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20 Q&As: Alejandro Jodorowsky

In the new 20th Anniversary Issue of Dazed & Confused, we interview the cult filmmaker who shares his experiences of shooting his iconic films El Topo and The Holy Mountain and why he hates Disney

Filmmaker, comic-book writer, novelist and guru of psychomagic, Alejandro Jodorowsky is a true cult legend. Born in 1929 in Chile, he studied mime in Paris with Marcel Marceau, directed hundreds of avant-garde theatre productions in Mexico, and blew the collective mind of 70s counterculture when his peyote western El Topo hit the midnight movie circuit, with its cast of dwarves, prostitutes and Mexican cowboys. It caught the attention of John Lennon, and the money for Jodorowsky’s next film, the psychedelic riddle of cosmic symbolism The Holy Mountain, was put up by Apple Records and Allen Klein. However, his defiant non-conformity has more often frightened away the film industry’s financiers, so new projects such as King Shot (which planned to feature Marilyn Manson as a 300-year-old pope), may never come to fruition. Still, at 82 the maverick is showing no signs of slowing his pace. Dazed met him in Paris, in an airy, book-lined apartment scattered with prowling cats.

Dazed & Confused: You’ve never been confined to one medium – you’re famous as a comic-writer, filmmaker, playwright…
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I’ve always admired Leonardo Da Vinci or Jean Cocteau, who were the same. Objects aren’t just one thing now. Very soon iPhones will also be sex vibrators, they’ll be useful for masturbation. In the same way, modern artists need to be like modern objects that are polymorphous.

D&C: Are you optimistic about the future of mankind?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: Yes, completely. The worse the newspapers speak of the world, the better I feel. Because it’s necessary to have a change of everything – politics is out, religion is out, economical systems are out, art is out… everything is out.

D&C: What will come in its place?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: We will see. Machines. Humanity will lean to the right, especially in America. The Tea Party, the fascists and football will be on one side – the adoration of the dollar and sport, all those kinds of superficial idiocies. And on the other side we will have the awakening of consciousness, and the mutation of the mind. I don’t know if I’ll be here to see it, but that change is starting, and it’s good.

D&C: What are your memories of making El Topo?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I never suspected that picture would be seen. All Mexico was against it, they wanted to kill me – they thought I was making a black mass! I was like an alien to them. I had to play the cowboy figure in El Topo because nobody else wanted to. They were scared to act in something so weird. George Harrison wanted to play the thief in Holy Mountain. I met him in the Plaza Hotel in New York and he told me there’s one scene he didn’t want to do, when the thief shows his asshole and there is a hippopotamus. I said: ‘But it would be a big, big lesson for humanity if you could finish with your ego and show your asshole.’ He said no. I said, ‘I can’t use you, because for me this is a sin.’ I lost millions and millions – stars are good for business but not for art, they kill the art.

D&C: Is that where the problems you had with Allen Klein started?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: Yes he was angry, for 30 years he wouldn’t release my film. But I found some really bad copies, and gave them to pirates for free. So people saw it in bad condition – but at least they could not kill my picture. Some years ago, I saw Allen and we made peace, just in time. The picture went out and then he died.

D&C: Your films are often associated with drugs and psychedelia, but you don’t actually take drugs, do you?
Alejandro Jodorowsky:
 No, I have a big imagination, so I don’t need to. They are used very superficially now. In history, psychedelic plants were used by priests and shamans with a desire to discover the interior. It’s different than taking drugs at parties, or to have some kind of Walt Disney LSD trip. You’re wasting your time.

D&C: I’m guessing you’re not a fan of Walt Disney?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: He is a monster. I hate him. He’s a perverter of children. Mickey Mouse was a pervert. He made children idiots. He created many little idiots. Children don’t like to see that now, they’re more awake; they have better taste.

D&C: How did you prepare your actors for The Holy Mountain?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I locked them in my house for two months and we slept only four hours a day, from midnight till four am. I hired a guru who did Arica training. I found the actors in Max’s Kansas City in New York. I took two transvestites from there, and a guy who was ejected from Wall Street, and I found an extreme right-wing guy to play the Nazi. So they were playing roles close to themselves. They were very neurotic – normal people are neurotic but even more so in New York. I had this great idea to get them mystical enlightenment – I thought when I finished the picture, they could prepare to become monks. But they brought boxes of drugs with them and we were told the police were coming to raid us, when we were in the pyramids in Mexico, so I put the drugs down the drain. Then the actors became terrible, hated everything, because they didn’t have their drugs.

D&C: At the end of Holy Mountain you reveal the cameras – why did you decide to do that?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: You couldn’t breathe up there. But I really climbed this mountain with a tiger, a monk, the actors and technicians. 17 days before, six people had died because a storm had come. I was told not to go, but I had to finish my film. We were shooting and this storm came and we had to escape to the valley. Me, I started to fall down the mountain. But I had a pick, I stuck it in the mountain and said, ‘I don’t want to die, I want to finish this damn picture!’ And that’s when I decided to change the end completely; I showed it was a picture by pulling back and showing the video cameras.

D&C: You risked your life for a film…
Alejandro Jodorowsky: Many times! For El Topo, I shot men dancing together in a house of Mexican cowboys. One cowboy was very drunk and pointed a gun in my face. He said ‘Stop shooting this or I kill you’. I said, ‘Shoot me! But I will kill you also. I will finish my film!’ The light was going, and I didn’t have enough money to come back. It was always very dangerous, but I was completely sure nothing would happen to me.

D&C: Do you believe in any kind of afterlife?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I know I was something before I was born, I’ll be something after my death. I will see. My grandfather was a very mystical guy who travelled from Argentina to Chile, across the mountains with a donkey, carrying the Torah.

D&C: What’s the favourite of your films?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: Santa Sangre. I met a real serial killer, Goyo Cárdenas, when I was working on a comic strip in Mexico. He was a writer for the same newspaper – we went for coffee and he said, ‘I am a serial killer.’ It was incredible, he was famous in Mexico, he killed 17 women and didn’t remember anything about the murders. He spent ten years in a madhouse and then left because he was cured. When I met him he had children, a woman and he was a writer. So he was partly an inspiration, I wanted this idea of redemption in my picture. I imagined a mother with no arms, using her son’s arms to kill.

D&C: Are you working on a new film now?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I’m working on comics, poetry, literature and three pictures. At the end of the year I will start to prepare one. But you say you will do it and then there’s a war, or an economic crisis or a football game and you lose it. So when I start to shoot, then I will speak to you.

D&C: You once said, ‘Most directors make films with their eyes, I make them with my testicles’ – what did you mean by that?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: That the human being is not only intellect, it’s also muscle. Material, sexual, emotional, intellectual – we need to act with all four parts of ourselves, like a complete being.

HANNAH LACK is film editor of DAZED & CONFUSED

Photography CAN EVGIN

Dazed & Confused's October issue, 'Come Together: 20th Anniversary Special', is out now. Click HERE to check out the other, already published, Q&As celebrating the issue