According to Brontis Jodorowsky, the eldest son of avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, cinema is in a state of flux. "I think we are in a moment of mutation where we are still on the industrial thing where people are getting tired of fattening movies. Their heads are getting fat from the McDonald's movies," he says, talking over the phone from his Paris home.
This mutated state means it is the perfect time for his father to return to filmmaking after a career that can be called nothing short of tumultuous. It involved death threats, a deal with John Lennon that turned legally sour, and included the virtual hostage-taking of some of his films, a historically failed adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune and struggles with "selling out," that made him disown one of his later movies. You cannot blame the elder Jodorowsky for turning his back on filmmaking for 20 years.
But now he is deep in the post-production of his new project, The Dance of Reality, a film based on his own autobiography. Though the cult filmmaker responded via email that he is busy "finalizing" his new film, he said he would entertain questions via that forum. He has yet to respond. However, Brontis offered candid details about the new movie and its inspiration: his father's struggle to come to terms with an abusive upbringing. "My father had a very severe education from his father ... and he remembers his childhood as a very sad and violent thing."
In the film, the younger Jodorowsky plays the patriarch that, he says, according to his family's Jewish background, he would have been naturally named after -- had his father not hated him so much. "The main character is his father, Alejandro's father, and he asked me to play his father," he says. "He didn't name me Jaime in reality, but he named me Jaime in the film ... There is a kid who plays Alejandro as a kid and a Chilean opera singer plays Sara [the mother], and Alejandro appears in the film as himself ... It's very different from the other films that he made."
Brontis says the Dance of Reality was shot in and around Tocopilla, Chile, the city where his father was born. He expects his father to complete it by the end of March. However, a release date remains unknown. "It depends on the distributors," he says. "They decide the best moment for it."
Until then, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, in conjunction with the interactive media industry festival Filmgate, will dedicate the month of February to the early films of Jodorowsky. The retrospective begins with El Topo and will feature a live Skype introduction by the director and his son. Brontis made his acting debut in the 1970 film when he was 6-and-half-years old alongside his father, who directed himself in the role of the titular gunman in search of spiritual self-enlightenment. Heavy theme aside, the film is notorious for kicking off the notion that some movies are so bizarre, they should be watched at midnight. Hence, "Midnight Movies" were born.
Brontis says he has fond memories of making El Topo with his father in Mexico. "I remember very simple things, how to do a hangman's noose, the big meals with everyone, the feeling of the sun on my skin because I was naked during the scenes all the time and the feeling of being very close to my father. That's the most important memory. I had a consciousness of a bond that was being created there. Not only of being father and son, but that we were doing something together. We were making a piece of
He says he also has quite vivid memories of the making the film. "There is this scene where El Topo and his son arrive at a town, in the beginning of the film. There has been a massacre there, and everybody's killed, even the animals, and they go out of the church and they see, I think it's the former sheriff, that is so wounded that he is begging to be killed, 'Mercy, mercy, please kill me,' so El Topo gives the gun to his son and the son kills the guy. This is the education of a cowboy."
He says his dad likes to capture spontaneity on the set. In El Topo, Brontis had never held a gun in his life, and it shows. "We didn't rehearse this thing with the gun, so he gave me the gun. It was the first time in my life that I held a gun, so it was quite heavy for a 6-year-old kid, and I had to shoot, so I had to pull the trigger. It was so hard for a little hand to pull this trigger on this silver Colt, but I had to do it. We shot that just once. There was only one or two shots of every [take]."
The film came out during the peak of the psychedelic era, and the imagery and story has had a more profound influence on pop culture than most would ever notice. El Topo paved the way for surrealist filmmakers like David Lynch and influenced musicians like Peter Gabriel at his most bizarre, in his early Genesis days. But to Brontis, it also brought him closer than ever to his father. "The happiest place for us is when we are creating something together."
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"The Alchemist: Alejandro Jodorowsky" kicks off Sunday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. with a live introduction by Jodorowsky and his son via Skype and a screening of El Topo (1970). On Feb. 7 at 8:30 p.m. Fando y Lis (1968) will screen. Holy Mountain (1973) screens Feb. 21 at 8:30 p.m. The festival ends Feb. 28 with Santa Sangre (1989) at 7 p.m. Visit mbcinema.com for details and tickets.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.