No matter what you think of his movies, it’s hard to deny that Alejandro Jodorowsky is a living legend. This is a man whose beautiful, dreamily surreal films helped usher in the popularity of the midnight movie (with things like “El Topo” and “Holy Mountain”) and whose visionary work has inspired a whole generation of filmmakers, artists, and technicians (as exemplified in this year’s wonderful documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about his failed attempt at adapting Frank Herbert’s sci-fi odyssey for the big screen). His newest film, “The Dance of Reality,” is the Chilean director’s most personal work to date, a luminous coming-of-age tale inspired by Jodorowsky’s own autobiography and starring members of his family. We got to sit down with the director during this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, where we talked about the philosophy behind “Dance of Reality,” why it took so long for him to make the movie, what movies he is inspired by, his thoughts on "Iron Man 3," and whether or not Luc Besson really ripped him off for “The Fifth Element.”
Our discussion came at the height of a mini-resurgence of Jodorowsky-mania, since it was also around the time of “Jodorowsky’s Dune” (read what he had to say about that here) and you could tell that the 85-year-old filmmaker and comic book legend was feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by the interest surrounding his work (both realized and unrealized).
Amongst the topics we covered for those Jodorowsky die hards: we talked about his unfinished children’s film “Tusk,” what went wrong on “Rainbow Thief,” his thoughts on the wonders of digital technology, and how he is working on a sequel to “El Topo”… in comic book form. It’s a highly entertaining and in-depth read and further cements his place as a legend we are very lucky to still have around, creating all sorts of crazy art.
This is your first movie since "Rainbow Thief." Why this movie and why now?
I was making pictures—"El Topo," "Holy Mountain"—where I was free. I was doing whatever I wanted. But always with very little money. In movies, images cost —if you want a big image, it takes more money. I have no opportunity. Then I wanted to know about the experience of making the industrial picture. Then Alexander Salkind, a person who produced the first "Superman," a very good industrial producer, wanted to be an artist. So he had a script ["The Rainbow Thief"]. And I said "Okay, I will do it." It was $50 million and it had stars—Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Christopher Lee. Then I start to shoot. And it was the worst experience in my life. Because I was not free. If we wanted to change the script, we had to call the producer, the rushes I did the producers see first. I had to deal with Peter O'Toole, who was terrible. It was terrible for me. If I have to make another picture like that, I won't do it. The industrial picture is an illness. For an artist, it's not possible. I am a poet, I am not a worker. I need to be free. And then I wait 23 years. A lot of people offer me serial killer movies all the time or sexual pictures. All the stupidity. I say, "No, no. I will wait until the moment I can be free to do whatever I want." Then I did it.
What's the craziest thing people have offered you?
Well, all the time it's about serial killers or degenerates who kill women. All the time, it's that. I say, "Why can't I kill hippopotamus?" A hippopotamus serial killer! He goes into all the zoos in the world, killing the hippopotamus. Why not?
Can you talk about the whole idea behind "Dance of Reality?" How is everything a dance?
For me, everything is a kind of dance. Miracles dance. You dream every night. Every person in the world, even if they don't remember, is dreaming every night. And then, every person has an image of the reality. It's not reality. It's the image you have. Every person is a crazy person in his own version of reality. And producing a reality in his vision of reality. You are a human being. You're American. But you are seeing the picture like a Texas American. Then my picture is being seen in Paris by a French intellectual person. But it's a person. It's a human being like you. He's seeing the world from another point of view. You have Palestinians and Israelis. But they are both Semites and they are fighting. They are the same! Why? The dance of reality is to see we are the same and to see the beauty of the world.
You shot this movie for a long time. Can you talk about that experience?
I didn't shoot for that long but the techniques have changed. The machines are pneumatic now. It's another way to shoot now. You have less light, the colors you work later, and you can change and approach the image in a different way.
Do you like this new style?
For me I am filled with a whole, complete happiness. It's a new technique and you can do a lot more things than before.
How do you feel when you hear filmmakers like Nicholas Winding Refn cite you as an influence today?
Now, at the age I am, I think that is natural. Because I am an old man now. I am at an age when, if I didn't influence anyone, maybe I was an idiot in my life. When you live, you need to put seeds into others. For me now, I say, "That is natural." If I have 40 years of happiness, my head will grow bigger. I am happy this didn't happen before. Today, though, it can be natural.