Alejandro Jodorowsky  

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"I ask of cinema what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs."

"Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my testicles."

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Alejandro Jodorowsky (born 17 February 1929) filmmaker, playwright, actor, author, musician, comics writer and spiritual guru. Best known for his avant-garde films, he has been "venerated by cult cinema enthusiasts" for his work which "is filled with violently surreal images and a hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation."

Born to Jewish-Ukrainian parents in Chile, Jodorowsky experienced an unhappy and alienated childhood, and so immersed himself in reading and writing poetry. Dropping out of college, he became involved in theater and in particular mime, working as a clown before founding his own theater troupe, the Teatro Mimico, in 1947. Moving to Paris in the early 1950s, Jodorowsky studied mime under Étienne Decroux before turning to cinema, directing the short film Les têtes interverties in 1957. From 1960 he divided his time between Paris and Mexico City, in the former becoming a founding member of the anarchistic avant-garde Panic Movement of performance artists. In 1966 he created his first comic strip, Anibal 5, whilst in 1967 he directed his first feature film, the surrealist Fando y Lis, which caused a huge scandal in Mexico, eventually being banned.

His next film, the acid western El Topo (1970), became a hit on the midnight movie circuit in the United States, considered as the first-ever midnight cult film, garnering high praise from John Lennon, which led to Jodorowsky being provided with $1 million to finance his next film. The result was The Holy Mountain (1973), a surrealist exploration of western esotericism. Disagreements with the film's distributor Allen Klein, however, led to both The Holy Mountain and El Topo failing to gain widespread distribution, although both became classics on the underground film circuit.

After an aborted attempt at filming Frank Herbert's novel Dune, Jodorowsky produced three more films, the family film Tusk (1980), the surrealist horror Santa Sangre (1989), and the failed blockbuster The Rainbow Thief (1990). Meanwhile, he has simultaneously written a series of science fiction comic books, most notably The Incal (1981–1989), which has been described as having a claim to be "the best comic book" ever written, but also Technopriests and Metabarons. Accompanying this, he has also written books and regularly lectures on his own spiritual system, which he calls "psychomagic" and "psychoshamanism" and which borrows from his interests in alchemy, the Tarot, Zen Buddhism, and shamanism. His son, Cristóbal, has followed his teachings on psychoshamanism; this work is captured in the feature documentary Quantum Men directed by Carlos Serrano Azcona.


Early years

Jodorowsky began his artistic activities at a very young age, inspired greatly by film and literature. He began publishing his poetry in Chile when he was 16. At this time he worked alongside the Chilean poets Nicanor Parra and Enrique Lihn. He developed an interest in puppetry and mime. At 17, he debuted as an actor and a year later he created the pantomime troupe, Teatro Mímico. In 1953 Jodorowsky wrote his first play, El minotauro (The Minotaur). That same year he traveled to Paris to study pantomime with Etienne Decroux, the teacher of Marcel Marceau. The next year he joined Marcel Marceau theatre troupe; the performances realized during this collaboration toured worldwide. After performing in Mexico in 1960, Jodorowsky decided to continue his stay in order to pursue other theatrical endeavors.

Los Pánicos

Panic Movement

In February 1962, in Paris, Jodorowsky, along with Fernando Arrabal and Roland Topor, initiated the Panic Movement, an artistic movement centered around three basic elements: terror, humor, and simultaneity. These acts combine layers of physical postures inspired by the imagination and integrate artistic elements. Acts of this movement include Cuentos pánicos, Teatro pánico, Fabulas pánicas and Efímeros pánicos.

Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, working in Paris and Mexico, Jodorowsky created over one hundred theatrical productions. He directed works of his own in addition to those written by Leonora Carrington, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, August Strindberg and others. El acto efímero (or "ephemeral performances") was acted out in public spaces, drawing attention to the quotidian while promoting critical awareness in both participants and audience. During these ephemeral acts the public is often unaware that an act of drama is being performed. Jodorowsky once stated: "the panic man is not, he is ever becoming" to reference Alfred Korzybski's influence on his thought.

Beginning in 1966, Jodorowsky created comics relating to "El pánico." These comics were made independently and in collaboration with illustrators including Jean "Mœbius" Giraud. In the course of his comic career, Jodorowsky has created approximately 21 series including Fábulas pánicas, Los ojos del gato and El incal. All translated from Spanish into over ten languages.

Jodorowsky's first experience with movies was in 1957 in Paris, where he adapted Thomas Mann’s The Transposed Heads as La Cravate. He next created Fando y Lis in Mexico in 1967. Two years later, Jodorowsky created his most renowned film, El Topo (aka The Mole). In the following years additional films were realized including La montaña sagrada in 1972.


Jodorowsky spent over fifteen years reconstructing the original form of the Tarot de Marseille. From this work he moved in to more therapeutic work in three areas: psychomagic, psychogenealogy and initiatic massage. Psychomagic aims to heal psychological wounds suffered in life. This therapy is based on the belief that the performance of certain acts can directly act upon the unconscious mind, releasing it from a series of traumas, some of which are passed down from generation to generation. Psychogenealogy includes the studying of the patient’s personality and family tree in order to best address their specific sources.

Jodorowsky has several books on his therapeutic methods, including Psicomagia: La trampa sagrada (Psychomagic: The Sacred Trap) and his autobiography La danza de la realidad (The Dance of Reality). To date he has published over 23 novels and philosophical treaties, along with dozens of articles and interviews. His books are widely read in Spanish and French, but are for the most part unknown to English-speaking audiences.

Throughout his career, Jodorowsky has gained a reputation as a philosopher and scholar who presents the teachings of religion, psychology and spiritual masters, by molding them into pragmatic and imaginative endeavors. All of his enterprises integrate an artistic approach. Currently Jodorowsky dedicates much of his time to lecturing about his work.

It is important to note that for a quarter of a century, Jodorowsky held classes and lectures for free, in cafés and universities all over the city of Paris. Typically, such courses or talks would begin on Wednesday evenings as tarot lessons, and would culminate in an hour long conference, also free, where at times hundreds of attendees would be treated to live demonstrations of a psychological "arbre généalogique" ("tree of genealogy") involving volunteers from the audience. In these conferences, Jodorowsky would pave the way to building a strong base of students of his philosophy, which deals with understanding the unconscious as the "over-self" which is comprised of many generations of family relatives, living or deceased, acting on our own psyche, well into our adult lives, and causing our compulsions. It is important to note that of all his work, Jodorowsky considers these activities to be the most important of his life. Though such activities only take place in the insular world of Parisian cafés, he has devoted thousands of hours of his life to teaching and helping people "become more conscious," as he puts it.

Presently, these talks have dwindled to once a month and take place at the "Librairie Les Cent Ciels" in Paris.

Film-making career

He started his film career in Mexico with Fando y Lis (1968). The feature-length film debuted in Acapulco at the Film Festival and is famous for having incited a full scale riot there, requiring that Jodorowsky be smuggled out in a limousine.

El Topo (1970), a mystical Western, was his second film and is now considered a cult classic. John Lennon and Yoko Ono helped to arrange the film's release and distribution in the United States through Beatles manager Allen Klein.

Jodorowsky's third film, La montaña sagrada (The Holy Mountain) (1973), was entirely financed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It has been suggested that The Holy Mountain may have been inspired by Rene Daumal's surrealist novel Mount Analogue. During the completion of The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky received spiritual training from Oscar Ichazo of the Arica School, who encouraged him to take LSD and guided him through the subsequent psychedelic experience. Around the same time (2 November 1973), Jodorowsky participated in an isolation tank experiment conducted by John Lilly.

Jodorowsky began working in 1975 on an adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. The project was intended to involve his son Brontis Jodorowsky as Paul, Orson Welles as the Baron, Salvador Dalí as the Emperor, Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, Alain Delon as Duncan Idaho, Geraldine Chaplin as Lady Jessica, David Carradine as Duke Leto and Gloria Swanson as The Benne Geserit Reverend Mother. Dan O'Bannon for the script, Chris Foss, Pink Floyd, H. R. Giger and Jean Giraud (Mœbius). Ultimately, its funding evaporated, but Jodorowsky claimed it was sabotaged by the major studios in Hollywood because it was too French, a strange claim considering that Jodorowsky, while a naturalized citizen of France, has never identified with any particular country or culture (although the funding and his producer, Jerome Seydoux, were French). Many people close to the project claim that the set designs later turned up in Star Wars. Several of the people working on Jodorowsky's version of Dune later worked on Alien with elements (specifically those designed by Giger) similar to that of the failed Dune project. Whatever the opinions, Jodorowsky was the person who persuaded artist Mœbius to begin drawing science fiction at the beginning of the seventies, instead of "limiting himself to the Western genre." That decision triggered a "domino effect," which led to a massive revolution in science fiction design on both sides of the Atlantic. Director Ridley Scott credits the influence of a few French artists of that time for his decision to bring science fiction to the screen. In the early 1980s, David Lynch would later make the first film adaptation of Dune.

After the collapse of the "Dune" project Jodorowsky completely changed course and, in 1980, premiered his children's fable "Tusk", shot in India. Taken from Reginald Campbell's novel "Poo Lorn of the Elephants," the film explores the soul-mate relationship between a young British woman living in India and a highly prized elephant. The film exhibited little of the director's outlandish visual style and was never given wide release. Jodorowsky has since disowned the film.

In 1989 Jodorowsky completed Mexican-Italian production Santa sangre (Holy Blood). The film received limited theatrical distribution, putting Jodorowsky back on the cultural map despite its mixed critical reviews. It delved into psychodrama territory, with its protagonist becoming the amputated arms and hands of his mother and committing a string of murders in the process. Several of Jodorowsky's sons were recruited as actors.

He followed in 1990 with a very different film, The Rainbow Thief. Though it gave Jodorowsky a chance to work with actual "movie stars" Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif, the producer effectively curtailed most of Jodorowsky's artistic inclinations, threatening to fire him on the spot if anything in the script was changed.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Jodorowsky attempted to make a sequel to El Topo, called at different times The Sons of El Topo and Abelcain, but could not find investors for the project.

In 2000, Jodorowsky won the Jack Smith Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF). He attended the festival and his films were shown, including El Topo and The Holy Mountain, which at the time had grey legal status. According to festival director Bryan Wendorf, it was an open question of whether CUFF would be allowed to show both films, or whether the police would show up and shut the festival down.

Until 2007, Fando y Lis and Santa sangre were the only Jodorowsky's works available on DVD. Neither El Topo nor The Holy Mountain were available on videocassette or DVD in the United States or the United Kingdom, due to ownership disputes with distributor Allen Klein. After the dispute's settlement in 2004, however, plans to re-release Jodorowsky's films were announced by ABKCO Films. On January 19, 2007, the website announced that on May 1, 2007, Anchor Bay released a box set including El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Fando y Lis. A limited edition of the set includes both the El Topo and The Holy Mountain soundtracks. And, in early February 2007, Tartan Video announced its May 14, 2007, release date for the UK PAL DVD editions of El Topo, The Holy Mountain and the 6-disc box set which, alongside with the aforementioned feature films, includes the 2 soundtrack CDs, as well as separate DVD editions of Jodorowsky's 1968 debut feature Fando y Lis (with his 1957 short La cravate aka Les têtes interverties, included as an extra) and the 1994 feature-length documentary La constellation Jodorowsky. Notably, Fando y Lis and La cravate were extensively digitally restored and remastered in London during late 2006, thus providing the perfect complement to the quality restoration work undertaken on El Topo and The Holy Mountain in the States by Abkco, and ensuring that the presentation of Fando y Lis is a significant improvement over the 2001 Fantoma DVD edition. Prior to the availability of these legitimate releases, only inferior quality, optically censored bootleg copies of both El Topo and The Holy Mountain have been circulated on the Internet and on DVD.

In an interview with Premiere Magazine, Jodorowsky said his next project will be a gangster film called King Shot. Marilyn Manson will play a 300-year-old pope, he said, and Nick Nolte has also expressed interest in working with the director. Both are also listed as executive producers for the film, which has a projected release date of 2009. David Lynch is also rumored to be a producer. In the interview, Jodorowsky also said he wanted to make a sequel to El Topo, but couldn't raise the funds.

The book Anarchy and Alchemy: The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky is the first major English language study on the cinema of Jodorowsky.

Comic books

Jodorowsky started his comic career in Mexico with the creation of Anibal 5 series in the mid 1966 with illustrations by Manuel Moro, and had his turn in drawing his own comic strip in the weekly series Fabulas pánicas that appeared in the Mexican newspaper El Heraldo de México. He also wrote original stories for at least two or three other comic books in Mexico during those days: Los insoportables Borbolla was one of them. After his fourth film, Tusk, he started The Incal, with Jean Giraud (Mœbius). This graphic novel has its roots deep in the tarot and its symbols, i.e., the protagonist of The Incal, John Difool, is linked to the Fool card. The Incal (which would branch off into a prequel and sequel) forms the first in a sequence of several science fiction comic book series, all set in the same space opera Jodoverse (or "Metabarons Universe") published by Humanoids Publishing.

Comic books set in this milieu are Incal (trilogy: Before the Incal/ Incal/ After the Incal), Metabarons (trilogy: Dayal de Castaka/ The Caste of the Metabarons/ The Dreamshifters) and The Technopriests and also a RPG adaptation, The Metabarons Roleplaying Game. Many ideas and concepts derived from Jodorowsky's planned adaptation of Dune (which he would have only loosely based upon Frank Herbert's original novel) are featured in this universe.

Mœbius and Jodorowsky sued Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element, claiming that the 1997 film borrowed graphic and story elements from The Incal, but lost their case. The suit was plagued by ambiguity since Mœbius himself had willingly participated in the creation of the film, having been hired by Besson as a contributing artist, but had done so without gaining the approval of Incal co-creator Jodorowsky, whose services Besson did not call upon. For over a decade, Jodorowsky pressured his publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés to sue Luc Besson for the flagrant act of plagiarism, but the said publisher refused, rightfully fearing the inevitability of the final outcome. In a 2002 interview with the Danish comic book magazine Strip!, Jodorowsky actually claimed that he considered it an honour that somebody stole his ideas, which is not surprising, as Jodorowsky believes that authors do not create the stories they tell as much as they make personal interpretations of myths universal to the collective human subconsciousness. Privately, however, Jodorowsky has used harsh words in his retelling of how the plagiarizing of the Incal was supported by the courts, and often deplored the bias typically shown by French courts toward large industrial entities, to the detriment of Comic Book artists and writers. He has expressed great comfort, however, at the fact that anyone actually familiar with his creation has agreed that the work was obviously plagiarized by Besson.

Other action comics by Jodorowsky outside the genre of science fiction include the historically-based Bouncer illustrated by Francois Boucq, Juan Solo (Son of the Gun) and Le Lama blanc (The White Lama), both illustrated by Georges Bess.

Le Cœur couronné (The Crowned Heart, translated into English as The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart), a racy satire on religion set in contemporary times, won Jodorowsky and his collaborator, Jean Giraud, the 2001 Haxtur Award for Best Long Strip. He is currently working on a new graphic novel for the US market.

Jodorowsky's comic book work also appears in Taboo volume 4 (ed. Stephen Thrower), which features an interview with the director, designs for his version of Frank Herbert's Dune, comic storyboards for El Topo, and a collaboration with Moebius with the illustrated Eyes of the Cat.

He collaborated with Milo Manara in Borgia (2006), a graphic novel about the history of the House of Borgia.

Comics bibliography

  • Astéroïde Hurlant (2006)
  • Mégalex, artwork by Fred Beltran, Les Humanoïdes Associés
    • 1 L'anomalie, 1999
    • 2 L'ange Bossu, 2002
    • 3 Le cœur de Kavatah, 2008
  • Le Cœur couronné, artwork by Moebius, Les Humanoïdes Associés
    • 1 La Folle du Sacré Cœur, 1992
    • 2 Le Piège de l'irrationnel, 1993
    • 3 Le Fou de la Sorbonne, 1998

Plays (incomplete)

  • Zaratustra (Mexico, 1970)
  • El ensueño
  • La ópera del orden
  • El Gorila
  • Las sillas
  • Penélope
  • El diario de un loco
  • El juego que todos jugamos (Mexico, 1976)
  • Lucrecia Borgia" (Mexico, 1977)
  • Opera panique
  • El Sueno sin fin (Mexico, 2008)**Opening night April 15

Other work

He weekly comments "good news" for the nightly "author newsreport" of his friend Fernando Sánchez-Dragó in Telemadrid.

Jodorowsky also released a 12" vinyl with the Original Soundtrack of Zarathustra (Discos Tizoc, Mexico, 1970)



  • Cuentos Panicos (1963) illustrations by Roland Topor
  • Teatro Pánico (1965)
  • Juegos Pánicos (1965)
  • El Topo, fábula pánica con imágenes (1970) screenplay from the film El Topo
  • Fábulas Pánicas (1977) reprints from some strips of el Heraldo de Mexico
  • Las ansias carnívoras de la nada (1991)
  • Donde mejor canta un pájaro (1992)
  • Psychomagie/Approches d´une thérapie panique (1995) ISBN 968-6941-04-5
  • Griffes D´Ange (1996) illustrations by Jean Giraud
  • Antología Pánica (1996) with Daniel González-Dueñas
  • Los Evangelios para sanar (1997) ISBN 968-27-0701-3
  • La Sagesse des blagues;Le doigt et la lune;Les histoires de Mulla Nasrudin (1997) illustrations by George Bess
  • El niño del jueves negro (1999)
  • Albina y los hombres-perro (2000)
  • La Trampa Sagrada (2000)
  • No basta decir (2000)
  • La danza de la realidad (2001) Jodorowksy's autobiography ISBN 987-566-067-1
  • El loro de las siete lenguas (2001)
  • El Paso del ganso (2001)
  • Ópera Panique,ou l`éloge de la quotidenneté (2001) play
  • El tesoro de la sombra (2003)
  • Fábulas Pánicas (2003) reprints of all strips of el Heraldo de México
  • El dedo y la luna (2004)
  • Piedras del camino (2004)
  • La voie du Tarot (2004)
  • Yo, el tarot (2004)
  • El Maestro y las Magas (2006)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Alejandro Jodorowsky" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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