Friday, March 21, 2014

The Dance of Reality (La Danza de la Realidad) (2013)

Last Friday, Alejandro Jodorowsky was in New York for a special screening of his latest film, The Dance of Reality (La Danza de la Realidad), at MoMA. Years and years ago when he announced that he was making Santa Sangre (1989) at Cannes, a journalist said that Jodorowsky may be rusty as a filmmaker, to which Jodorowsky replied that a rusty knife can both cut you and poison you. At that time, it had only been several years since his previous film, Tusk (1980), a folly of a movie made in India that he's basically disowned. The Dance of Reality is Jodorowsky's first movie in 23 years. At best, this means the blade can cut deeper and may harbor a poison that festers; at worst, the blade crumbles from disuse and barely breaks the skin.

Marina Abramović (who was in attendance) helped introduce the film. She said that Jodorowosky's movies always struck her with such intense color, which was a fine counterpoint to the grayness of her surroundings in Yugoslavia. She closed by noting that there are two kinds of people in the world: the true originals and those who follow. Jodorowsky, she said, was a true original.

The Dance of Reality is an adaptation of the first chapter of Jodorowsky's autobiography of the same name. Young Alejandro Jodorowsky (played by Jeremías Herskovits) is introduced to us as a fraidy cat with long blonde hair, and he's terrified of clowns at the circus. Alejandro's father Jaime (played in Freudian/Jodorowsky fashion by the filmmaker's son Brontis) is a brusque Stalin loyalist who thinks his son is too effeminate. And then there's Alejandro's mother, Sara (Pamela Flores), who is gentle and matronly and busty. She belts out all of her lines like she's an opera singer, which is what Jodorowsky's mother always wanted to be in real life. Yet poverty forced the family into the toil of the working class. This class distinction is there in the introduction as a bit of filthy lucre fills the screen, a shimmering riposte to Jodorowsky's hometown of Tocopilla, which is colorful yet grimy. Whereas the coins seem unspent and merely hoarded, the buildings are lived-in and the paint glows through and because of the layer of dirt. Later, there's a golden shower on camera which provides a kind of succor that gold itself cannot. (It should be as ridiculous as the scene in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy. It sort of is, but it's also incredible because it's less about the urine and more about love, symbolism, devotion, forgiveness, transcendence, alchemy, womanhood... and yeah, okay fine, the urine too.)

The Dance of Reality, among many things, begins as a kind of comic musical, with songs and vignettes and tableaus of delight. I felt tears well up in my eyes as the young Jodorowsky wanders through town and meets the weirdos of his young world. Childhood is magic, and this Tocopilla is a place of wonderments. There's a bit of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine in the young Alejandro's joy over a pair of shoes, and even though the CG is spotty (though not bad for a $4 million independent film), the ambition and emotion of one sequence on the seashore overcomes the technological limitations. As these scenes from a surreal childhood unfold, the old Jodorowsky periodically shows up behind his child counterpart, commenting on the moment with a wizened perspective, and even saving his own youth from the despair that usually befalls sensitive children.

In addition to being a musical, The Dance of Reality is also a wistful look at childhood and a coming of age, a kind of exploration of class and race, a delve into the surreal family dynamics that helped mold the young Jodorowsky (and gave him the neuroses he's continually confronted in his work), and a glimpse at the political strife of Chile at the time. There is color, there is madness, and there is psychomagical beauty to what unfolds even when it does so unevenly.

Jodorowsky's previous films had a central character or central characters often on a kind of quest or with a shared goal, whereas The Dance of Reality, like life itself, doesn't have the clean narrative or obvious singular drive of an arc. There seems to be two different branches on this story tree: there's the son and there's the father. (Maybe it's just two different trees that are so close that their limbs intersect.) I expected that The Dance of Reality would be all the son's tale, but the middle of the film breaks from the whimsy of childhood to the failures of Jaime. It's almost a different movie; it's essentially a chronicle of another life lived.

I think this sense of unevenness is compounded by the fact that this is just the first chapter of the autobiography. A long life (or lives in this case) isn't resolved in a few years, and there are very few things in life that do get resolved anyway. Jodorowsky commented after the screening that if he lives to make the sequel to The Dance of Reality, it will be about writing poetry and being in a poetry club in his teenage years. (I believe the title would be something like “Infinite Poetry.”) As a teen, Jodorowsky hunkered down at his typewriter while his father berated him for being effeminate. So here's a conflict or set of conflicts--classic notions of machismo vs. the sensitive artist; the masculinity of the father vs. the femininity of the mother--introduced in one autobiographical film to be continued in another autobiographical film that has actually/already manifested itself as a quintessential element in Jodorowsky's previous films (i.e., El Topo, Santa Sangre).

While the rust of two decades is there, I don't think that diminishes the nature of the blade. The Dance of Reality still cuts, and can cut deep, and it cuts in a way that is uniquely Jodorowsky's--all sumptuousness and violence and aesthetic convulsions. I felt like I was reading an author's book of new and collected short stories, or listening to a recording of a band's reunion show where they play the hits and some new material. There are scenes or elements that immediately call to mind Fando Y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre: cripples, amputees, untouchables, circuses, objects aloft by balloon, the importance of arms, transvestites, a pentecostal/evangelical revival, brutal initiations into the ways of man, the strange pseudo-sexual bond between mothers and sons, etc.

And yet it makes sense that the film would be a kind of greatest hits. If every movie that Jodorowsky has made is autobiographical in some way--all art is autobigraphical given that the events of a life can be transformed and represented through a kind of aesthetic alchemy--his autobiography dips into that same well as his fictional works. All this time Jodorowsky's been talking about his life surrealy, obliquely, and metaphorically, and now he's talking about his art obliquely through his own autobiography, which takes on a surreal metaphorical power thanks to the transformative abilities of art. It's as if he's worked backwards toward himself, like the old man on film who appears behind his young-self with words of hope.

I don't feel like ranking The Dance of Reality against Jodorowsky's other movies, at least not yet. It'll take a few more watches to figure that out. All I can say is that I can't wait to watch the film again.

Some Highlights from the Post-Screening Q&A

Alejandro Jodorowsky mentioned that he plans to do a marathon tarot card reading at MoMA some time in the future. I am so there.

Jodorowsky did an impromptu tarot reading for an audience member simply by having him pick three numbers (which I cannot recall off the top of my head even though the person being read happened to pick the same numbers I picked in my head). Jodorowsky told the man that he has a star he is chasing, but there is something in his life is getting in the way (i.e., the card of the hanging man). Jodorowsky jokingly asked him what his relationship with his mother was like. He said that the man ideally would like to be a teacher. The audience member said he's a filmmaker, and Jodorowsky asked him if he's chasing after a woman who's as good as his mother. Jodorowsky ended by saying "Once you find that star, you will be able to make a good picture!"

Jodorowsky got pissed off at the first audience member who asked a question because of he was rambling and commenting about himself rather than engaging with Jodorowsky. At one point Jodorowsky interrupted the audience member and said (paraphrased), "WHAT IS YOUR QUESTION?! GET OUT OF THE WAY OF YOURSELF AND ASK ME A QUESTION!" The question was "Why does the world need to heal itself?" which was a thread brought up in conversation with Jodorowsky during the night. Jodorowsky seemed perturbed since the quuestion was a) already technically answered and b) self-evident. The world needs to heal itself because it's obvious it is very sick and things could be better.

Jodorowsky did some psychomagic healing in the Q & A. A woman with pain in her left leg asked what she should do. Jodorowsky said that pain in the left leg denotes pain from the mother (the right leg = pain from the father). Diagnosis: she should rub dirt from the Dominican Republic on her leg to heal herself.

A woman asked Jodorowsky why he does't have any female main characters in his work. Jodorowsly got a little defensive and brought up his Metabarons comics. (The comics are wonderful, by the way. If you haven't read any of the Jodoverse, check out Humanoids Publishing.) Jodorowsky then said that in Hollywood (and western storytelling), there are four kinds of male characters: the champion, the hero, the genius, and the saint. In this tradition, the four female characters are: the virgin, the mother, the whore, and the idiot. Jodorowsky talked about some women in his films often being healers and purifiers in some respects (as in the newest one), and then said that it's up to artists and consumers of art to demand changes in this set of patterns and to offer up their own art that breaks these molds as a response.

Jodorowsky said the first thing he does every morning is to check if his wife is by his side and then he makes sure he's still alive. (I like the way he ordered that.)

On the note of his wife who is roughly 40 years his junior (seen below), Jodorowksy said that the first time he met his would-be father-in-law, he was asked about his birthdate. Jodorowsky gave the date of his birth and his future-father-in-law said (paraphrased), "Good. I was born the day before you were. You're still younger than me, so I'm okay with this relationship."

No comments:

Post a Comment