389035_3947904008476_1389178536_n(2)The way Brontis Jodorowsky explains it, his father’s new film, The Dance of Reality, is much more than a cinematic adaptation of the memoir of the same name. After all, his father, Alejandro Jodorowsky, is the man behind “Psicomagia” (Psychomagic), a form of therapy through art. His memoir, published in Spanish in 2001, stands as an example of that. Though it features cruel stories of abuse the director suffered as a child, it is less a fact-based memoir and more an “imagined autobiography” that becomes a sort of redemption for his family.

Speaking via Skype from his home in Paris, Brontis, who in the film plays the role of Jaime Jodorowsky, the grandfather largely responsible for the traumatic upbringing of his father, offers insight into the film and the purpose of it as mystical therapeutic device. He speaks soothingly and builds on his statements explaining the psychomagic behind the film. “I have my father, the public figure that you know. He’s my father. But I also have another father that is the private man, and I also have another father, which is the archetype of the father inside of me that is built up with Jaime, Alejandro and also with me being a father. So there’s a father figure composed by different experiences, and inside this father figure, we have this very negative part, character, father figure, that’s only negative. That was Jaime, my grandfather. So by doing this process of remaking the story and giving him a chance through the movie to humanize, to take off the costume of the domestic tyrant and open his heart, we transform a negative part of the father archetype in our family story into a character that is not a saint but has a different aspect and that can change, you see, that can progress. A heart can be opened, so the father figure in our family tree, genealogy, changes, so we’re transmitting to our children and grandchildren another vision of what the father is.”

The bond between Alejandro Jodorowsky and his son is profound. It comes out beautifully in this new film, the director’s first feature in 23 years. It also comes out in a documentary about the director’s efforts to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune as a movie. Jodorowsky’s Dune captures one particularly raw moment where the elder David Carradine meets Jodorowsky circa 1974Jodorowsky seems still a bit haunted by the fact he had his the 12-year-old son train for years to prepare for the part of Paul Atreides, yet the film was never shot (Brontis calls this an example of a “private message” from his father). Brontis looks on the bright side. “Yeah, well, you know, what I acquired during those two years of training was so useful afterwards in my actor’s life, especially all the [physical] training part because that taught my body to learn, which is the most important thing that you can learn: is how to learn, so afterwards, when I went to do theater, I always worked in a very physical type of theater. My body was always involved, but I had a trained body that could learn … It was not a waste of time.”

Jodorowsky’s cinematic version of Dune would have been the first ever attempt to adapt the 1965 novel. Though Jodorowsky made great efforts to gather collaborators like H.R. Giger, Orson Welles, David Carradine and Pink Floyd as just some of his “creative warriors,” every Hollywood studio he presented his grand treatment, which included the script by Dan O’Bannon, storyboards by comic book artist Moebius and lots of detailed concept art by Giger and and Alex Ross, they balked at his ambition, which included no fixed limit to the film’s runtime. “They were afraid of him,” says Brontis, “of his personality, so it wasn’t a problem that it was two hours, three hours or five or 10. How long is Star Wars? Too long, much too long.”

Brontis continues, noting that there was also a fundamental cultural conflict between the source of Jodorowsky’s unrestrained creativity and Hollywood’s bottom-dollar attitude. “Also, I think this is an American thing, that Americans don’t want the success to come from outside, so I think that in a way, they saw the project, but I can’t be sure of this, maybe it was just paranoia, in a way, HR Giger concept art for DuneI sense they saw the project, and I think they saw that, wow, maybe that would be a kind of future for movies, and they said, well, why give it to him? Let’s take the ideas and do it ourselves. Instead of doing one movie, we’re going to do this, that and that … I think it’s part of the movie industry’s history. It’s a world of artists and crooks at the same time, of people who dream wonderful things and big bank accounts both at the same time,” he says with a laugh.

Despite all that, the future has been good to the Jodorowsky family, and you will be hard pressed to find a creative clan with a more positive and creative drive, fulfilled with their place in the universe. Brontis has mostly worked in theater, but only recently returned to cinema. In 2012, he acted in Táu, a film shot in the same Mexican desert where his father shot El Topo, in which the younger Jodorowsky made his acting debut alongside his father. With Táu, under the direction of Daniel Castro Zimbrón, for the first time in his life, Brontis took the lead role in a movie. The collaboration went so well, they plan to begin a second film together, later this year. “Now we’re going to do another one that we start shooting in November or December that’s called the Darkness,” he reveals. He notes that it has already been work-shopped at Morelia, Toulouse and most recently at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Brontis Jodorowsky in Tau

During his visit to the Miami Beach Cinematheque, he will introduce Táu at a rare U.S. screening, as the film was never picked up for distribution in the United States. Then it’s on to Speaking In Cinema, an hour-long chat with “Village Voice” film critic Michael Atkinson and “Miami Herald” film critic Rene Rodriguez , who both wrote their own positive reviews of The Dance of Reality (click on their names to read their articles).

It will be interesting to watch how the critics work with Jodorowsky, who says he is looking for having a little more time to deal with questions for Dance than usual screenings allow. “I’ve done quite a few festivals now, and there’s always a Q&A,” says Brontis, “but sometimes it’s just 20 minutes, so I just have time to answer one question.

There is much more with both Jodorowskys in other articles I’ve written. The titles of the articles below are hot links where you can read more (except for Alejandro’s quotes, no quotes overlap):

Brontis Jodorowsky to Speak in Miami Beach: “Miami Must Have Some Rock ‘n Roll”

Pure Honey Film Bits: Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky replies to my questions via email, Part 2 – Spanish version

Alejandro Jodorowsky on Dune Documentary: “There’s Nothing Crazy About a 14-Hour Film”

Legendary Director Alejandro Jodorowsky on The Dance of Reality, Dune, and Fatherhood

The of course, there are the reviews:

Jodorowsky heals psychic wounds with fabulist recreation of childhood in ‘Dance of Reality’

Film Review: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ celebrates the creativity necessary to do justice in sci-fi cinema

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. Brontis Jodorowsky will present The Dance of Reality in person on June 14. On June 15, he will also introduce Jodorowsky’s Dune and Táu. 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.)
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:

cultist banner

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.)


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.


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.)

poster DuneTo many, the new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune will feel like a nice consolation for the fact that cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky never finished his version of Frank Herbert’s esteemed sci-fi epic. It’s a terrific chronicle of the Chilean director’s ambitious planning to prepare a thorough treatment for his first film proposed to major Hollywood studios. But it is also a celebration of unfettered creativity in all its glorious excess.

For Jodorowsky, a film about several worlds fighting for possession of a substance that expands consciousness should be treated literally as a mind-altering experience. When he set out to adapt the beloved book (which he admits he never read) in 1975, he said he wanted to not just make a film but “a prophet.” He wanted to alter viewers’ sense of perception. He says he wanted to create the cinematic sensation of taking LSD.

What resulted was several hard-bound books of spaceship designs, character sketches, costumes and storyboards that detailed his vision … but no film. In this documentary, filmmaker Frank Pavich interviews Jodorowsky who waffles between the bright side of bringing a new vision to Hollywood that predated Star Wars and a suppressed rage at the machine that stifled his vision. 7Pavich also brings to life the images of the book by editing together the story boards and animating some of the many detailed concept designs of the spaceships by rendering them digitally. The camera pans and scales over the static images from the book. There are sound effects and an eerie, Moog-drenched score by Kurt Stenzel that could have been the score to Jodorowky’s Dune. It’s as close to the would-be movie as we get.

But that’s not the point of this documentary.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is really about the vision of the cult director that ultimately expands the consciousness of Hollywood for the daring vision needed to pull off science fiction with respect to considering possibilities that go beyond earthbound thinking. dune.ac-2 aDirectors like George Lucas, Ridley Scott and James Cameron are indeed indebted to Jodorowsky for planting the seed of possibility for latter-day sci-fi work such as their’s.

Jodorowsky gathered a true dream team of collaborators, or, as he calls them, warriors, to make his film. He hired people like H.R. Giger, who would later design the title monster of the Alien movies, to design the world of the evil Harkonnen. The dark prog rock band Magma was to compose all the music associated with it. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd agreed to also provide original music and Chris Foss and Jean “Moebius” Giraud were brought in for design and artwork. Dan O’Bannon who would go on to write the screenplay for Alien was hired as a screenwriter based on what Jodorowsky saw in Dark Star. Clearly inspired about by Kurick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jodorowsky also pursued that film’s Oscar-winning effects man Douglas Trumbull. However, Jodorowsky was turned off by his underwhelming, practical bottom-line attitude. He was no spiritual warrior for Dune.


The beauty of this documentary comes from its ability to channel Jodorowsky’s lively attitude for art as enlightenment and spiritual home. When he says he does not want to compromise to the studios even if it means the demise of his project, it becomes the right thing. It’s as if Jodorowsky’s Dune fell apart as a martyr so it might inspire films like Star Wars and Alien.

As ever with Jodorowsky, there’s humor in his wisdom. When Star Wars fans bemoaned George Lucas’ revising 6his films with digital effects in the 1990s the mantra became “George Lucas raped my childhood.” Jodorowsky, however, proudly declares, “I raped Frank Herbert,” as he thrusts his hips back and forth holding an imaginary book doggy style in front of him. In that charming Jodorowsky way of his, he is not belittling the source material. Instead, he compares it to the consummation of marriage, taking a virginal bride dressed in white to the bedroom, tearing away her dress and fucking her. “I raped him with love,” he adds.

It doesn’t matter that Jodorowsky never read the book. What matters is that he created his own work, something that has only gained more value over time. The legend grows as with its mystical possibilities, hence the notion that this may indeed be one of the greatest films never made. Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears early in the documentary to boast that he’s the only one who has seen Jodorowsky’s version of Dune because the director himself sat with him and paged through the book and shared his vision. As we can expect with Refn, it’s a rather juvenile and insulting comment to this idea of possibilities of what the essence of this film did for science fiction cinema. It lowers the film to a materialistic level that defies Jodorowsky’s vision, which belongs to the imagination, and that’s why Jodorowsky’s Dune stands as the greatest sci-fi movie never made.

Hans Morgenstern

Jodorowsky’s Dune runs 90 minutes and is rated PG-13 (for fantastical violent and sexual images and drug references). It opens in South Florida on Apr. 25 in Miami Beach at the Regal South Beach and in Boca Raton at Living Room Theaters and Regal Shadowood. The following week, it opens in Miami at O Cinema Wynwood. It will appear at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on June 7 with other Jodorowsky surprises to be announced. Sony Pictures Classics invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.

Update: Actor Brontis Jodorowsky will present the film in person on June 15; he will also introduce 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.

Earlier Update: Cinema Paradiso has booked Jodorowsky’s Dune to begin its run Friday, May 23, at both its Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood locations (jump through the city names for dates and times).


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

675662-ogf_largeNote: This is an in-depth analytical review, several weeks after the U.S. premiere of this film. It may contain spoilers.

* * * *

After breaking out in Hollywood with the visceral Drive in 2011, Danish-born director Nicolas Winding Refn returns with a rather problematic though ambitious art film: Only God Forgives.  Featuring a stylized, fractured approach to storytelling, the only thing Refn’s latest has in common with his last film is its lead actor Ryan Gosling, extravagant violence and a standout soundtrack by Cliff Martinez. Otherwise, Refn has gone off to explore the edges of cinema in search of reinvention. On a superficial level he succeeds, but in another, deeper level, it all feels a tad amateurish and self-aware.

Dedicating his film to the great surrealist film pioneer Alejandro Jodorowsky, Only God Forgives melds a violent world with the violent consciousness of the film’s anti-hero Julian (Gosling). It’s an interesting set-up to ultimate disappointment, as rgosling-ogfRefn leaves out the great existential and confusing mysteries of life that inform the work of Jodorowsky (read my interview with him). On a practical level, one can blame Refn for failing to stir up sympathy for his characters by skimping on back story and simplistically relegating unhappiness and general bumbling on the part of his hero to an abusive relationship with his mother. It’s the ease with which Jodorowsky taps into profound meta-thematic elements through trippy visuals that have made him a legend, and it comes from a state of loving humanity, something wholly absent from Only God Forgives.

Julian and his brother Billy (Tom Burke) run a drug ring in Bangkok using a boxing gym as a front  so that their mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) might live a lavish life in the states (most likely L.A.). One night, Billy heads out in search of a teenage prostitute to satisfy his urges. Billy, only established as a cold and distant figure who speaks in a monotone and seems to sleepwalk through life like a deadpan character out of a David Lynch movie, winds up raping and beating to death a 16-year-old hooker with little remorse.

The father of the deceased is then invited to the murder scene by Police Captain Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) with Billy still covered in the girl’s blood, perched on the edge of a bed. Chang offers the father a chance to exact whatever revenge he may see fit, so the father proceeds to beat Billy with a baseball bat until he cracks his head wide open. Only-God-Forgives-ChangNext, Chang brandishes his ever-present katana, which he unveils from behind his back (you never see its sheath) and slices off one of the father’s hands. Chang informs him that the punishment is for prostituting his three daughters, not for his subsequent justice upon the perp.

Soon after, Crystal storms into the picture rampaging and dressed like a “Real Housewife of New Jersey.” We meet her as she confronts a hotel clerk who informs her that her room will not be ready until four o’clock in the afternoon. She asks for a manager and tells him, “I just traveled 10,000 miles to identify the body of my first-born son, and this fucking bitch won’t give me my room.”

Crystal gets all the good lines in the film. She seems quite aware of who she is, and Thomas embodies her with aplomb. All the men in the film may as well be mute, as only Crystal offers a one-sided form of dialogue that sheds some shred of motivation behind Julian’s actions and fantasies, as, like his brother, he seems resigned to a state of somnambulance.


Refn sacrifices tautness that could add to the suspense of Crystal’s and Julian’s quest for vengeance for choice scenes between mother and son that feel pathetically humorous. They not only leave Julian castrated but also castrates the film’s tension. In the middle of the film, mother and son find time for a decadent dinner out. Julian is so meek a man, he resorts to asking his favorite hooker Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) to pretend to be his girlfriend. Prior to this dinner, their only scene of “intimacy” involved Mai tying his hands to a chair while she masturbated in front of him. If this wasn’t symbolic enough of his repression, as he watches her, his mind drifts off to one of his many fantasy sequences where his hands are chopped off. And on the film drones and dwells.

As soon as Julian introduces Mai to his mother as his girlfriend, Crystal sees through the pretense. Asking Mai what line of work she is in, Mai responds that she is an entertainer. “An entertainer? And how many cocks can you entertain with that cute little cum-dumpster of yours?” After dinner,only-god-forgives-76 Julian blames Mai for failing to keep up the façade and yells at her to give him back the dress he had gifted her, right there, outside the restaurant. It’s one of the many scenes that lend the film a cartoonish quality that only serves to alienate the audience and relegate women as either comic relief or mere props.

The ultimate-eye-roll-worthy pretense arrives during another scene where Julian seems to drift away into a fantasy sequence where he discovers his mother’s corpse. With Chang’s katana somehow handy he cuts open her abdomen and slowly puts his hand inside and toward the uterus from whence he came. Clearly this is a film more interested in metaphors than characters mixed up in misogynist undertones that plague the heart of this story. While Chang extends eviscerating justice with his phallic weapon without fail and seems invincible, the bitch mother is all bark with little effective bite except on her own spawn. When Chang and Crystal meet, her last words are a write-off of never having come to terms with her younger son. “Billy was my first son,” she tells Chang. “We had a very special relationship. Julian was so jealous. It was like he was cracked or something. He had paranoid delusions about us.” After she calls Julian “a very dangerous boy,” Chang silences her with a thrust to her throat.

That Julian turns to fantasy to cope with his loss, and a gruesome fantasy at that, does not depict mother issues. This is a man far gone beyond reconciling a Oedipal complex. This represents someone who has lost his value for the gift of his own life. movies-only-god-forgives-still-9A return to the womb can provide him no relief, as this womb literally seems long dead. Death is his best and only alternative. But all he gets is a seemingly pointless life that never comes to a satisfactory end by the film’s credits and feels unrelatable and, worse, rather forgettable.

Indeed, contrary to his mother’s warning, nothing in Julian’s actions in the film present him as dangerous. Julian invites Chang into his boxing gym by telling him, “Wanna fight?” He removes his jacket, and casually stalks around Chang as he rolls up his sleeves and loosens his tie. Chang simply stands rigid, arms at his side. In the end, Julian never lands a single blow as Chang evades every swing and strikes Julian at every opportunity, leaving the man-boy bruised, battered and ultimately disfigured on his own floor.

Pansringarm embodies the police captain with not a menacing swagger but a focused determination as cold as anything else in the movie. He offers no mercy and seems cruel with a god-like complex of indestructibility. His human side is depicted in his caring for a young daughter (they exchange no significant dialogue, and he gives her little more than a pat on the head). He enjoys singing at karaoke bars in front of his men, but karaoke scenes are also a Thai film trope. In Refn’s hands these scenes mean nothing beyond his indulgence in style. Unlike actual Thai films by Thai directors, the songs Chang sings are never translated in subtitles, are incomplete and seem chosen for their sonic, affected syntax. Rather than adding a layer of narrative that this film so desperately needs, the two scenes with Chang singing only offer another bit of flash that some of the more uncultured viewers will just find humorous.


The most memorable character in Only God Forgives turns out to be Crystal as the domineering woman who in turn dominates the narrative. With her children depicted as impotent spawn, as personified by the sad-sack quality of Julian who only seems to clumsily improvise through life haunted by the reminder that Crystal has regrets of not having aborted him from her womb, she consistently rises above the droning monotony with language. “When I was pregnant with you,” she tells Julian, “it was strange. You were different. They wanted me to terminate, but I wouldn’t, and you’re right. I don’t understand you.”

When Crystal sends Julian out to avenge Billy, it is no wonder that he sabotages one opportunity after another to fail her. The trouble with Julian’s inconsistent character is that he is such a developmentally retarded man that he only feels contempt for those he knows intimately. Otherwise, he’s fine with letting go his brother’s killer because his bother may have just deserved what he got. Family second. When Julian is given a chance to kill Chang’s daughter he kills his would-be partner in crime instead. All the while he seems to await Chang’s deadly blow which arrives only in moments of fantasy. Any sense that this may be a chance at redemption seems buried under a mixed message of indulgent violence and passionless characterization.


The film world is a fantasy world at its most superficial and a mirror to our lives at its deepest. Beyond the flashy cinematography by the quite competent Larry Smith, the film’s soul yawns with a gaping lack of deeper development that I, like Refn, so desperately wanted of this film. With these cold, unsympathetic characters steeped in violence and little, if any redeeming qualities, Refn cannot seem to turn away from glamorizing their malaise with bombastic visual panache and little substance. It’s beyond the fact that they are only painted with negative morals with little back story. It’s the reductive quality as mere archetypes without the substance. Mystery is cool, but it’s clear these central characters are just a bunch of drug-dealing, misanthropic assholes who deserve to be killing each other off. It alienates the audience as superficially as the Avengers franchise would anyone looking for something more than an escapist cartoon.

Many point to the film’s oneric narrative and visual, neon-drenched lighting and a decadent style that permeates the film in general as its high quality. Style may keep you from nodding off, but it can also leave one cold and shrugging. only-god-forgives-ryan-goslingFaces of the conflicted are presented in fractured light, a film noir trope defined more than 60 years ago that feels eye-rollingly cliché by now. The stagey mise-en-scène comes across as flashy and self-conscious. With nasty characters who never seem to earn the right amount of sympathy to warrant the dread the director tries so hard to brew up, Only God Forgives falls flat and far from the classic that will stand up to longtime scrutiny. This is not a Last Year At Marienbad, a Blue Velvet or even an equal to a Jodorowsky movie. This is just a failed ego-trip by a director who seems blinded by his own light show and has lost sight of the bigger picture in a well-intentioned effort to create a challenging film that only feels challenging for the wrong reasons.

Hans Morgenstern

The original Red Band trailer:

Only God Forgives is rated R (it’s gruesome) and runs 90 minutes. It is now playing in the South Florida area exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque in Miami Beach. It expands to O Cinema in Miami Shores on Thursday, Aug. 8.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

IMG_4261The legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky finally responded to my questions via email. He prefers to communicate in Spanish, so I had to ask these questions in my limited Spanish. What he replied with is filled with as much wit and poetry as one would expect from the Chilean-born director who creates films that are so much more than trippy, psychedelic or surreal experiences. I had been waiting for his response since around when I got in touch with his eldest son Brontis Jodorowsky, last week (Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first son Brontis interviewed in “Miami New Times” ahead film retrospective).

I presented the responses in the same blog where my Brontis Jodorowsky article appeared, the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist,” after translating them to English. In one case, Brontis returned to help answer a question his father did not care to address beyond one short sentence. The elder Jodorowsky did begin his email by warning me, “I doubt, Hans, you will be well-served by my answers, but I cannot answer in any other way than how I feel and think.”

On the contrary, what I found were insightful responses if not into the specifics themselves but into the creator in general. I found them humorous and downright life-affirming for anyone who toils in art.

To see the piece, including more from Brontis, visit Cultist by jumping through the image below:

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I did the best I could with the translations— and I think they came out pretty good— but for those who speak Spanish fluently (as many in my city of Miami do).I present here the original responses unedited and untranslated:

Hans Morgenstern: Desde una perspectiva de Miami, que es una ciudad tan cosmopólita; cómo te sientes de tener une retrospectiva en Miami?

Alejandro Jodorowsky: ……..No soy lo que fui, no soy lo que seré, ahora estoy siendo. Una retrospectiva es lo que fuí. Si no hubiera domado mi ego interesaría lo que seré en la historia del cine, pero como vivo en el tiempo vivo, es decir el presente, no me conmueve ni el pasado ni el futuro… Hoy día mismo no soy sino que estoy siendo, cambiando continuamente. Si me preguntas cómo me llamo, te diré que me digas “nube”. Si a Miami le agrego el ir, el go en inglés, es Mi-ami-go , mi amigo. En fin, no vivimos en países sino en el planete Pangea. Todas las ciudades son cosmopolitas.

Lo segundo que me da curiosidad es qué es lo que te hizo decidir que tu hijo Brontis jugara un papel en “El Topo” a una edad tan temprana? Esta es una de mis películas favoritas y aunque no tengo hijos siempre he tenido curiosidad de cómo fue la relación en el set, durante la escritura del guión y el rodaje.

…..Como no has tenido hijos no sabes lo que es sentir el amor de padre. Ese amor es tan fuerte como el amor de una madre. Elegí a Brontis porque era el niño de la edad que yo necesitaba : 7 años. Mi hijo tenía la hermosura inocente que yo siempre había querido tener. Como yo era un padre amable y comprensivo, mi hijo tenía un gran placer de estar conmigo. En fin, tu pregunta tiene una sola respuesta: nuestra relación fue la normal, la sana relación que tienen un hijo y un padre que se aman.

Te consideras a tí mismo un “surrealista”?

…No me gusta ponerme etiquetas.

Finalmente, cómo ha cambiado tu estilo de cineasta a través de los años? Cómo describirías el film en el que estás trabajando ahora, se podría calificar como auténticamente personal de “Psicomagia”?

… Para que cambiara mi estilo, tendría que tener un estilos, lo que es una forma de repetición. Los ríos no se repiten. Ten la bondad de compararme a la corriente de un río. Cada una de mis peliculas es difrente: no soy un fabricante de salchichas hollywoodenses. Describiría el film en el que estoy trabajando copmo Arte para no ganar dinero. Me cansa esa industria-puta que consiera genial una película porque produce millones de dólares. Sigo creyendo que el cine es el Arte más completo y profundo de todas las artes. “La danza de la realidad” que estoy terminando ya, no se puede calificar con ninguna etiqueta. Es simplemente Arte. Y por ello, si te gustan tus dos palabras, es “auténticamente personal”.

Hans Morgenstern

This interview was done to coincide with a rare month-long retrospective of Alejandro Jodrowsky’s films. A total of four films will screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque:

Full details and ticket information

The first screening, of Jodrowsky’s 1970 film El Topo, will feature a live introduction by Alejandro Jodorowsky and his eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky. It happens Sunday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. It is timed and coordinated as part of the finale of Filmgate, an interactive media festival for filmmakers by the Indie Film Club, which kicks of Friday, Feb. 1:

More details on Filmgate

Here’s the trailer for El Topo:

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Portrait loge 2Yesterday, I supplied the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist” with a short story on Brontis Jodorowsky, the son of cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. I spoke with him via Skype last week (he lives in Paris). Miami will host a rare appreciation of his father’s films beginning early next week featuring one-night-only screenings of his most famous films. The eldest son of the director offered a reflection of working with his father as an actor in his movies at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. He spoke about his debut as the little son of the titular gunslinger in El Topo to his role playing his father’s father in the autobiographical film-in-progress, the Dance of Reality (no release date yet).

We spoke for a half hour, so I had a lot of material, and I am still hoping to hear back from his father via email, who is very occupied with the post-production of first movie in 20 years. It turned out to be fitting that our conversation began with my curiosity in the name Jodorowsky decided to bestow on his firstborn. Brontis explained it is actually a Greek surname, which alludes to a trio of brothers who seemed to have lived a carefree life in Jodorowsky’s hometown of Tocopilla, Chile where he was born in 1929. “The grass is always greener in the other yard,” the younger Jodorowsky said. “He thought that these children were free and happy,” he explained before adding: “My father had a very severe education from his father … and he remembers his childhood as a very sad and violent thing, and he always felt very different from other people.”

The elder Jodorowsky has never hidden his childhood of abuse, which he covers early in the book that inspired the Dance of Reality (it is only available in Spanish). Brontis pointed out something even more curious about his father. When the director married his first wife and failed to produce a child, Brontis said, La Danza de la Realidad cover“My father concluded that he was sterile.” He said his father saw it as poetic justice, as it made him last in the Jodorowsky line, and “he was killing the Jodorowsky name, and then he met my mother, who was convinced this was all crap, and she proved to him that he was not sterile.”

The younger Jodorowsky said his father had never fantasized about naming children until the point his first son was born. He wanted to end the curse of the names Jaime (Alejandro’s father) and Alejandro (his grandfather) in his family, so he went with Brontis, recalling those happy children of his hometown. “Normally, in Jewish tradition, you give your father’s name to your children, but  he hated his father and said, ‘I can’t give my child the name of my father because I hate my father, but these children were free and happy, so let’s stop the curse of all the Jaimes and the Alejandros [because he carries his grandfather’s name], and if I call him Brontis he will be a free and happy boy.’”

The younger Jodorowsky cannot help but feel amused that in the new film by his father he plays Jaime. “The main character is his father, Alejandro’s father, and he asked me to play his father. In the end, we make the whole turn of our conversation,” he said with a laugh. “He didn’t name me Jaime in reality, but he named me Jaime in the film.”

I could not help but notice if this film might be the most “psychomagical” of the director’s career, to use one of the director’s own terms. Here is a 10-minute interview with the filmmaker where he explains the concept:

“It is. It absolutely is,” agreed Brontis, “but if you see El Topo and Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre, in all his films he’s really doing some kind of psychomagic. He’s working on something artistic— and at the same time— on a personal level. If he does a film it’s because he needs to do it. It’s not only ‘I’m an artist, and I want to make a movie.’ It’s also because he has to live intimately.”

I am hoping that this humanist and intellectual insight might allow a different perspective than just superficial “that’s so weird” appreciation of Jodorowsky’s cinema. This director is a symbolist in a very Jungian sense. Miami Beach Cinematheque Founder and Director Dana Keith added via email: “My favorite quote from Jodorowsky is ‘I ask of cinema what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs.’ He truly expands people’s minds with his surreal films by utilizing his imagination in groundbreaking ways, and making the camera a paint brush. We are very happy that the films have been restored and are now available for MBC and Indie Film Club members and others to experience in a theatrical setting, where they belong. No added stimulants are necessary!”

You can read a longer interview with Brontis Jodorowsky, where he also shares memories from the set of El Topo, by visiting the Cultist Blog (jump through the image):

cultist banner

Hans Morgenstern

This interview was done to coincide with a rare month-long retrospective of Alejandro Jodrowsky’s films. A total of four films will screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque:

Full details and ticket information

The first screening, of Jodrowsky’s 1970 film El Topo, will feature a live introduction by Alejandro Jodrowsky and his eldest son, Brontis Jodrowsky. It happens Sunday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. It is timed and coordinated as part of the finale of Filmgate, an interactive media festival for filmmakers by the Indie Film Club, which kicks of Friday, Feb. 1:

More details on Filmgate

So who is Alejandro Jodorowsky? I’ll let the trailers of the four films screening in the retrospective speak for themselves. Warning: these avant-garde movies spawned of the psychedelic era feature (archetypal) images that are sometimes NSFW:

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)