We speak to cult legend Alejandro Jodorowsky, coming to L.A.

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We speak to cult legend Alejandro Jodorowsky, coming to L.A.

“I am an earthling — after that I’m galactic and then I’m universal,” Alejandro Jodorowsky tells me in Spanish from his home in Paris during a recent video call.

At 95, the Chilean-born cult director rejects being tied to a physical location or nationality, not even to this planet or to his own body. The concept of a city seems irrelevant to him. And when I ask him what he thinks of Los Angeles ahead of his upcoming visit, he replies with a cheeky query of his own.

“Should I answer in an educated manner or should I answer in my own way?” he teases. After I insist that he cut loose, Jodorowsky continues, “I don’t want to say, ‘Los Angeles is so wonderful.’ I can’t tell you if I like it. It depends on the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, sexual, physical state I am in at that moment. I will answer when I get there.”

The iconoclastic Jodorowsky arrives in town this weekend for a retrospective at the American Cinematheque — it’s his first visit in more than six years. The series, running Friday through Sunday, includes sold-out screenings of his seminal psychedelic works “El Topo” (1970), “The Holy Mountain” (1973) and “Santa Sangre” (1989).

A scene from the movie “El Topo.”

(ABKCO Films)

“We are thrilled to share his most iconic films at the historic Egyptian Theatre so that audiences can continue to discover and rediscover these surreal, mind-blowing and singular works,” said Cindy Flores, a film programmer for the American Cinematheque, via email.

Talking to Jodorowsky is a metaphysical experience. His brain-expanding remarks about humanity’s status in the cosmos often require some contemplation to digest. For example, take his lyrical musings on why film continues to entice us.

“Cinema is an opening to creation,” he says. “We are tired of being locked in a physical body. We want to open ourselves up because we see free bodies everywhere, in the seagulls flying or in a gram of dust that the wind carries.”

By his side during our chat is his wife of over 20 years, an artist herself, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky, who occasionally jumps into frame to confirm a name or numerical fact that may escape the filmmaker. Despite spending more than 70 years living outside his place of birth, Jodorowsky’s Chilean accent comes across unequivocally when he speaks.

His heady statements match what he’s put onscreen and on the pages of his comics over the last 60 years. As esoteric in meaning as they are mesmeric in their imagery, the films of Jodorowsky are modern-day fables. To enter them is akin to walking in a dream where one must accept a bewildering logic.

In “El Topo,” his hypnotic 1970 western, Jodorowsky himself plays a gunslinger traversing an arid landscape filled with peculiar denizens. In 1973’s “The Holy Mountain,” heavily inspired by tarot cards, he is a wiseman, the Alchemist, who guides others to immortality through ritualistic, sexually explicit trials.

A man in black is surrounded by disciples.

A scene from the movie “The Holy Mountain.”

(ABKCO Films)

Hallucinogenic cornerstones of the original midnight-movie scene, Jodorowsky’s work has long been an expression of countercultural transgression, the kind that could be called a trip. There’s always a visual dialogue between carnal desire and enlightened thinking.

Why does he think his movies have endured over the decades?

“Because they are true,” Jodorowsky says, with stark conviction. “They were not made by producers. They were made by people who love art. When they watch them, people always say, ‘These films are more modern than what’s currently out.’”

Still artistically active, Jodorowsky has a full schedule in Los Angeles. Apart from doing Q&As at his screenings, he will present an exhibit titled “Another World,” featuring paintings co-created with Montandon-Jodorowsky (under the joint moniker pascALEjandro) at Blum Gallery.

And to top it off, he will host a screening of his 2019 documentary “Psychomagic, a Healing Art,” accompanied by a masterclass on the therapeutic practice he devised using creativity as a vehicle to heal both emotional and bodily ailments. Jodorowsky’s book on the subject, “The Way of Imagination,” hits shelves later this year.

“It is a free healing that comes out of my love for humanity,“ Jodorowsky says of psychomagic. “A human being cannot achieve what he wants in this world or in others if he does not do acts of love.”

Nothing makes Jodorowsky more thrilled than knowing he’ll be welcomed by packed houses, especially since he feels that today’s youth has mostly lost interest in cinema. Yet they still want to see his visions.

“Before, everyone had to go to the movies,” he explains. “Now, young people, they don’t go. They are looking for real depth, not fairy tales or war stories but other things. Something that allows us to discover the inner mystery that we all have inside.”

Jodorowsky’s most recent fiction film projects, “The Dance of Reality” (2013) and “Endless Poetry” (2016), proved challenging to finance. It was only through crowdfunding and two angel investors who donated around $2 million each that he was able to complete them. Due to such financial constraints, the third part in a planned autobiographical trilogy tackling childhood, adolescence and maturity will become a book instead.

“If cinema is so expensive to make, I am going to make cinema without cinema,” he explains. “I’m going to do what cinema does in a different way, without images.”

Never one to mince words, Jodorowsky declares that movies are in a period of decline, especially what’s coming out of Hollywood, a system he calls a “prison” and one he would never subject himself to.

“I’ve made 10 films, which for a film director is few,” he says. “Another may make 100 movies because he makes fairy tales. He can repeat himself. There is no huge mystery to discover in those films. Real art is not about totally entertaining the viewer but about changing their life.”

It brings us to the inevitable subject of Denis Villeneuve’s two-part “Dune,” which has grossed $1.1 billion globally. Jodorowsky is used to press inquiries about the sci-fi epic he famously tried to adapt back in the 1970s, with a pie-in-the-sky cast that would have included Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Orson Welles and his own son, Brontis, as the messianic hero Paul Atreides. (Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” chronicles the director’s fascinating, if failed attempt.

Not even the release of Villeneuve’s second part convinced the master to see them. His reasoning? Civility laced with hard-earned arrogance. “If I go see the movie, I’m going to have to be polite and praise it a little bit,” he confesses. “But I am sure they will never be able to have Salvador Dalí as the Emperor.”

Jodorowsky is pleased to find his radical ideas still gaining purchase: “The Incal,” a comic book he published throughout the ’80s centered on a triangular artifact that contains the world’s wisdom, is being adapted by “Jojo Rabbit” filmmaker Taika Waititi. Jodorowsky is keeping his expectations managed.

“He will only be able to express an approximation of what he wants, because where there is a producer in charge there is no perfection,” Jodorowsky warned, ever cynical about the money side.

He cares little about materialistic notions of success. “Look at me, I am 95 years old and I’m here talking so much stupidity,” he says with an infectious smile. “I’m having fun. And if I can have fun, I succeeded. I’m not suffering. I’m happy to be creating in every possible way.”

At his age, Jodorowsky’s thoughts often turn to what’s next for him — not professionally but when he transitions from this plane of existence and ascends into something greater.

“I am condemned to spend less time on Earth,” he tells me matter-of-factly. “I have fewer years left than you. Because you have a black beard and I have a white beard. White indicates less time alive. I have to accept that, but I’m not in decline yet.”

Even when his mortal body no longer shares this space with us, he plans to refuse to disappear.

“I will not be an immobile skeleton,” he says. “I’m going to be something else because I believe that there is eternal life. You and I are going to be talking in a different way. We’re going to talk for thousands of years. That’s my hope.”

How can I not believe him? As soon as Jodorowsky says goodbye while embracing his wife tightly, I’m already looking forward to our next encounter somewhere in the endless unknown.

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