Master of allusion


As the Chilean cult master Alejandro Jodorowsky prepares to make another film, Eugene Carey looks at an earlier reinvention in his controversial career


Santa Sangre
Alejandro Jodorowsky
1989, Productora Fílmica Real/Produzioni Intersound
123 minutes (English)

Reviewed by Eugene Carey

LATAMROB rating: ****

YOU MAY not wish to hold your breath, but it has been reported that shooting on the latest project by Chilean cult master Alejandro Jodorowsky is likely to begin this month.

False starts are daily fare in the world of avant-garde and surreal cinema, but the long rumoured King Shot – a gangster movie in which Marilyn Manson will play a 300-year-old pope – could do for one of the most controversial directors to come out of Latin America what the Mexican-Italian production Santa Sangre did in 1989, putting him back on the cultural map despite the inevitable mudslinging that he has attracted throughout his career.

So it is worth taking another look at Santa Sangre for clues to how Jodorowsky could handle his return, if and when it eventually comes. A psychodrama with a fairly linear narrative that tells the tale of a mental patient confronting the traumas of his childhood, Santa Sangre explored both religious fanaticism and the corrupting power of maternal devotion – a kind of religious Oedipal bloodbath.

Fenix, played by Jodorowsky’s son Axel, recalls seeing his father – a washed out circus master – cut off the arms of his mother (the inimitable Blanca Guerra), a religious fanatic who leads the heretical church of Santa Sangre (“Holy Blood”) in Mexico. He is lured to his escape from the lunatic asylum by his surviving, and armless, mother to become her grisly tool of vengeance against his will. Another son of Jodorowsky, Teo, plays a pimp in the film.

Visit to set

I recall visiting the set of Santa Sangre at the heart of Mexico City during production and meeting Guy Stockwell, the circus master. The producer and director were running a tight ship with self-evident professionalism, yet critics have long dismissed Jodorowsky as a figure who dedicates himself solely to attracting controversy ever since Fando y Lis (1968) incited a riot at its debut in Acapulco. They have simply got it wrong: this director has attracted the attention of some of the most influential and original creative minds of our age: for example, John Lennon and Yoko Ono helped to arrange the release and distribution in the US of Jodorowsky’s mystical Western El Topo (1970) and financed his third film, La Montaña Sagrada (1973), again inspired by psychedelic and spiritual themes. David Lynch is also rumoured to be a producer of King Shot.

Santa Sangre includes some extremely clever allusion, largely lost on those who do not pay close attention. The house in which Fenix and his mother end up acting out her bloodthirsty revenge, for example, during which he drapes himself in bandages like the Invisible Man, is the same house in which El Santo – the greatest icon of Mexican popular cinema – tackled the creepy Dr Karol in Santo en el museo de cera.

So if Santa Sangre is anything to go by, King Shot will be in English, will have a linear narrative, will explore religious fanaticism, will be brimming with allusion, and will include some big names. The IMDB cast list already posted includes, alongside Manson, Asia Argento and Nick Nolte. King Shot will also repeat the director’s tendency to include his sons in the cast list: Adan Jodorowsky is also listed as among the actors who will appear in the film.

Jodorowsky is an intriguing character whose films generate strong emotions, but he has also demonstrated the staying power and a willingness to take risks that are the mark of all great directors.

It is hardly surprising that critical interest in his work has come later in his career: the first major English language study about this director and his films, Anarchy and Alchemy: The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, was published in 2007, for example, and, like Jodorowsky himself, generated strong and mixed reactions.

Either way, if and when King Shot makes it to the screen, it will be a fascinating trip.

Eugene Carey is a journalist

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