Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Devilish deviation: "Endless Poetry"
The last time we saw the young Alejandro Jodorowsky, at the end of the director's jawdropping yet sincere and heartfelt cine-memoir The Dance of Reality, he was being transported by boat from his hometown in the Chilean foothills to the big city, and - we inferred - from childhood into adolescence. Well, life moves on in some ways, stays still in others. As we rejoin our hero in Endless Poetry, the second part of Jodorowsky's screen autobiography, the young AJ remains at the mercy of opposing impulses. His martinet shopkeeper father (Brontis Jodorowsky) is continuing to try and toughen this aspirant poet up, for fear he might turn out to be a maricon; yet his mother (soprano Pamela Flores, again singing the majority of her lines) remains keen to hold the lad to her not inconsiderable bosom and tell him he can be anything he wants to be.
Thus does this sequel shape up along the lines of a second season to an eminently watchable TV series (Keeping Up with the Jodorowskys?): the returning performers have had time to settle into their roles, and to adapt to the very particular, very peculiar tone the showrunner has asked them to hit, and there's no sign that anybody behind the camera is as yet running out of good ideas. Film two even alights upon a new angle to explore: this is the season in which the onscreen Alejandro, a meek soul first time out, comes to both act up and grow up - literally so, half an hour in, as the child performer Jeremiah Herskovits, who's carried the series so far as the director's young self, is transformed into Adan Jodorowsky (the director's own son, a boyishly engaging cross between Eraserhead's Jack Nance and Jerry Seinfeld) playing Alejandro as a young adult.
His passage through the wilder backstreets of bohemian Santiago gives the actual Jodorowsky a whole new cast of oddballs to bounce around: within moments of the protagonist arriving in digs, we're being introduced to an "ultrapianist" (who takes to his keyboard with hammers) and a "polypainter" (who takes a quasi-sexual delight in daubing his body with gloss before dryhumping his canvasses). For Jodorowsky, this period marked the beginnings of his lifelong rebellion against conventional mores: his onscreen avatar meets a match of sorts in Stella Diaz Varin, an intense poet whose MO is to march angrily into dead-end dives, accuse the boozy patrons of being nothing, flash her tits, and then punch anybody who dares to approach her squarely on the nose. (And if you think that's harsh, then you should see the chaos she wreaks in a gay bar, where her titflashing has no effect.) In an aptly Freudian casting coup, she is also played by Flores.
One theme that has emerged over the course of this diptych is that rebellion, and those other virtues we might find attractive, gets passed down erratically from generation to generation - but that it is an ongoing impulse, felt more keenly along this family line than most. For the wise elder Jodorowsky (who again appears onscreen to counsel his younger self at crucial moments), this means taking whatever scant, crowdfunded resources remain at his disposal, and converting them into a work of rare, unbridled imagination. As in its predecessor, there's not a single banal scene in Endless Poetry. Jodorowsky stages a leavetaking as a puppet show, throws the wildest parties, and reroutes a straightforward walk down a street so that it goes over the top of a truck and through an old lady's house; he expands a Tarot reading until it resembles a three-ring circus, then brings on an actual circus for an encore, and tops that with a final-reel carnival in which Santiago's streets flood with devils and skeletons.
At every fork and deviation in the road, either the design or wardrobe or make-up department have been brought in to stage interventions of one kind or another, yet even those sets that don't immediately strike the eye or seem promising locales for high drama come to be rearranged by men and women in black bodysuits - visible stagehands - until they do. This seems an eloquent visual analogue for the manner in which Jodorowsky has been turning these memories over and over in his head all these years, polishing and reupholstering and arguably buffing them up in order to make his younger self appear quite the dashing blade, irresistible to man and woman alike. (In the film's closing moments, Alejandro announces to his arty chums that he's off to Paris to join André Breton and "save Surrealism": further instalments are thus to be expected, and anticipated.)
It is more than likely that, in real life, the actual Alejandro Jodorowsky and pal considered clambering over the top of that truck, before shrugging their shoulders and doing the boring regular-folk thing of shuffling tentatively around it. Yet in filming the episode as he does here, he gets at the liberating joy of following through on such an unconventional thought process, while turning a humdrum Thursday afternoon stroll into the stuff of epic cinematic adventure. (Then again, Endless Poetry is a film in which even the act of vomiting into a top hat is reimagined as the grandest and most romantic of gestures.) It's just possible that in the course of these two late-period films, Jodorowsky has become the first extant director to render anything so dry and literal-minded as an authorised biography utterly superfluous. Either way, what an extraordinary gift it is - and what an extraordinary gift it is to us - that Jodorowsky should think of his life in these heightened, extravagant, often magical terms.
Endless Poetry is now playing in selected cinemas.