Driving to the Chateau Marmont for this interview, I felt an odd nervousness about meeting Alexandro Jodorowsky. Not that I was starstruck by the idea of meeting the visionary director of “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” but actually afraid of the man that might stand behind them. Reading what little I could find on short notice, I discovered a deeply spiritual man whose experiments with life have directly resulted in the disturbing images that compose his films. Feeling prepared as I turned off Sunset Blvd. and drove up the twisting road toward the little bungalows hidden in the hills, I wondered if John Belushi’s ghost still haunted the infamous hotel’s grounds. Little did I know that I’d soon be questioning my own sexuality, and even life itself.
The reason for the meeting is “Santa Sangre” (Sacred Blood), Jodorowsky’s first major film in 10 years. As poetic and beautiful as it is horrifying and cruel, this film is the tale of Fenix, a boy who is corrupted by the twisted relationships that surround him. We follow his father Orgo’s domination over Fenix’s mother; the brutal abuse of Alma, Fenix’s young love, by the hand of the exotic Tatooed Woman; and finally, the horrible death of his mother as Orgo shears off her arms with twin razor-like knives, only to slit his own throat before the boy’s very eyes.
Jumping 20 years ahead, the film finds Fenix in an insane asylum, incapable of life after the horrors he has seen. Prompted by the armless ghost of his mother, Fenix escapes; only to be possessed by her vengeance and driven to murder. In one shocking scene, Fenix stands behind his mother, his arms taking the place of her missing limbs as she brutally wills him to throw knives at a woman he has bound and hypnotized. His hands under her murderous control, Fenix launches the sharp blades with uncanny accuracy, piercing the unconscious young woman’s breast and pinning her to the wall. Her will. His hands. Their murder.
As tragic as this all sounds, the film is full of warmth and humor as Jodorowski allows his own life to bleed through the dreamlike story and focus on the emotional elements. Like David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man,” and Ken Russel’s “The Devils,” “Santa Sangre”‘s strength as a film is deeply rooted in the process of emotional healing, the emergence of inner will, and the realization of the “self.” As John Merrick found he was not a monster, but a man, and Father Grandier retained his individuality despite the fanaticism that ultimately took his life, Fenix (brilliantly played by the director’s son, Axel Jodorowsky) faces his ordeal and regains his identity amid a phantasmagoric world.
Being led to Jodorowsky’s lodgings, I am promised better pictures by the publicist (who blames producer Claudio Argento, Dario’s brother, for being so cheap), warned that this was the last interview of a long day, and that they would be leaving for France directly afterwards. Walking into the bungalow, I meet the director’s beautiful interpreter (to whom I am very grateful) and from the kitchen emerges Jodorowski. Drinking a Coke, he asks what kind of magazine FILM THREAT is, his voice strong with a rolling Hispanic accent. I respond: “Well…we like to think of ourselves as independent with a slant to the underground.” He smiles and says “Good!” We begin.
Finding out about you, it was interesting to find that your real background is in mime and in theater, performance art.
First, I consider all the other parts of my life to be a preparation to make movies, to make my own world. I didn’t just want to make movies, I wanted to write movies, to make the music, to do everything. All my past is a past of movie-making, but in a very special way, in a very special life. I have two sides, the artistic side and the philosophical side. I not only did the theater, pantomime, dance, painting – all the arts; I was doing this for 40 years when I began in film. I was studying religion, I was in the East to study with gurus, searching for spiritual experience. Searching for my emotional and sexual life, with no limits. These are the parts of my life that are important: my emotional/sexual life, human life, and spiritual life.
Reading about you, it seems that you have found a lot of your answers in the East, in Eastern culture. Do you still find them there?
I went to the East and now I am here in the West. I am in the whole world. I don’t really believe in “East” or “West” – I believe in the human mind.
People have told me that I can’t understand the Eastern culture because I’m from the West. That I am a Westerner…
Wait a second, wait a second….We are from nowhere going to nowhere. When you are on this planet you are not to make limits on what or where you are. If you are born in the West and you know the West, you go to the East to see what is happening there. You work here or work there, but you need to know every part of the planet. In reality there is no West and no East, there are only different places with different tastes. Really, humans are the same.
I suppose that’s the same argument you could use to describe men understanding women or women understanding men. There are things that are the same, but simply different.
Like what? How?
You tell me.
Some days I am very satisfied with my penis. I have a good orgasm, not so bad, huh? But a vagina! How is it to have that? I have a door, a human door, very sensual, very dark, mysterious……adaptability. Not a clear form…warmth. Reproduction. Blood. Secretion. Complicated orgasms. I want to have a vagina. Really. (Clasping his hands) Please God, give me a vagina!
It seems you don’t believe the old saying that “the eyes are the doorway to the soul.”
No, no, the vagina. I pray to my God at night, please, in my next life, give me a big vagina.
In “Santa Sangre,” obviously sex is at the forefront of everything…
And what do you think it means? What do you think I am? In my life there is sex, there is emotional life, intellectual life; but what do you think? A human being needs to explore everything, every part of himself.
Some people think certain kinds of sex are taboo, or wrong.
Wrong? Those people are crazy. Religion is like that, but I am a mystical man. A saint can f**k. He can do it. It is beautiful, beautiful to f**k with God. You put God into your testicles and he will start to speak. Where do we find God if not in sex? Reproduction, that is beautiful. If a priest, or a guru, says that sex is dirty, I think he must have a piece of s**t between his legs. How can God make something dirty?
Is sex the purest form is human behavior, is that where people are at their most basic? Their most simple form?
Sex, simple? It is the most complicated way. Hurt a woman with sex and you make her crazy. Cut the testicles off a man, give him premature ejaculation, and all his life is failed. He can do nothing. Sex is the most important spiritual part of a human being. We need to start there as it is the most complicated relation. We are not cats or dogs, we are animal, but human animal, like an angel. We are very complicated. Like gods. When you have vulgar sex, simple sex, there is evil.
Is it the duty of a man to make sex wonderful for women?
No. The goal of sex is to make love: if you are a man, it is to make love to a woman, and if you are a woman it is to find a man. The people (just having sex) are not making love together, but with himself or herself. You will never touch the other. The goal of sexual love is to go to the other, and the other will come to you. If you are two separate spirits, you are not making love, you are masturbating. You are masturbating in her or she is masturbating with you. Real sexual love is very difficult to obtain, it’s not the pornographic intercourse that you see in the movies, at all. It isn’t that simple.
Seeing that you hold this form of love in such high regard, why is there so little of it in “Santa Sangre”? Only at the end, after Orgo and the Tatooed Woman, after Concha and her husband, and even after Concha and Fenix, her son?
Because I am showing, at that level, the illness of a person. How the boy (Fenix) becomes ill because they have ill relations. Until the end, (Fenix) is not having sexual relations, he is pretending (with his mother). He is not himself, he does not have hands to caress the another, or to feel another. First you must find yourself, when you do that you are able to touch somebody, to caress somebody in the right way.
To be whole not only physically, but mentally.
Let me tell you something. I am a man, I can take something normally, (He gently picks up a paper box) with power, (Squeezing the box) with ARRRRGH !!!! (Crushes the box) But this is the result; I destroy what I hold. You are a destroyer, because you do not see the other person, only yourself. Spiritual sex is also sex. Real sex, real contact with the other. You have a lover? Someone you love?
Good. Tomorrow morning, call this woman and ask her exactly, exactly what she wants. Tell her, “I will be your servant.” Be complete, absolutely complete as a servant, to her service. Don’t think about your pleasure at all, don’t say anything. Put your hands on her and ask her exactly what she wants, and in the first moments she will be anguished because she will not know. She will say ” Do me, do me, do me”! But later she will say, “No, not like that! Not like that”! And you will realize that she’s not satisfied with you, she doesn’t attain what she really wants. Now you have to ask her, now you need to do it. How? Like this? Strong? How do you want to be caressed? Tell me how. Speak. Do. Direct.
When you direct a film, is that the way you perceive it? People giving you exactly what you want?
Sure. They are there to give everything, not to kill a picture. They can go with mediocrity to other things, but I don’t want to work with mediocrity. I have all the rights there, all the rights. I come to announce it. With you I do not, because you are within yourself. You are giving me nothing. I am searching you, searching you, but we are not making contact. Maybe you have contact with your father, I don’t know, but try to make contact with me in this interview, because this could be the last thing I do in my life, my last interview. Why are you scared?
Maybe I think you’re scary.
But why are you making only professional communication with me? You are a human, a young man. Not a newspaper man, not a nothing man.
Okay, then let me tell you what struck me most deeply about the film, as I am a “young man”…
Why do you say that? You are not a “young man,” you are a man, a real young man. When I say you are a “young man” I am not saying you have no values, I am saying you have some amount of experience, but you are young and have a lot of time in the future for you. I have a lot of time in the past. We are different. I have a little time, you have a lot.
Then as a young man, I would have to say that I was most struck by the eroticism in the film.
The Tatooed Woman. I was scared when I met her because she was enormous, like a horse. She was dancing an a cabaret for drunk Mexicans when I saw her. She was a dancer, a striptease dancer. Erotic dancer. She’s a very strong woman.
All the women in the film are strong.
That’s because all the women in Mexico are fighting. The actress, even in prostitution they are working very hard, they are fighters. This woman, the dancer, is a real fighter. I know why you like her.
Do you thing that makes the women in Mexico more equal to men, as opposed to women here in the States? Because they fight so hard?
No, but I don’t know the American woman now. I don’t think about that, I never think about nationalities, I think about humanity. I myself don’t have a nationality. I see personality, not nationality.
Is that like East versus West?
No. I was in Japan three days ago and I saw how women are fighting to be themselves. You have a big problem when you are a man, you have a problem with women. In our civilization this is a big, big problem.
Do you think it’s a disadvantage to be a man?
Yes. Because you are the “bad guy.” Men are very delicate. In front of a woman, a man is not strong at all. He is very, very, very, weak because a man is more sentimental than a woman. This is because men are simple in his feelings, and the woman is very complicated. Very rich.
Then why are men supposed to be “strong” ?
Because they are playing a game to appear strong in front of their mothers.
To show that he no longer needs her?
To show that he can be the father. In this world the only values are the masculine values. To realize herself, a woman must become like a man. There is no place here for a woman. When a woman becomes successful, she is playing the life of a man.
Don’t you think that’s changing?
I’m changing it. A lot of people are changing it, I’m not the only one, I’m not the only one speaking like this.
Then do you see Fenix as this man, the complicated man as opposed to his father, who is a man of the past?
Yes, it is Fenix. It is not the story of the father, but of the son. “El Topo” was the story of the father. When (Santa Sangre) was finished, my son sat with his mother to see it, and for two hours they were screaming, recognizing their problems (on the screen). After this moment, the relationship had changed and for the first time in their lives they started to speak.
Family is a big part of “Santa Sangre”. Even in the title; “sacred blood” is family. But the families we find here are more a curse than anything else.
In the Bible, it says ” I am a jealous God.” All the bad you do, I will punish five generations. All the good you do, I will give prize to 1000 generations. When you do something that is not correct in your family, for three or four generations people will be suffering for that. In your family you have the best and the worst. It’s a historical thing, a malady that passes from one to the other until the moment one person finds a conscious and says: this needs to stop I will not repeat that, and I will give to my son what they didn’t give to me. Because we repeat all the time what goes on in the childhood, and we do to our sons and daughters what they did to us, to me. If I do not have a mother, I will not give a mother to my child.
You talk about this change, but in the film there is no change; only the pain. The film is a healing process, and at the end, when Fenix regains control of his hands…
Yes, yes, a healing process. When he gets his hands, you get your hands. It’s a therapeutic process for you also.
Why do you wait so long, until the final two minutes?
Because the film is two hours only. The public has a whole life! It’s a process. When he gets cured, what more will I tell? You are happy!
But there’s not much happiness is there? The police arrive to discover Fenix’s murders. It’s an ironic happiness at best.
Why should we show all that, it’s not interesting to me.
There are a lot of filmmakers that find that darker side of life to be much more interesting, but is that all there is for you?
When you see a pyramid, the most important part of the pyramid is the top, because there the pyramid makes union with the sky. It is sacred. The amount of all the stone that comes only to this point, this little point, is enormous, but if the point is strong; the work is good. When you come to a level that is called “enlightenment,” you work your whole life to get to this little point. When you come to this perfection, to this point, you become only a look. You are no more a person of history. There starts religion, meditation, anything you want: but art is the other parts of the pyramid that takes you to this point. When (Fenix) says “My hands, my hands!” there comes the sacred point – the Bible, or religion, or any spiritual work begins here. I want to show that this spirit is worldwide. I am an artist, I construct the pyramid. After that, you can do whatever you want.
The film itself is the pinnacle of a pyramid?
It’s coming to the top.
Do you see anything wrong with that point? Is there anything that you would do over?
WRONG? Nothing is wrong, the film is perfect! It’s completely perfect as a dream. I didn’t do it. It was my unconscious and super-conscious – all my consciousness that did it. Impossible to make better.
You shoot in sequence, scene by scene. Does that help your process of allowing the film to flow out of you, as opposed to piecing it together like a puzzle?
Yes, it’s too cold to construct it like a puzzle, there is no continuity, you are not living that. We are growing like a mushroom, we are a channel. We are not the program, we are like the television. I put the light on the television and the program come, but I am not doing the program; I am only turning the television to the right channel.
Like turning on the tap and letting the water flow.
And then everything that is coming is perfect, because it’s not coming from me, but through me. Listen, I was having my picture taken today, I was sitting indoors, and they say, “Sit like this.” (He strikes a dramatically thoughtful pose.) I looked out the window, there was a blue sky and a cypress. I say, “Ah!” The cypress has another meaning! It is the cemetery. From the dead body the cypress is eternity. It is because the cypress is year round, always green. He grow in the cemetery, he takes the bodies of the person. Death…..and life coming. O.K.? I am thinking that, and suddenly this airplane came. (He makes whirring motor sounds) I say, “Ah!” This is a terrestrial scene, but here comes the ærial scene. It is metallic. But immediately comes a bird from the other side into this scene.
Which balances that out.
Balances immediately. For me it was a real masterpiece, but how do I explain to the person there (taking the picture) what I was looking at? It was an artistic construction. Everything was perfect in that moment because I looked up and every element – the cypress, the blue sky, the bird, the airplane – in ten seconds I had a masterpiece, but I didn’t do it. But this is a capacity for me, to make that picture.
You obviously look at something and see symbols…
It’s not only symbolism, it’s very beautiful. Basho, the Japanese poet, said: “The old lake. A frog jumps. The sound of the water.”
The old lake. The jumping frog. The sound of the water. You will say that is symbol, it could be eternity. Myself, I saw that I will die so quickly but go into eternity and make a sound. This is beautiful, to be affirmed. Art is not only symbols. You are all the time using your intellect. You are not able to read your emotions. You are an intellectual. Whether you are intelligent, I don’t know…I don’t know. But you live in your intellect. When I say for you to think with your emotions, you are ARRRRRGH!
But when I watch the film, I think to myself that you’re guilty of this too.GUILTY! GUILTY!?
We see a man throwing knives. One sticks between a woman’s spread legs, one by her face. She licks and kisses it. We all know the symbol, it’s very simple…
What is the symbol?
The man’s penis.
In what way?
Violent yes. And what more?
What more? One more? Because it is so difficult and so perfect…
Precision. Perfection. It’s art.
It’s an old image.
It’s not old. Do it in movies and you will see it’s not so easy to hire the man who threw the knives. It’s erotic, but at the same time it’s perfect. Because if you make bad you kill the woman.
I see that, but isn’t it old?
I use it a lot. OLD!!? What is old? O.K. I use that…
Okay, so you’re guilty…
What do you have with old? Old?!
Are you responsible for making something new?
Are you a judge? We are not asking about responsibility, what is this question?!
I’m asking your opinion.
What opinion? In art there are no responsibilities, no guilt. What kind of question is that?
You seem to have an opinion on everything else.
If you feel that, then YOU are guilty! It is your own guilt that is making you feel that. Your own dirtiness, because you have a lot of sexual problems. You have not solved your own sexual problems.
Many people argue that they might be problems of your own.
Yes, of course they are, because they are universal to man. I am not a personal man. I am working with the unconscious. When I am dreaming, you are dreaming. This is reality. When I go farther, you go farther. Let me see…When I throw these knives, I need an actress who has the courage to do that. I need to have a perfect man who could do it without a special effect, I don’t have the time for that. He needs to be a superman. And when you see that, you realize that is not a special effect, and you go AAAAHHH! Because in one way it is art and in one way it is true. It’s true! Why are you talking about violence? In order to do that you need not be violent at all, but be PERFECT! Perfection is not violence.
Is violence a kind of perfection?
(He groans at the question.) My violence is perfect because it is art. The violence on television, the awful things they are showing, that violence is not perfect; because it’s real. The news. The news is guilty. The beautiful man who stopped the tanks in China. The television killed him because they show it to all the world and China loses face and kills that man. Who is the criminal? The Chinese or the television who show that? There are things that you do not show and the television is showing that. The television is guilty, not me.
If you are an ordinary man…
I am an ordinary man?
There is nothing special about you, you said that.
There is nothing special about me? Do you believe that? I am an ordinary man, you believe that?
I believe you are fairly ordinary…
….and being ordinary myself.
Then we will speak from ordinary to ordinary, huh?
Exactly, we will pretend, just for a minute…
What will we say, we ordinary men? We will see a baseball game or what?
What I’m asking is, are ordinary people like ourselves too jaded?
No. I believe an ordinary person like you is not ordinary. You are a blind person who believes they are seeing this interior, but we are not seeing his interior. Your problem is that you are like this (he scowls) and you are aggressive. No one says to you that you are a beautiful person and you are hating yourself, and this is what you need to attack when you try to communicate with my masterwork (“Santa Sangre”). You need to attack them. To me you are not an ordinary person. Everyone is the Buddha, everyone is a diamond, everyone is alive. Nobody loved me in all my life, until I started to love myself. I discovered in myself the divine creation and I like myself. This is the way you need to go.
Don’t you think you alienate other people?
You alienate other people with your mind. Myself, I am loving you. I am very happy with you from the moment I am with you, the time I have with you. I love you completely. I can love you as I can my sister, my father… my friends. What is the difference? You are a part of me.
Are people jealous because of the way you feel? That you are so at ease?
It is possible. I had to wait twenty years to make pictures, and when I was 26 or 27 I saw the films of Luis Buñuel. I got very jealous. Violent! I was ill…I vomited…I was green: I hated him!
Because he was doing what you wanted to do?
Yes, it was terrible for me. For the first time I saw art. It was a commotion because I believed I was the only person who could dream like that – and he was doing it.
He beat you.
Yes. It was the same when I saw “La Strada” – great jealousy. It’s true. It’s a human feeling in that it is for the young. Jealousy is for the young persons. It’s very necessary, you need to emulate something, and it’s a good thing.
Do you still emulate people?
No, now I laugh about it. I can play now, I am making my own work. I’m not in competition anymore.
You have a good sense of humor, and it really shows in the film. Like when Fenix sees the female wrestler and that huge snake comes out of his pants…
(He laughs) It was very difficult to do.
Does the film really rely on that sense of humor?
Sure. For me, tragedy and humor go together. Oedipus was an idiot. He killed his father, WHAT AN IDIOT! And then he falls in love with his mother, WHAT AN IDIOT! WHAT AN IDIOT! You see, all tragic situations are comic. When you take a tragic situation and make it comic, that is not real art. “Hamlet” as comedy; “Oedipus” as comedy; war as comedy, – that’s easy. But you take comic and make it tragic. That is good. Chaplin with Monsieur Verdoux tried to do that – was good. When he took Hitler (in “The Great Dictator”) and made him comic, it was easy. It was the worst of Chaplin. God, he is laughing.
Do you have your own tragedies that you laugh about?
It’s a tragedy to be here making interviews. It’s a tragedy to do the promotion for your picture. It’s a tragedy! This is the biggest tragedy in my life to be doing this interview with you! (Laughs)
Did Mr. Argento basically force you to be here today?
He didn’t, the picture forced me. Because I want the picture to be the best. I want it to be seen.
How important is that?
It is important to me. It is important so I can do my next picture.
I was reading about your involvement with bringing “Dune” to the screen back in 1975, ’76. You said “For me, the film was made,” despite the fact that it never got in front of the camera. You felt the film was made?
Yes, yes, it was. You have to do the best you can, whether you win or lose is not important. I will tell you a little anecdote. I was in Chile, in a bad neighborhood, coming home from a friend’s house. Three men, one with a knife, one with a baton, and one with a revolver stopped me. I started running, and running, running…and they chased me. They started to scream. I ran down this long avenue until I came to the end, where it was dark, and I stopped and fell to the ground. And the guys came to me and kicked me in the belly, and I yelled, “I have no money! Please don’t kill me !!” He asked me for my papers and I gave them up. Then he said, “We are not thieves, we are policemen. We thought you were a thief, we could have killed you! Why did you start to run?” “I was scared” I said. “Then why did you stop?” I said, because I lost my hope. They pulled me up and dragged me around the corner, and there are maybe fifty people watching a soccer game, a crowd. Just in the last moment I had stopped, I had given up. I will never in my life again give up, even in the last moment. If I fail, I fail, but I will give up my effort until the last moment. That is why I am doing this interview, this is my last effort. If I don’t make another film for ten years, so what?
Did you spend the last ten well?
Living. Very well. I had an incredible love affair. I never knew…. I am fifty years old, she was eighteen. It could come to a very wonderful relationship. I waited until she was eighteen. (Laughs loudly) What did you think? I am not Polanski!
“Santa Sangre” cost a lot of money, are you worth it?
Why not? The producers say the picture cost 4 million, I say cost 2 million. If he says five million, then he’s got two million in his pocket. It’s not my problem. For me, it’s not too much. But I’ll tell you something, I’m funnier than my movies. One day I’ll sit in a theater and have people come one by one to talk to me, and I’ll spend 1,000 years with the person who doesn’t have a dollar in his pocket.
Special thanks to Joel Zoch for the photos used for this interview. Pictures are from the collection of Joel Zoch and his web site, The Symbol Grows: Jodorowsky WWW.
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