Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Adan Jodorowsky, Axel Jodorowsky, Andres Cox, Francisco Pizarro Saenz de Urtury
Written by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 130
Date: 05/30/2014

The Dance of Reality (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Reality' Lights

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A month or so ago, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, which told the story of an extraordinary movie that was never made. As the documentary came to an end, it revealed that Alejandro Jodorowsky had made his first film in 23 years, The Dance of Reality. As I watched that new film, I couldn't help wondering if maybe it, too, had been better left as a myth rather than a completed film.

The 85 year-old Jodorowsky had a memorable beginning in the movie business. His first film, the artsy, surreal Fando & Lis (1967) apparently started a riot at the Acapulco film festival. His second film, El Topo (1971) became the first midnight cult film. His The Holy Mountain (1973) is considered a masterpiece in the most elite of film circles.

Since then, he had a hard run. He only made three more films. One of them, Tusk, is very obscure, and Jodorowsky disowned another, The Rainbow Thief. Only Santa Sangre (1990) had a decent release and received some notice.

So his new comeback film is certainly cause for celebration. But with such a spotty track record, has Jodorowsky ever really proven himself a master? He's a cult director for sure, but the question remains: was he a product of his time, or does he endure and transcend time?

Watching The Dance of Reality, I might argue for the former. It seems as if a man bent on creating shocking, poetic, surreal, amazing imagery had more of a home in the 1960s and 1970s, when the counterculture could appreciate such things. Now, there is no counterculture. Whenever anything counterculture springs up, the mainstream absorbs it in no time flat. The imagery in this movie shows a filmmaker whose fire has not died, but it can't possibly have the same impact that it once did.

In other words, if this were Jodorowsky's film debut, no one would pay any attention and no one would care. Without the benefit of a known filmmaker, it plays like a home movie, sometimes awkward, sometimes even amateurish.

What remains, however, is still interesting. This is a highly unique memoir, an 85 year-old man looking back on his father's life and trying to imagine what it was like. Since facts are not to be relied on, bizarre dream imagery is easily utilized instead.

Oddly, Jodorowsky's father Jaime is played by Jodorowsky's real-life son, Brontis Jodorowsky, who -- as a boy -- also starred in El Topo. His mother is played by Pamela Flores, who sings all her dialogue. The young Jodorowsky is played by Jeremías Herskovits, and Jodorowsky himself appears from time to time as a kind of angel or chorus. The movie begins as Jaime tries to make a man of Alejandro, cutting off his long blonde locks, and making him sit through a tooth extraction without any painkiller. Meanwhile, his mother smothers him, and somehow believes that he is her own father reincarnated. Alejandro has a few adventures, such as throwing a rock into the sea and killing all the fish.

The second half focuses on the father, who hatches an elaborate plan to assassinate the fascist General Carlos Ibanez (Bastian Bodenhofer) by getting a job in the general's stables. Eventually he fails and becomes a cripple, working for a benevolent carpenter before being attacked by Nazis and eventually returning home.

In-between, there are all kinds of images of skeletons, mutilated mine workers, dwarves, magic, and general strangeness of all types. Once upon a time, a film like this carried the promise of a new frontier, the breaking of rules that were going to stay broken. Or at the very least, it promised a kind of danger that the safety of normal films did not provide.

Now, I'm afraid that The Dance of Reality is merely a trifle, an anomaly in the business of film, and a momentary distraction. It doesn't feel powerful enough to change anything, but it does feel personal, and vibrant, and imaginative. Not everyone is going to like it, and in fact most people won't. But some people will, and perhaps that's enough.

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