85 year old Chilean-French surrealist/mime/experimental playwright/author/comics writer/mystical therapist/artist/director/all-round fascinating guy Alejandro Jodorowsky recently premiered his first film in 23 years, the autobiographical, magical-realist account of his childhood, The Dance of Reality. The fact he has made another film at all is something of a shock, as the director is perhaps better known for the films that haven’t been made than the ones that have, one of which was supposed to feature Marilyn Manson as a 300-year-old pope. Humanity has been robbed of something truly majestic.
His 1970 breakout feature El Topo, a surreal ‘acid Western’, was one of the first midnight movies and saw a lot of success on the cult circuit. It attracted the adoration of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who put $1 million towards his follow-up, The Holy Mountain (which features a reenactment of the conquest of Mexico using lizards and toads dressed as Aztecs and Conquistadors), and convinced Beatles manager and owner of Apple Records Allen Klein to purchase the rights to the films. Unfortunately, due to a colossal falling-out between Jodorowsky and Klein, the latter blocked the distribution and release of his movies for decades, causing the director to fade into relative obscurity. Losing interest in filmmaking, he instead focused on making comics, often in collaboration with legendary French comics writer Mœbius – most notably The Incal series which was heavily ‘borrowed from’ by Luc Besson for The Fifth Element.
Jodorowsky still made a couple of films following his dispute with Klein, but mostly for-hire jobs: Tusk in 1980, and The Rainbow Thief in 1990 (a family film, since disowned by Jodorowsky) as well as the more personal but very low-budget Santa Sangre, a highly surreal psychological horror, in 1989. During these years, however, there were regular and persistent rumours of the films he really wanted to make being in various stages of production. One of these was an insanely ambitious and wildly creative adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune (eventually made by David Lynch), the story of which is thoroughly covered in the fabulous documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune that premiered alongside The Dance of Reality at Cannes in 2013.
The other two that have been frequently mentioned are King Shot, and a sequel to El Topo that has been variously titled The Sons of El Topo and Abel Cain over the years. Little information is available on King Shot, save for a handful of preliminary design sketches; the fact it was to be a ‘metaphysical gangster film’; it had Nick Nolte attached to star and David Lynch producing at one point; it features a man the size of King Kong, and a casino in the middle of a desert in the shape of Jesus’ head that’s run by a 300-year-old pope played by Marilyn Manson. Yup… As insanely brilliant as that sounds, however, Jodorowsky (somewhat understandably) never found producers willing to give him the hefty sum he required to make it. In 2009 he announced it was going ahead, only to retract the statement in a Guardian interview as “they didn’t find the money”. He did, however, say that he was due to start work on Abel Cain/The Sons of El Topo instead, with the backing of some Russian producers.
This most recent attempt at his dream project was set to star Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson (seriously, they’re great friends – Jodorowsky officiated his wedding to Dita Von Teese dressed as the alchemist from The Holy Mountain) as the titular brothers. The desert landscape of El Topo has turned into a radioactive wasteland after a nuclear apocalypse, except for a small island paradise where their father lies buried. The brothers were separated at birth after El Topo predicted Cain would kill Abel (kind of asking for trouble if you name them that, guy… ) but must join forces to defeat marauders adept at ‘technological witchery’ who have stolen their mother’s corpse in an attempt to gain access to the island that El Topo is buried on, as all other attempts have ended in disaster. Much like King Shot, the details of Jodorowsky’s plans for this film have been muddy, unclear and ever-changing: he says it will feature no ‘stars’, instead casting his son Axel, but then Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson are due to appear. Then it isn’t happening at all, once again, but out of the blue a mockup poster for the film appears, despite it having no funding. Suddenly, he’s supposedly working on King Shot instead, which falls through, so he’s back onto Abel Cain, but then the film he actually releases after all these decades of anticipation turns out to be a completely different film altogether?!
As of March 2014, however, Jodorowsky seems to have finally abandoned attempts to make these long-awaited projects into movies. As reported by The Wrap, he has decided to turn to another of the many media he is skilled in to tell these two deranged stories: comics. He states “I could never do Sons of El Topo, for 40 years. It would cost $30 million and they didn’t want to give me that,” and goes on to say “All the comics I do are the pictures I could never do.” So whilst it now seems we will (probably) never see these dazzlingly inventive and utterly insane tales on the big screen, we may yet be able to see them told – albeit on a much smaller scale.