Cult cinema

It’s film, theatre, music, visual art and poetry – it’s Alejandro Jodorowsky

His new film ‘Endless Poetry’ will be screened at the Locarno Film Festival, where he will also receive a lifetime achievement award.

The films of Alejandro Jodorowsky single-handedly challenge the rationalistic, intellectualised dominance of European arthouse cinema. Along with Sergei Paradjanov, Jodorowsky has created a unique blend of theatre, music and visual art to produce a mystical form that is essentially cinematic.

His new film Endless Poetry will be screened on August 12 at the Locarno Film Festival, where he will also be awarded with a Pardod’Onore, Locarno’s honorary prize, for his career.

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‘Endless Poetry’.

Jodorowsky came to the fore with his second film El Topo (1970), which was became the first “midnight cult movie”. Jodorowksy’s approach was to raise the consciousness of himself and his crew while making the film, and the audience whilst watching it.

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‘El Topo’.

The Chilean playwright, self-described “psychomagician”, filmmaker and mimic considers himself to be the “biggest Surrealist”, as he declared to Andre Breton, the founder of the art movement. Surrealism uses imagery to address the subconscious and simultaneously shock the audience with its affect on their nerves. Jodorowskiy also shows a streak of Surrealism’s precursor, Dadaism, which used carefully constructed nonsense to subvert Western critical theory and art history and create a “dandyistic” art form that caricatures audience expectations.

During the production of his third film The Holy Mountain (1973), Jodorowsky isolated his actors in his house and subjected them to mystical training. He ensured that they got only four hours of sleep and had no access to drugs and hired a guru for imparting meditation techniques to raise consciousness.

Alejandro Jodorowsky (courtesy Facebook).
Alejandro Jodorowsky (courtesy Facebook).

Hiring what he would call his “spiritual warriors” – French graphic artist Moebius, the Swiss designer H R Giger and the screenwriter and special effects expert Dan O’Bannon – Jodorowsky attempted to produce an iconoclastic tour de force version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune. The failure of the project was largely due to Jodorowsky’s eccentric behavior with the producers and his famously impractical approach to money, which he claimed he wanted to lose after the production.

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A clip from Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’, about the doomed project.

Since what is considered to be his best work, Santa Sangre (1989), Jodorowski’s cinema has combined an obviously Surrealist visual technique with a vital performativity, not very unlike that of Federico Fellini’s cinema.

His films use the actor’s performances and lushly shot frames with functional props (a chair, a hat, a comb). What we are seeing in his films are photographed plays with props and landscapes that provide a suspension of disbelief to the stylised performances. These props and landscapes are merged with genre codes and mystical references, providing a unique stylisation that is purely cinematic. This approach, combined with a generous dose of Dadaist absurdism and genre-bending codes, has given the cult director’s work a new lease of life since the late 1980s.

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‘Santa Sangre’.

Santa Sangre for Jodorowsky has become a self-referential textbook, a bit like Yasujiro Ozu’s realisation of his “pillow shot” technique in which he repetitively shoots portions of the interior and exterior between scenes. Very often such realisations, through reflections during the making of the film, are used by the creator for the rest of the works in their career.

A form of theatricality with expressionist lighting, absurdist actions performed by characters and a sort of continuity in this illogical progression, characterise Jodorowsky’s later works. This illogical progression suggests a story in the absurdity of the visuals that has nothing to do with the utterances of their characters. The lack of objectivity of the proceedings suggests a postured staging of events. This staging in turn, leads back to the actors’ performativity.

Jodorowsky’s most recent projects include the autobiographical Dance of Reality and its follow-up, Endless Poetry, which was premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The 86-year-old director masterfully indulges in his developed “style” to show himself trapped in the performativity of his own life and the act of making his film. Although Endless Poetry has been critiqued for its controversial homophobic subtext, it lays forward a very simple thesis – cinema is literature transformed into poetry and cut in various ways to produce resonance through the use of differential sequencing and repetition in approach. Jodorowsky cultists across the world are looking forward to watching the film and the next installation of what seems to be an autobiographical trilogy.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.