ANY FILMMAKER can ladle on the slow-motion or fill the screen with penguins, but real cinematic madness—the kind that pinwheels across the screen and burns off its half-life somewhere in your cerebral cortex—is a much rarer breed.
Alejandro Jodorowsky has been at the forefront of that latter category for more than 40 years, and apparently he's not stopping anytime soon. Currently riding a wave of renewed notoriety following the terrific documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, the filmmaker's output can be daunting to approach; unlike David Lynch, who couches his surreality behind a bland Hardy Boys veneer, Jodorowsky tends to favor full sensory assault. As the upcoming mini-retrospective at the Hollywood Theatre proves, however, once you find your way in, you're most likely in for good. During all of his movies, there's a moment where the viewer will begin to feel like they're running out of exclamatory holy shits.
Born in Chile in 1929, Jodorowsky got his start as a cartoonist and mime before making his feature film debut with 1968's Fando y Lis, which caused a riot at an early screening and promptly got banned in Mexico. Even with that auspicious beginning, however, 1970's El Topo (screens Fri July 18-Thurs July 24) marks the moment when the writer/director/star truly made his bones, almost singlehandedly launching the concept of the midnight movie. Part spaghetti western and part passion play, the film quick-draws between bursts of ultra-violence and flashes of serene beauty with a bravura that's amazing to behold. As wild and wooly as things get, though, there always remains a sense of a fierce intellect pulling the strings. The randomness never feels desperate, even at its most WTF.
Following its success, Jodorowsky went much, much bigger with 1973's The Holy Mountain (screens Fri July 25-Thurs July 31), an LSD-emulating vision quest that still feels like one of the oddest things to ever hit a screen. Filmed largely with non-actors (George Harrison was initially pegged as the lead before bolting, perhaps understandably), it remains a compulsively watchable mélange of sexed-up robots, hysterically deadpan dialogue (the line about "hyper-sexed brown native vampires" is far from the weirdest thing to be said), and unforgettable scatological alchemy. After seeing it, be prepared to laugh like a hyena whenever one of those Cash4Gold commercials comes on.
Which brings us to The Dance of Reality (opens Fri July 18) Jodorowsky's first feature in 23 years, and evidence that he's lost precious little of his curve over the years. A kinda-sorta autobiography (puppets feature heavily), the film follows the director back to the mining town of his birth, for a glimpse at the beginnings of his signature obsessions. Even at its most arrestingly bizarre, however—beware the hungry gulls—the main attraction remains Jodorowsky himself, a intensely charismatic, charmingly egotistical figure who remains utterly confident in the belief that his art can change the world. He still stands alone. Which is probably good for the state of the universe, really.