Alejandro Jodorowsky Goes on a Voyage in Search of Himself

Cult Director Returns to the Scene of His Childhood

Looking Back: Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.
Photo by David Cavallo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Looking Back: Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.

By Ezra Glinter

Published May 22, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.
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Jodorowsky has been enjoying a renaissance lately in the English-speaking world (in France and Latin America he never really went away). For a long time he was a myth himself, the psychedelic South American director who made disturbing head films in the ‘70s and then disappeared.

In part this was because of legal wranglings with Allen Klein, the producer and Beatles manager who owned the rights to Jodorowsky’s early work. Klein had backed Jodorowsky at the urging of John Lennon, who saw “El Topo” during its original six-month midnight run at the Elgin Cinema in New York City, but fell out with him when the director refused to adapt the French erotic novel “Story of O.” For the next 30 years Klein blocked Jodorowsky’s films from being screened or rereleased.

The two men eventually reconciled, and Jodorowsky’s early pictures — including his first movie, “Fando y Lis,” which caused a riot at the Acapulco Film Festival in 1968 — were reissued in 2007. Klein’s company, ABKCO Music & Records, is now the North American distributor for “The Dance of Reality.”

Jodorowsky was hardly idle in the interim, however. After breaking with Klein he directed “Tusk” (1980), a children’s fable set in India; “Santa Sangre” (1989), an oedipal horror film about an insane circus performer, and “The Rainbow Thief” (1990), an eccentric underworld drama starring “Lawrence of Arabia” duo Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole. (He later disavowed both “Tusk” and “The Rainbow Thief,” due to his lack of creative control.)

He has also had a prolific career writing graphic novels, including “The Incal,” a sci-fi dystopia set in the so-called “Jodoverse,” which he created with French comic book artist Moebius, and “The Metabarons,” a spinoff featuring a dynasty of eponymous warriors that he made with Argentinian Juan Gimenez. And he has written a small library of books on subjects like the Tarot (a particular obsession), a form of Tarot-based therapy he calls “psychomagic,” and an autobiography, “Where the Bird Sings Best,” which will be published for the first time in English this fall.

It’s Jodorowsky’s least successful project, however, that brought him back into American consciousness. “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a documentary by Frank Pavich, revisits the filmmaker’s failed attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel in the mid-1970s. Often called “the greatest movie never made” (competing for the title with Stanley Kubrick’s “Napoleon”), the project was going to feature a cast that included David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dali as the mad emperor of the universe. Pink Floyd was commissioned to write the score.

In the documentary we see interviews with Jodorowsky — bright eyed and animated in his Paris apartment — along with collaborators like writer and special effects artist Dan O’Bannon, painter Chris Foss, and recently deceased Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who later gained fame for designing the “Alien” movies. In the end we hear Jodorowsky express outrage at the Hollywood executives who refused to fund the movie’s production, and his relief that the version made by David Lynch turned out to be “terrible.”

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