Brontis Jodorowsky (Left) and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Photo by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

Brontis Jodorowsky (Left) and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Photo by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

It was deadline day, and like magic, after almost a month waiting for his response via email, the legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky finally responded to my questions about Jodorowsky’s Dune and his new film The Dance of Reality. As our last correspondence notes, he prefers to communicate in Spanish, so I asked these questions with the help of my Independent Ethos partner, Ana Morgenstern, who is originally from Mexico (from the city were Jodorowsky shot El Topo, no less). Again, the Chilean-born director replied with wit and poetry. Ana noted to me the translation hardly does this poet and intellectual guru justice, so below, you will find Jodorowsky’s email in its uncut, original Spanish.

I presented the English version in the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” I have already used some of the material from the email in this piece, which should appear in print in this week’s issue of the paper. Jodorowsky’s eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky, also contributed (more on our chat , done via Skype, will appear in “Cultist” and “Independent Ethos,” like last time). To read the English translation of my correspondence with the elder Jodorowsky, visit Cultist by jumping through the image below:

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I did the best I could with the translations— and, like last time, I think they came out pretty good— but for those who speak Spanish fluently (as many in my city of Miami do), the best way to read Jodorowsky’s responses is in his native Spanish:

Hans Morgenstern: La danza de realidad es una pelicula fuerte, crees que va mas alla de una autobiografia?

Alejandro Jodorowsky: ………..Es una autobiografía de la misma manera que “El Topo” es un wstern o “La Montaña Sagrada” un film de alpinismo. Me apodero del genero autobiográfico para profundizar en una gran variedad de temas.

¿Crees que sea un comentario sobre ideologia politica, religiosa o personal?

………………. La realidad no es una suma de alguna de sus partes, es un todo interactivo. Todo es político, todo es religioso, todo es personal, todo es todo. Yo no filmo un trozo de pastel, filmo el pastel entero.

¿Que esperas que la audiencia se lleve consigo despues de ver La danza de la realidad?

……… La finalidad de todo arte verdadero es revelar al ser humano la belleza de su propia alma.IMG_3148

Estoy interesado en tu opiñion sobre el documental de Dune.¿>Que te gusta o que cambiarias del documental?

………….. Opino  que su director Pavich es un ser luminoso, puro, bien intencionado. Su documental es producto de un apasionado sueño. Nada que ver con el cine industrial. Y como su filme es la realización de un sueño, tiene la perfección de los sueños: no hay nada que quitarle ni nada que agregarle.

¿Sufres de algún resentimiento de que Dune no se haya completado, aunque sea un poco?

………. De ninguna manera he sufrido. Para mí el fracaso es solo un cambio de camino. Los dos años de la preparación de Duna cambiaron mi vida, fue una experiencia sublime. En mi alma, mente, corazón, sexo, realicé el filme. Solamente faltó filmarlo: un mínimo detalle. Esta falta de sufrimiento resulta de mi formación en las artes marciales. Morir en un combate no es perder el combate. No cuenta el resultado, cuenta la acción que hiciste para obtenerlo, lo hayas obtenido o no. Batallar sin cobardía es el único triunfo de un héroe. Yo me lancé en ese proyecto sin cobardía, sin limites, con una inmensa audacia. Aunque no se filmó, siempre tuve la sensación de haberme realizado.

¿Duneno se haya filmado basado en los planes originales, otros largometrajes han sido influenciados por Dune, ¿es posible entonces que te llamemos el padre del renacimiento del cine de ciencia ficción?

……..Si Dios te lanza un dulce que no le has pedido, no seas tonto, abre la boca. Me pueden llamar como quieran, hasta acepto que me digan madre del tío del pato Donald. Si esos epitetos son producto de una admiración cariñosa que sean bienvenidos. Yo por mi parte lucho por no definirme ni tampoco exaltar mi ego.

Después de haber visto el documental, uno de los temas que salieron a relucir fue la preparación extrema de tu hijo, Brontis. ¿Crees que haya afectado tu relación con el?

…… La preparación que le dí a mi hijo, es la misma que yo me había dado a mí mismo. Practiqué artes marciales durante muchos años. También meditación zen. Brontis y yo tenemos una relación que atraviesa el abismo padre-hijo, para establecer lazos de amorosa igualdad de niveles. Tenemos una profunda amistad.

Jodo during Dune prep

¿Crees que hubo algún grado de auto-sabotaje al imponer el tiempo del largometraje? En otras palabras, al decir que el largometraje de Dune pueda ir de 12 a 20 horas. ¿no crees que eso cancela cualquier consideración seria por parte de estudios de Hollywood?

…..He vivido siempre adelantado al tiempo, unos 30 años en el futuro. La juventud actual, recien ahora está viendo La Montaña Sagrada y comprendiéndola. Yo tenía la razón, no era ninguna locura pensar en un filme de más de 14 horas de duración. Hoy en día se filman trilogías como el Hobbit y series de Televisión que pueden durar centenares de horas.

¿Cómo afectan las decisiones de financiamiento al arte cinematográfico?

…..Ahí está el problema: al convertirse el gran arte del cine en industria, de golpe se pudrió. Ya no fue más arte, sino un entretenimiento bobo, lacayo del sistema, limitador de conciencias, infantilizador. Se lo comío la horda de productores ávidos de dolares, estrellas egómanas, distribuidores cobardes, técnicos ladrones, criticos pagados, inculcadores solapado de ideas politicas, vendedores de cigarrillos, champaña, marcas de automoviles y publicidad turistica. Los filmes, presos en las salas de cine, se ahogan. El cine de arte está por nacer y ser exhibido en los museos, con el mismo honor con que se exhiben los cuadros y esculturas.

Hans Morgenstern

This interview was done to coincide with this weekend’s second installment of “Speaking In Cinema.” Both Jodorowsky’s Dune and The Dance of Reality are now playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which is hosting the event. Actor Brontis Jodorowsky will present The Dance of Reality in person on June 14. On June 15, he will also introduce Jodorowsky’s Dune and another film he stars in, the rarely seen Táu, directed by Daniel Castro Zimbrón. On Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., Brontis will join “Village Voice” film critic Michael Atkinson and “Miami Herald” film critic Rene Rodriguez for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film and other works by Jodorowsky. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting the calendar page of mbcinema.com.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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Although cinema is filled with singular voices, few have the distinct style emblematic of the auteur. Alejandro Jodorowsky is one such director. After a cinematic silence that has lasted 23 years, the Chilean filmmaker has returned with the movie adaptation of his 2001 memoir, The Dance of Reality (it is only available in Spanish). He’s in every aspect of this film. Not only is he literally the author of the book that is the basis of the script of the film, he— as is often the case— plays a role in the movie. On screen, the 85-year-old appears as a version of himself to narrate the feelings and impressions of his younger self (Jeremias Herskovits) from the boy’s perspective via the filter of his older self. That may sound confusing to some, but the idea of perspective is key to appreciating his new film.

Jodorowsky has never pretended that cinema, in any remote sense, stands in as a surrogate to reality as most people know it. He fills his films with allegory, myth and fables. They are also social critiques. Some lovers of Jodorowsky like take his films at face value and marvel at the inventive imagery on a subconscious if not superficial level. Others look to the symbols for a path to enlightenment. Sometimes, a sense of the personal can be gleaned from his cinema, and no film in his career has ever felt more personal than The Dance of Reality. That said, it should also be taken with a grain of salt.

With this new film, Jodorowsky takes auteurism to familiar nuclear heights, literally speaking. Though he only plays a small but recurrent role as his current self, bedecked in either a simple black or white suit, IMG_3148this film is also a family affair, as he extends his auteurism through his children. His eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky plays Jaime Jodorowsky, the father who seems to bully his son into “manning up” in the film. Then there is Axel Jodorowsky, who plays the hermit Theosophist by the beach young Alejandro visits for some doses of enlightenment. Youngest son Adan Jodorowsky provides the film’s dynamic soundtrack and has a small role in the film as an anarchist. Finally, the director’s wife, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky, designed the film’s eye-catching costumes.

Raising his auteurism to a more familiar level, Jodorowsky has never played by any set of rules dictated by the norms of cinema. His films have often been called surreal and shocking. A sort of associative dream-logic moves narrative along, which actually stands as a more honest use of he filtered lens of the camera and the subjective decision of editing. Those who know Jodo as the weirdo director who made the first “midnight movie,” El Topo (1970), are reducing this genius director to a trivial novelty, which does not take into account his profound insight into the human soul via creativity. Underneath sometimes shocking images lies a well of insight into the hypocrisy of ideology, be it the kind that governs a nation or the one that defines a sense of self.

Tyranny stands out as a big part of this film. The film begins with the idea of material oppression. It’s all about money, as gold coins fill the screen as the director’s face fades in from the black background, comparing money to blood, Christ and Buddha. Clowns drop coins to the melody “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” Then, money cascades across a newspaper headline noting the financial collapse of 1929 (the year of the director’s birth) and the impact it had on the majority of Chileans. While the soundtrack switches to the sound of boots marching, Jodorowsky continues, “There is no difference between money and conscience.” Blood spatters the newspaper, and the director says, “There is no difference between conscience and death.” Then the film fades to an iconic Jodorowsky image: a mass of people walking through the desert.

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That’s only about the first minute of the opening of the film. Already he presents an image dense with metaphor and philosophy. Intimate and adventurous, Jodorowsky has created a film filled with the surreal wit that has endeared him to his audience, but there is also a profound wisdom aware of the hypocrisy of religion and the State. Tyranny is a big thing for Jodorowsky, and it begins with an interest in materialism that seems to fuel life only to result in a futile existence without meaning.

The film then soon turns its focus to the young Jodorowsky as a lad with long, golden hair. He’s oppressed by his father who calls him “coward” and “queer” and frequently yells at him. Meanwhile, his voluptuous mother (Pamela Flores) only ever sings her dialogue in an operatic warble, referring to him as the reincarnation of her father. Oppression becomes more personal and distinctly macho and feminine. The young spirit can only flail for some sense of self, as the damaged people immediately around him project and seem to suffocate him, as they try to raise him as their only offspring.

Then there is the presence of Carlos Ibáñes (Bastián Bodenhöfer), a military officer turned dictator during two presidencies in Chile. Much of the film follows P1050231Jaime who turns his interest away from family to stand up to Ibáñes and one day, when the moment is right, assassinate him … if not, at least kill his horse. However, when he fails to accomplish this personal mission, Jaime turns cripple and disheveled and becomes a martyred political prisoner subjected to intense torture. Could this be the path to the father’s redemption? Who knows? It’s for Jodorowsky to work out, and despite many hilarious, sometimes twisted but always resonant set pieces and scenes, this struggle for redemption carries on a bit too long, and seems too far removed from his boyhood self. It’s the one part of the film, albeit a large one, where Jodorowsky goes a bit too literal.

What stands out best about The Dance of Reality are the scenes with his younger self. Though the child version always seems terrorized by Jaime, the older self is there to offer the boy’s thoughts. It makes for many particularly touching scenes of a different kind of redemption, a sort of self-redemption. It’s a blending of both suffering and healing and the growth that comes later. For Jodorowsky, life is not linear. It’s circular and carries on beyond time. He’s generous to extend it to his father, but it boils down to the self. In one of the director’s voice overs, he assures himself as a child, and by extension the audience: “Everything you are going to be, you already are. What you are looking for is already inside you. Rejoice your sufferings. Thanks to them, you will reach me.”

Hans Morgenstern

The Dance of Reality runs 130 minutes, is in Spanish with English subtitles and is not rated (though about childhood, it’s a mature man’s childhood in retrospect, so it’s not for children). It opens Friday, June 6, at 7 p.m., exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Actor Brontis Jodorowsky will present the film in person on June 14. On June 15, he will also introduce Jodorowsky’s Dune and another film he stars in, Táu (see MBC’s calendar for details). On Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., he, Village Voice film critic Michael Atkinson and Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez will share the stage at MBC in the second installment of the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film and other works by Jodorowsky (see details). A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. 

Photo credits: All images provided courtesy of Brontis Jodorowsky and were shot on set by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky. Brontis and I recently caught up via Skype. Expect to see a series of interviews as a result of our conversation in the next few days. In the meantime, read our early chat, when this film was still in production, and more via this link.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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Most of us are frightened of dying because we don’t know what it means to live. We don’t know how to live, therefore we don’t know how to die. As long as we are frightened of life we shall be frightened of death.  

— J. Krishnamurti, from Freedom from the Known

The entanglement of life and death would be so much easier to understand if life were only ever bliss and death was only tragedy. In Hide Your Smiling Faces, two teenage brothers hint at a semblance of shamelessness in the face of death. They share a giggle behind the backs of their parents who are lamenting the untimely death of a playmate of the younger brother. With this slight moment, director Daniel Patrick Carbone exposes something quite profound about the relationship between life and death. Throughout his debut feature, he uses moments that subvert dialogue and narrative in order to speak to the sublime and varied might of the great inevitable.

It’s not like death is not funny (look at the work of Woody Allen, which respects its power while finding humor in its dread). Why the death of a boy appears funny to these kids, at that moment, is never revealed by this film, nor does it need to be. With his impressive debut feature film, Carbone is able to do something with visuals that only few do with words, such as philosophers Krishnamurti and the more accessible Alan Watts (read more about him in my profile on the band STRFKR). Carbone has been compared to Terrence Malick, but I would add the more minimalist and sometimes humorous film, Le Quattro Volte (read my review).

With a run time of only 80 minutes, Hide Your Smiling Faces is a brief but dazzling little movie full of mystery and atmosphere that subtly seduces the viewer to relate with aimless youth by not dwelling on narrative. It follows the two brothers, Eric (Ryan Jones) and Tommy (Nathan Varnson), whose names you do not learn until much later in the film. Though their ages are never disclosed and neither is shown in school, Tommy could be in middle school and Eric in high school. They often speak in questions. They seem to wile away time outside of their rustic home in the nature of rural New Jersey (we only know the location thanks to the film’s end credits). Technology is hidden from the picture, beyond a portable CD player, which could place these kids in an alternate era, probably the early 1990s. Even their plain clothing and crew cuts set them in a place out of the current era. These are all visual clues to keep the viewer focused on the film’s theme, which is established early on with an extended opening shot of a snake gradually consuming a lifeless salamander between some undulating breaths.

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Death and decay appear over and over in scenes that show the boys vibrantly living it up, but it’s not excess so much as visceral urgency. They break into an abandoned home to punch through decaying walls. The brothers discover a mysterious pile of dead pets in the woods, including dogs and a cat. The threat of violence emerges during play wrestling and when one the youngest boys gets ahold of his father’s gun.

There’s a reckless, immature yet sincere quality to these boys’ relationships. There are no young girls brought into the narrative, but there are still expressions of love and tenderness. In back-to-back scenes, Eric and Tommy have intimate moments with friends. In the first scene, it’s night, and Tristan (Thomas Cruz), the only friend Eric sometimes has alone time with, cryptically confesses to him over the phone, “I just don’t want to be here anymore … no one likes me here.” Eric responds with hesitation: “I do.” It’s only after Tristan coaxes him with some terse questions that Eric somewhat painfully admits, “I like you. You’re my friend.” In the following scene, during the day, Tommy proposes to one of his friends they practice kissing with a piece of transparent acetate between their faces. “So you don’t wonder what it feels like?” Tommy tells his friend, before they do it and laugh it off agreeing, “This is pretty weird.” Throughout the film, Carbone’s script captures the complexity of repressed expression between these young people. He reveals a deep yearning to connect below superficial actions.

Carbone seems more interested in presenting these profound moments of imperfect human connections as vignettes rather than deeply explored storylines. They therefore take on an impressionistic air that many in the audience might relate with. He leaves it up to the audience to fill in the gaps with feeling and thought. trailer-hide-your-smiling-faces-16648That’s not to say the film is not expressive and warm. Carbone has more experience in his filmography as a cinematographer than directing (he directed one short in 2008, besides this film, according to his IMDB page, but has six cinematography credits), and it shows in the best way. From one scene to another he presents arresting, intimate images through the lensing of Nick Bentgen. They position the camera at the younger boys’ eye level, so you are there, on the floor in the bedroom with them, light shining into the room from a window above.

Despite the rather extended opening sequence, the film never feels as though it drags. Bentgen’s camera finds plenty of dynamic images to appreciate. Sometimes they are distant and obscure, rich with wonder. There are no pans or zooms, only an opening to a lush landscape that hints at layers of imagery and sometimes mystery. He does not shoot dreamily like Malick’s current cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. He shoots more intimately, drawing you in close to the characters without indulgent close-ups. If there is a dreamlike quality to the film, it comes out in the editing, which is more associative than straight up narrative. Like the directing and the script, Carbone is also the sole editor of this film, which shows how much control he had over the final product.

There’s hardly ever any music to take away from the film’s naturalistic sensibility. Something that sounds like death metal rumbles out of a pair of headsets Tommy borrows from Eric. HYSFBeyond that muffled diegetic din, the only time Carbone consciously uses extradiegetic music comes when the brothers ride a bicycle they share. The score is a spare atmospheric, droning soundscape by Robert Donne, who is probably best known as a founding member of Labradford, a post-rock/drone-rock band from Virginia that emerged in the early ‘90s. The melodic hum ebbs and flows, as the boys cover a seemingly expansive landscape both full of lush forests and also— one never is allowed to forgets— the threat of death.

Carbone has chosen to work with rather inexperienced actors. It keeps the interaction between the boys genuine and casual. It harnesses that special power within boyhood that still seethes with potential and a desire for expression in an unencumbered manner. HYSF-Rain-Tongue-1920x1080That said, the movie has three or four instances where the acting becomes visible due to a sense of self-consciousness by these actors. But then the camera offers another impressive, quiet visual moment that cancels out this glance behind the curtain, as when the deceased boy and Tommy share a disconnected moment in time with the carapace of the same dead bug. Both have turns delicately holding the translucent exoskeleton of the beetle against the light. Through association they are connected as death is infused with light. It’s a beautiful moment layered with the complexity of life and death.

Light and darkness is a huge part of this film. Carbone proves a daring young voice in the independent cinema world who understands how to allow visuals to not only tell the tale but express something beyond language. A film like this is far beyond notions of coming-of-age, as it ends with these kids having a lot left to learn. It’s refreshing to experience a movie that can settle into expression of the feeling of growing up while offering the taste of potential, instead of some neat, distancing complete package. Hide Your Smiling Faces is one of those thrilling moments in cinema that confirms pictures can indeed be bigger than words.

Hans Morgenstern

Note: I will host the director and legendary film critic Amy Taubin (Film Comment, Village Voice, Sight and Sound) in a discussion of this film and other cinematic releases of the year in the first installment of the Knight Foundation-sponsored series, Speaking In Cinema on Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m., at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. For information and tickets visit here (that’s a hotlink).

Hide Your Smiling Faces begins this Friday, April 18, exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, in South Florida. It runs 80 minutes and is unrated (there’s cussing and vivid scenes of rigor mortis). Tribeca Film provided an on-line screener for the purposes of this review. For screening dates in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s website.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)