Surrealist Cinema Legend Alejandro Jodorowsky Makes Two Rare NYC Appearances

10/31/2011 11:17 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2011

Tonight, Halloween, the Museum of Modern Art features a screening of The Holy Mountain, Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky's incredible film of surrealism-meets-mystic-revelation.

The following night, November 1st, the Lincoln Center's Film Society will host a viewing of the 82-year-old's bizarre masterpiece, El Topo.

And Jodorowsky will make a rare appearance at both events. In 2007, Abkco Films finally released a re-mastered DVD box set of most of his films; at that time I had the experience of interviewing this singular mind. The following Q&A is from that conversation.

Q: Though your films are situated in the '60s they have endured and continue to be re-experienced, generation upon generation. Are you surprised by that?

Alejandro Jodorowsky: I was in advance of my time [by] 30 years, almost. My pictures are not getting old because they are not of the '60s or '70s. My pictures were of the future.

Q: Everything, then -- fashion, music, film, literature -- emerged out of a cultural revolution. Now it's more fragmented. Do you still feel connected with progressive culture or has it lost something?

AJ: To look for the past is always difficult. The past you are seeing never happened. Now when the years go by, you start to put together, to think for the old times: Ah, that was the real movement! But it's not like that. All the time on earth, we are alone doing [our] thing. Then they put [it all] together -- you and others. Today is like yesterday.

Q: Your movies' predecessors are to magical realism. Did you give root to the idea that is used to describe authors like Gabriel Garcia Márquez?

AJ: Magical realism is a movement, but my stories do the opposite. I make the realistic magic. The magic is real.

Q: You put them together and things take on whole new meanings.

AJ: That is the beginning of surrealism. That is the principle. There are big surrealists who say the encounter over the table where you make it an operation, a machine to write -- an umbrella. That is the encounter between objects. You never think of it together. You put [it all] together. This is surrealism.

You are seeing that in my picture; I am a kind of surrealist. This is true. But [with] the modern film, you make incredible things with technical effects. This is not magic. You can't do anything. A cat can become a prince in front of your eyes. There is no magic, because it's not real. In my pictures, there are no special effects. You see real things put together.

Q: How hard was it to make El Topo?

AJ: Everything was difficult. I never had enough money. I don't work with professional actors. When I put in the prostitute, [I] used a real prostitute. When I put a rich man, he was a very rich man. They are not actors -- actors make difficulties. It's war.

They don't understand. I need to fight with every person in order to do that. Even in Mexico, they wanted to kill me. They sent a person to put a bomb in my house. And I escaped. I did it.

Q: What was your state of mind at the time?

AJ: I wanted to create the effect of LSD with the picture. But I was against drugs.

Q: You succeeded. Did you like the idea of people experiencing the movie without drugs or that they would try drugs as a result?

AJ: Not as a result. When El Topo was shown at midnight [screenings], sometimes I would come to the theater, and [there] was a cloud of smoke of marijuana. I would walk between the audience to go to the stage and get marijuana cigarettes [from shaking hands]. There I was, thinking everyone at that time was smoking because it opens their minds. They were smoking when they showed my picture. But my picture doesn't provoke that. Not that.

Q: How long did it take you to make El Topo?

AJ: It was something like 10 weeks.

Q: That's it? But from the moment that you made the decision to make the film, how long did it take?

AJ: I prepared the picture. I decided to do it when I showed Fando y Lis [Fando and Lis] here in New York. It was a failure. It was in the theater three days and they destroyed me. No journalist want[ed] to interview me. Then I [said], "I will make another picture. I will make a cowboy picture. I will make a western for United States."

I made El Topo [laughs]. I came to Mexico and thought to make it. I was not able to make a [traditional] western.

Q: Your films offer the same provocation about sexuality as radical psychoanalyst Wilheim Reich.

AJ: I admire him a lot. I live between books. I see one or two pictures a day. But when I make a picture, I do not see anybody. I am not able to be influenced. I am different -- like a monster. My mind is a monster.

Q: Is that why you've only made six films?

AJ: Yes, I can not go and make a film because I want to. The picture impose[s on] me.

Q: How does it come to you?

AJ: That is an artistic mystery. In reality, I don't know what I will do and then I pray: how will I do that? Thank you! The idea comes to me. I don't create my ideas. I want a person without arms. I want to show a person without legs. But where do I find a person without legs? I was sitting in my house, and then, "Knock, knock, knock."

I talked with someone who said, "You are making a picture, you can use me." He came in search of me. I did nothing to find the person.

The blond girl in El Topo was a person I [had] seen in the street. Her costume, motorcycle, as you see in the picture -- she was that. She had 500 [doses of] LSD in her body. She [served] the picture and disappeared.

Q: How many years were there between El Topo and The Holy Mountain?

AJ: Two or three, no more.

Q: After that?

AJ: I made Santa Sangre, one of my preferred films.

Q: Then you stopped.

AJ: I stopped. [Film] is illusion. We need to go with reality. I finished with movies. This is not reality. I started a new life, not one of a movie maker.

Q: Was that when you started writing graphic novels; you work with the great French artist Jean "Moebius" Girard.

AJ: I was preparing Dune. I searched him [out] to write the script, make the drawings. At that time, nobody did that. I did -- all the pictures realized in drawings first. I did with Moebius. When I could not do the picture, I said, failure doesn't exist. Failure is to not change the way. What we can't do in pictures, we can do in comics.

Q: Are comics more liberating?

AJ: Yes. I can do whatever I want. Now I work with 10 [graphic artists]. In Europe, I make the comics. I realize I can make a life. I live off that. I got my money there.

Q: In seeing your films being restored, did you think about what you could have done with digital technology? Would it be a different movie?

AJ: To a Zen master, the people ask what is after them? He said, "I cannot say because I'm still alive." I cannot answer that because I have not the meaning to do that. The picture is what it is. But I can answer [for] what I have today.

Q: Having your films restored and there for a new generation is a way not to die.

AJ: I want not to die, never.

For an extended version of this Q&A and other stories by Brad Balfour go to: Film Festival Traveler.