As someone who keeps a pretty close eye on programming at the Frida Cinema, I can be forgiven for believing the splendiferous downtown Santa Ana space was invented solely to show Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo (The Mole) and Poesía Sin Fin (Endless Poetry).
Though the weeklong engagement of 2017's Endless Poetry begins at 3 p.m. Friday, my recommendation to those who have not recently seen El Topo would be to first catch the 1970 acid western, which starts with an OC Weekly Friday Night Freakouts showing at 11 that night, followed by two more Saturday.
We all have busy schedules that force us to pick and choose our movie-going times, but a double bill with El Topo and Endless Poetry—seen in that order—allows the viewer to better appreciate the films; their place in cinematic history; and Jodorowsky's maturity as a storyteller, "psychomagic" guru and human being.
Produced and made in Mexico, El Topo is the story, as much as there is one, of all-black-clad gunslinger El Topo (Jodorowsky) traveling an Old West desert on horseback with his naked young son, Hijo (the filmmaker's son Brontis). Coming upon a town in which all the inhabitants have been slaughtered, El Topo hunts for the killers and their cowardly leader, the Colonel (David Silva). El Topo drops off his son with monks at a mission, then rides off with the Colonel's slave, Mara (Mara Lorenzio), who convinces the man in black to face off with the four great gun masters so that El Topo will be the greatest gunman in the land. Each master represents a religion or philosophy that El Topo learns about as he tries to mow them down.
That might read like a typical spaghetti-western setup, save for the references to Christian and Eastern philosophies, but El Topo is an at-times-disturbing, perverted and always-just-plain-weird flick, a description that would no doubt make Jodorowsky giggle. He does not just push the envelope; he sticks his dick in it, douses it with prickly pear juice doubling for lady cum, then sets it on fire—leaving it up to the viewer to figure out what the fuck just happened. Some will argue El Topo is best appreciated on hallucinogens, but as one who has not had that pleasure, I can report it's goddamn trippy stone-cold sober, too.
As with El Topo, Endless Poetry is Felliniesque, populated by dwarves, men with no arms, entrails-spilling murder victims, legless performers carried on the backs of large fellows and Jodorowsky's greatest foe: the vast faceless who blindly follow. Each picture features buckets of blood, extended (hey, now!) nudity and ultra-violence. We'll have to wait for a tome such as Jodorowsky's El Topo: The Book of the Film to understand all the symbolism in Endless Poetry. (I must confess not getting upon viewing El Topo's opening that the black umbrella on a stick represents cover for a mole who digs up from the ground to see the sun, only to be blinded by it, and how the naked boy's hat represented the umbrella for . . . aw, shit, lost again. Let's move on.)
To me, Endless Poetry is the better film—part autobiography, part polemic against fascism, part homage to El Topo—with a story that is certainly much easier to follow. The second of Jodorowsky's five cinematic memoirs picks up where 2013's The Dance of Reality left off. Teenage Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) struggles with his ball-busting father, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, reprising his Reality role), and out-of-touch mother, Sara (Pamela Flores, who, as she did in Reality, sings all her dialogue opera-style). Jaime forbids Alejandro from following his dream of becoming a poet, forcing the boy to instead study medicine. This all comes to a boil as Alejandro makes a dramatic break from his Jewish-Ukrainian family and is adopted by an artist collective.
Cut to a decade later, when grown-up Alejandro (Adan Jodorowsky, the writer/director's youngest son) is sent to Cafe Iris, a hangout for poets and their muses. He meets bawdy poet Stella Diaz (Flores again, brilliantly disappearing into another role), who wears a flaming-red wig, has multicolored tattoos and is not afraid to whip out her large breasts. Doe-eyed Alejandro becomes Stella's slave, and let's not give away much more except to reveal that the modern-day Jodorowsky pops in from time to time to offer his younger self sage advice that we all could have used at life's various crossroads.
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Jodorowsky's longest monologue answers the spiritual and existential questions raised in El Topo, thus my viewing-order advice.
The first film began the midnight-movie phenomenon thanks to enlightened programmers in a lone New York City theater. We are fortunate their brethren keep the torch lit 47 years later in downtown Santa Ana.
El Topo at the Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 285-9422; thefridacinema.org. Fri., 11 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 7 p.m. $10.
Endless Poetry (Poesía Sin Fin) opens Fri., 3 p.m., with multiple screenings through Thurs., Aug. 10. $10.