Watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films can equate to a roller coaster. Realizing it’s going to be a wild ride, you prepare yourself from the first moment. Jodorowsky, now 88, is still relevant and thriving in the 21st century. The Chilean born filmmaker has returned with his second autobiographical release, Endless Poetry, which is currently screening. This follows up his 2013 feature, The Dance of Reality, and continues the story of his youthful experiences in Chile. Both projects were written, directed, and co-produced by Jodorowsky.
It’s a challenge for cinephiles to contemplate Jodorowsky without El Topo (1970) coming to mind. The allegorical western, laden with surreal and violent images, has defined this auteur to a point where it’s difficult to separate the filmmaker from the cult status of that film. In reality, Jodorowsky has always expressed art in many forms, from cinema to graphic novels. He now shares with us his love of poetry and absurdist performance in his new film.
Endless Poetry focuses on the artist’s coming of age as his family moves from Tocopilla to Santiago, where a young Alejandro first encounters bohemian lifestyle. Like its predecessor, this film is a family affair. The filmmaker’s son, Adan Jodorowsky, portrays a youthful Alejandro with resilient honesty. The role of Alejandro as a child is played in early scenes by Jeremias Herskovits (the director’s real-life grandson who also appeared in The Dance of Reality). Eccentric characters and surrealism abound, as expected in a Jodorowsky production. What rises above, however, is genuine humor and heartfelt emotional content. Jodorowsky’s fervent zest for life remains so robust…it nearly jumps from the screen.
Along the way, audiences learn how Jodorowsky first encountered his circle of friends in Santiago, including poets Stella Diaz Varin, Enrique Lihn, and Nicanor Parra. Opera singer Pamela Flores, who portrayed Jodorowsky’s mother in The Dance of Reality, not only returns in that parental role, but also plays his love interest, the poet Stella Diaz Varin. In her turn as the lover, Flores shines brightly…luring a young Jodorowsky from the dreamlike Café Iris into her night world of deserted streets, avant-garde poetry, and lovemaking.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, as portrayed in his twenties, is the writer, the poet, the dreamer. We see the future cineaste caught up in a world of the written word and live performance. The elder Alejandro himself appears on screen at pivotal moments to chat philosophically with his younger self. When the young Jodorowsky asks, “What is the meaning of life?”…the elder Alejandro proclaims intensely, “The brain asks questions, the heart gives the answers. Life does not have meaning. Live! Live!”
Alejandro Jodorowsky is often an enigma to genre fans. He is not a horror filmmaker, yet his movies often depict blood and violence in a phantasmagorical style. He isn’t an exploitation filmmaker, yet his movies may wrongly be considered such. His films are not blatantly political, but political themes simmer on the edges. Religious symbolism is always at play. His body of work is a continual quest for inner peace and understanding of the human condition. He pulls no punches along the way…mentally or visually. A Jodorowsky film requires intellectual investment well beyond initial viewing…something not every viewer is willing to make.
Let’s be clear…Endless Poetry does embrace familiar Jodorowsky territory. We have an intense love scene involving a beautiful dwarf. We also have street scavengers hovering over a dying man covered with guts and gore. In the latter case however, it is more of a wink to his audience rather than shock…and quickly fades as his passionate story unfolds.
Brontis Jodorowsky (his real-life eldest son and the naked child from El Topo) reprises his role from The Dance of Reality as Alejandro’s strict father. Although this is Alejandro’s life, his personal story will surely resonate for many. His father views productivity only as manual labor and dismisses the arts. Interestingly the two films reveal his father’s unexplained shift from communist to hardened shopkeeper counting profits. Young Alejandro yearns to write poetry but his father insists he becomes a doctor. His father believes only homosexuals indulge in the arts, which forces his son to strike out on his own to seek the truth. Along the way, Alejandro discovers his own sexuality and budding talent.
Endless Poetry celebrates a philosophy of self-determination. The young Jodorowsky has no regrets leaving his family in search of his true identity. Subsequently, after forging sincere relationships and friendships among other artists, he confidently moves on again towards his destiny. A telling (and amusing) scene involves Jodorowsky and his poet friend, Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub), determined to walk an exact straight line through a Santiago neighborhood…proudly announcing that poets never compromise.
Endless Poetry exudes humor, love, eroticism, and betrayal. There are some unique visual treats for its audience, including a very touching scene involving two hand puppets. The love scene between Jodorowsky and Stella Diaz Varin begs to be seen, not described. All of this against a backdrop of struggling artists and rising fascism in mid-century Chile. Jodorowsky has an infectious lust for life and he displays it overwhelmingly in this film. This is a man who enthusiastically shares his personal story and passion, enlightening others who seek their own path.
The original music score for Endless Poetry was composed and performed by Adan Jodorowsky and Jon Handelsman and is a brilliant compliment to the film. Production costs for Endless Poetry were helped along by a Kickstarter campaign personally launched by Alejandro Jodorowsky. The filmmaker shared his thoughts on his Kickstarter site: “For me, movies are really an art. And what is art? It is the search for your inner beauty. That is art…It’s possible to remember yourself. It’s possible to open your mind. It’s possible to open your heart. It’s possible to open your creativity. To live with less but to live well. That is what I want. Poetry without end. Endless poetry.”
Endless Poetry concludes as a young Alejandro Jodorowsky leaves for Paris to blossom creatively. Audiences inspired by his story will surely be left with a desire for more. Let us anticipate the next chapter of this poetic filmmaker’s extraordinary life.