One of the most idiosyncratic talents to emerge on the international film scene of the 1960s and ‘70s, Alexandro Jodorowsky (also credited as Alejandro Jodorowsky) became a counterculture icon in 1971 with the release of his film, El Topo, an underground sensation which helped launch the Midnight Movie phenomenon of the '70s.
Also known as an artist, author, mime, theatrical director, actor, philosopher, mystic, and authority on the tarot, Jodorowsky was born in Tocapilla, Chile on February 17, 1929. His family moved to Santiago, Chile when he was nine, and after developing a passionate interest in literature, he published his first poem at the age of 16. Jodorowsky briefly attended the University of Santiago, studying theater and puppetry, but he dropped out to found his own theater company. He relocated to Paris in 1955, where he directed a stage revue starring Maurice Chevalier and studied with Marcel Marceau, eventually joining his troupe and writing several pieces for the famed mime. Jodorowsky made his first film in Paris, a 1957 short called La Cravate, and immersed himself in the surrealist movement. While touring with Marceau, Jodorowsky spent some time in Mexico City, and made it his second home, founding a surrealist magazine there and directing experimental theater pieces. Back in Paris, he struck up an alliance with the Spanish avant-garde playwright Fernando Arrabal, and together they founded what they called the Panic Movement (referring not to the state of anxiety but the Greek god Pan). Under the guidance of his Panic creative principles, Jodorowsky staged purposefully outrageous theater pieces, drew a Mexican comic strip called Panic Fables, and began work on his first feature film, Fando y Lis, a loose adaptation of one of Arrabal's plays. Fando y Lis failed to find an audience -- it was banned in Mexico after a controversial film festival screening -- but Jodorowsky's second film fared far better. Shortly after he completed El Topo, the film was screened at a museum in New York City, where distributor Ben Barenholtz saw the movie and booked it into his Manhattan art house the Elgin. El Topo was screened each night at midnight, declaring it was "too heavy to be shown any other way." The film was a singular mélange of bizarre images, spaghetti western violence, and Eastern philosophical constructs, which Jodorowsky directed, wrote, and produced, as well as playing the leading role and writing the musical score. El Topo made a serious impression with adventurous audiences, particularly after John Lennon (then dabbling in experimental film himself) gave it his endorsement, and after a successful run at the Elgin, Lennon persuaded his then-manager Allen Klein to buy the U.S. rights to the film, opening it at art houses around the country. (Dennis Hopper also praised El Topo as a personal favorite, and sought Jodorowsky's advice as he edited his 1971 film The Last Movie.) Jodorowsky's third film, The Holy Mountain, arrived in 1973, and once again he served as leading man, composer, screenwriter, producer, and director. The film was even more striking and offbeat than El Topo, but it had trouble finding an audience, especially after Klein (who distributed it) insisted it had to be booked as a double bill with El Topo. After the disappointing reaction to The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky began work on a screen adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel Dune, but while Pink Floyd had agreed to compose the film's score (and Salvador Dali was cast in a key role), the financiers lost faith in the project and it never went before the cameras. (David Lynch, a filmmaker who has cited Jodorowsky as an influence, directed a screen version of Dune in 1984.) Jodorowsky's career as a filmmaker became sporadic, completing only three movies between 1977 and 1990, but he maintained a busy schedule writing graphic novels (he was also a frequent contributor to the magazine Heavy Metal), publishing short stories, staging plays, lecturing on philosophical and spiritual topics, and studying and designing tarot cards. Peter Gabriel has also acknowledged Jodorowsky's films as an influence on Genesis' celebrated concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Marilyn Manson is a fan and friend who persuaded Jodorowsky to officiate at his wedding to burlesque artist Dita Von Teese. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi