother, who always wanted to be a singer, he made into an opera star. His father, who was inhuman, he made human again. "What is art?" Jodorowsky asked the audience rhetorically. "What is the meaning of art? Why am I making a picture? To distract a person and make them forget themselves? Or am I making a picture to remember myself? My values. My humanity. To remember that, and heal the person that I was."
Sprightly at 85 and springing around the stage taking audience questions, Jodorowsky was a vision of eternal youth. "Reality is a dance," Jodorowsky told the audience, "The universe is a dance." To which an audience member shouted out, "¡Bailamos!" Jodorowsky shrugged and said, "¡Estamos bailamos!"
Watch this space for more Jodorowsky news in the lead-up to our publication this fall. And be on the lookout for The Dance of Reality, coming to theaters this May.