By Elias Savada.
“A naked virgin will illuminate your path with a blazing butterfly.”
Yes, just the kind of fertile, fantastic utterance you would expect to hear in any luxuriant, eccentric Alejandro Jodorowsky film, especially in his ultra personal Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin), and you’ll have to take the two-hour-plus ride to find the phrase’s true meaning. The fearless, iconoclastic, 88-year-old Chilean poet-writer-director is back in his most definite arthouse groove, forging further into his planned five-part autobiographical cycle dealing with his Ukrainian-Jewish family. The first segment was The Dance of Reality, his magical 2013 work which covered his unhappy childhood in the coastal town of Tocopilla. That film – which I recommend viewing to provide an enriching appetizer to his current entrée – broke a 13-year screen silence, dating from The Rainbow Thief. That impersonal feature (which the director has since disowned) with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif (reuniting the Lawrence of Arabia stars) only found commercial release in some European countries. His meager output (eight films as a director since 1968’s Fando and Lis) was as much about taking various diversions as it was recovering from his failed involvement prepping an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Catch the wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) to learn all about that impressive and legendary fiasco.
If you’re not familiar with his feverishly devilish work, be aware it can easily make you squirm uncontrollably, enough that you might actually leave the comfort of your seat and race for the safety of your home. Those folks might want to pack some Purell in their purse. I came of age with him watching his bizarre, surrealistic western El Topo back in the early 1970s, when it became a popular underground midnight staple in American cinemas, often playing alongside Tod Browning’s Freaks, both works featuring casts of people with congenital anomalies. Now, nearly a half-century later, the filmmaker is still redefining the art form by way of religious, political, sexual, and poetic symbolism, flavored with his own subversive sense of importance and unsettling side doses of Fellini, Lynch, and Buñuel.
His new film, perhaps one of the weirdest you may ever watch (which could be said about most of Jodorowsky’s movies), does leave a lasting impression. It might affect how you sleep at night. Endless Poetry looks and feels the same as his most recent fever dream, especially since the cast is identical, many of them from his own family (including himself). The first half-hour renews the filial exasperations and poetic aspirations young, curly-haired Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits, who played the character in Dance) experienced as he questions his father’s strict discipline and business ethic as the family moves to Santiago. Dad and mom, Jaime and Sara Jodorowsky, are played, again, by Brontis Jodorowsky (Alejandro’s son) and Pamela Flores, who delivers all her dialogue in operatic form, just as the filmmaker remembers his mother doing. As the boy enters young adulthood, Alejandro’s character is taken over by Adan Jodorowsky (another of filmmaker’s sons, who also composed the film’s music). And Jodorowsky also pops in and out of the film, as himself, offering commentary and advice to his younger self. As Jodorowsky (the Adan version) flits about with fellow Bohemians and poets, his midnight excursions are joined by the full-bodied Stella Diaz (also played by Flores), a fellow poet and vampire-like muse with bright red hair, ghastly makeup, gold-painted breasts, and an oversized abundance of swagger.
Perverts, flashers, poets (drunken, virginal, blindfolded, naked), fully-cloaked ninjas not acknowledged by other members of the cast, Nazis and dwarves (one dressed like Hitler) abound. They might walk, stalk, sit, or strut about in disconcerting poses, perhaps performing simulated sex.
The irreverent Chilean filmmaker continues to imbue his work with bold, bright, outlandish, and shocking images, helped by the incredibly luminous color palate of Kar-Wai Wong’s cinematographer Christopher Doyle (2046), and the severe production and costume design by Jodorowsky and his wife, Pascale Montandon, which are trademarks in his latest films. Fans who enjoy the filmmaker’s absurdist excursions will feast on Endless Poetry as another of his acid-infused trips along the yellow brick road.
For instance, Café Iris, a midnight to dawn establishment, offers up a strange, haunting atmosphere in a stark, silent setting. Embellished with a futuristic concrete, black-grey-and-white harshness, it is filled with male patrons attended to by slow moving elderly, white-gloved, gentlemen in top hats, their trays always occupied by a single pints of beer.
Endless Poetry is a crazed broth of poets and poetry stirred with some mind-altering spices. You never know what absurdist scene is around the corner. When Jodorowsky the actor/poet visits poet Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub), a door opens to a room with an elderly couple (Lihn’s dead parents) caked in white dust, a Cold War-era Soviet tank picture on one wall. They are listening to an old radio spout news of the United States bombing with B29 planes and the Russians retaliating with MiGs. Lihn explains, “That stupid war sucked their brains out. They’ve been dead for years.”
And occasionally, the film turns cornball. Two poets decide to walk a straight line through town – over a truck, through a woman’s house (and over her bed), through a parking structure (chased by a pack of dogs), before they are welcomed by a group of intellectuals, whom they promptly pelt with raw meat and eggs.
Frankly, if you’re squeamish about the sight of blood – make that menstrual blood flowing forth from a naked person – actually a female dwarf offering her sex to someone while a phonograph plays Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek – then you might want to buy a ticket to another film in the arthouse multiplex. I suspect Berlin, who was nominated for an Oscar for the tune in the 1935 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie Top Hat, would be quite astonished at its use in Endless Poetry.
Jodorowsky, also a puppeteer, pulls his actors as if on strings. It is an incredible show, but definitely not for the crowd that likes its popcorn buttered not bloodied. One character in the film states “You’re wasting your time,” during a discourse about life and death, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many unenlightened viewers might be thinking the same thing. Otherwise, Endless Poetry offers a ribald and revelatory road to poetic nirvana.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).