Jodorowsky's Magic Mountain: 'El Topo' Director's New Film - Rolling Stone
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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Magic Mountain: On Location with the Creator of ‘El Topo’

On location with director Alexandro Jodorowsky, the creator of ‘El Topo,’ for his new film ‘The Holy Mountain’

Chilean, writer, Alexandro Jodorowsky

Chilean writer Alexandro Jodorowsky poses at home in Paris, France on September 16th, 2011.

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Alejandro went into the studio on Saturday to check out some of the props. The 40-foot rainbow is nearly done as is the bathtub for the camel, the elephant, and the hippopotamus. Construction on the room where they turn shit to gold is well under way and the 8,000-pound “fuck” machine is sitting in the middle of the sound stage, ready to have orgasms when aroused, and give birth to a baby machine. The workmen are still painting faces on the hundreds of life-size plaster Christs, complete with wooden crosses. (Two weeks ago, they tied one of the Christs to a balloon and just let it go. Imagine when that comes down in some remote mountain village. Instant miracle.)

The thousand pairs of lifelike rubber testicles are ready. Alejandro bounced one in his hand and pronounced it OK. Wardrobe is going to be able to dress the giant frogs as Spanish soldiers and the lizards as Aztec Indians. The birds were no problem … they fluttered out of the chest wounds on cue. The metal wash basins full of live crabs were at the Basilica on Thursday as was the truck full of freshly killed kid goats with their hearts hanging out.

The only possible hang-up right now is … Alejandro still needs a real live (ha-ha) corpse he can hack to pieces behind the credits as they run. There are rumors that someone’s who’s alive and in a hospital now has agreed to do it but Alexandro says he’s still looking. Anyway, it’s only a body. He should be able to get one somewhere.

Right at this moment down in Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky, the man who made El Topo, is at work on his new film, The Holy Mountain. Unless you happen to have seen El Topo, and gotten involved, none of what follows may seem to be very important. A lot of people did see El Topo, though. A lot of people are working on this new film now. Most of them would agree with the bearded production assistant who looked out across the set one day and said, “You know, I think this is the most important thing going on in the world today. At very least, it’s the most far-out.”

* * *

Thursday morning. Old brownskin women with weather-lined faces and beaten eyes are crawling towards God. With their babies swaddled in blankets and cradled in their arms, with old cloths wrapped about their foreheads and torn mantillas on their shoulders, they are inching across 250 yards of sun-hot concrete on their knees. From the cast iron gates at the entrance to the Basilica of Guadelupe to the four stone steps that lead into the cool darkness of the church, the journey takes about 35 minutes, depending on age. With each moment, they move closer, struggling nearer to their God.

“Got another flash cube, Madge?” one American lady asks another, snapping her gum and clicking her camera in the middle of a mongrel pack of American tourists who are watching, scanning the stained glass windows to get the proper light readings for their cameras. “Try next door,” her friend says. “They’ve got a shop in the church, with Kodak and holy candles, and lovely picture post cards by the rosary beads.”

The film trucks are parked in back of the big church, in the shade. The crew is hanging around, waiting. The Basilica was erected in 1797. It is a national shrine in Mexico, and its two churches lean away from each other now at almost an oblique angle because the earth beneath them is sinking back into the lake Mexico City is built on. Across the street from the Basilica on two sides, there are ferris wheels.

David Kapralik comes walking across the churchyard. David has flown in from Los Angeles at his own expense to play what is essentially a bit part in the movie. David, who manages Sly and the Family Stone, is wearing a floppy brown suede hat and jacket and gingerbread check knickers tucked into high suede boots. A scarf that dangles to his knees is wound around his neck.

“Hey David,” one of the young assistants on the film asks, “are those your clothes for the film?” Kapralik strokes his clipped grey beard and shifts his brown leather briefcase under his arm. “Is that your outfit, man?” the assistant repeats. “Oh no,” Kapralik says, “Alexandro said it was too straight. I have to change.”

Moments later he re-appears in a flowing red robe. Snapping some two peso gold bracelets onto his wrist, he says, “If you have a moment, and this may not be it, I’d like to talk to you about the similarities between the making of El Topo and There’s a Riot Going On … the catharsis involved is fantastic.” He shakes his head.

“Sly and Alexandro met, you know. Oh yes. In New York. Sly put on a special outfit for the occasion and came out of his room 15 minutes late. Then he didn’t speak for five minutes. Rather he did this elaborate pantomime which consisted of … physically checking Alexandro out. Moving and looking at him … Sly sensed immediately Alexandro was not of his peers, not someone he could game. Finally he pointed to Alexandro’s nose and said, ‘From here to here, you look Jewish.’ Which is true, of course. But Alexandro just laughed.

“Fantastic. Have you met Oscar? No? Ah well, I plan to start the Arica training myself back to the States … if you’ll excuse me …”

The two most asked questions on the set are “Have you read the script?” and “Have you met Oscar?” Oscar is Oscar Ichazo, who is around 40, the son of a Bolivian general who by the age of eight is said to have mastered the martial arts of the Samurai. Arica is the town in Chile where he first began the the training.

The training, which consists of Egyptian dance forms, exercises, meditation, and yoga, is closely related to the script of The Holy Mountain, which is the story of ten people on a spiritual quest. Seven of the characters are among the most powerful in the world: a dealer in the arts, a munitions maker, an architect, a police chief. The eighth is the Thief, who is much like Christ, and whose story begins the movie. The ninth is the Negress, who symbolizes the earth. Each of the other characters also represents a planet. The tenth is the Master, who is Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The ten wish to ascend Mount Carmel, atop which the immortals live. To do so, they must first become pure and lose their egos. They give up their worldly possessions and are led on a journey of suffering and discipline, to become “high” enough to make the climb. The actors in the film will be actually required to have their heads shaven, to go eight days without food, to swim in “shark-infested” waters. For this reason, they spent the month before filming living together in Alexandro’s house, training. The film itself is being shot in sequence, in the order that the scenes occur in the script, in “real” order.

“This film is just a part of the bigger process,” Richard Rutowsky says: “The Tao.” Richard is a friend of Alejandro’s. He is 25, lives in Big Sur and has never acted before. He plays Axon, chief of all police. “The month we spent together was very far-out, man. People workin’ on each other from seven AM to midnight, and when the ego falters, they’re right there. Boy, are they there …

“The training is like … it’s not religion. it’s just day-to-day life … it makes you into a warrior of the highest order. It teaches you about the flow, and letting go. Like surfing, man. Sometimes the tide is high, sometimes it’s low. You learn to just let go and drift with it. It’s the Tao.”

Some four hours after the crew began to assemble, Alejandro Jodorowsky arrives at the Basilica. A man who rarely looks the same for long periods of time, he has had his hair and mustache died platinum blonde. He wears a black knit sailor’s hat on the front of his head and his bright yellow hair is drawn back in a carefully plaited Chinaman’s braid. “Hello,” he says, “I did not recognize you. But then you did not recognize me.” He pulls off the cap. The front of his head has been shaven bald for the film.

A crowd follows him around the Basilica, sightseers following extras following actors following Alexandro. There are soldiers everywhere, small men in grey uniforms and green helmets carrying rifles they often stick in each other’s pants, the fuel tanks of automobiles, and drop. They have been hired as extras but to the crowd they’re real. The street in front of the Basilica is clogged with onlookers who move back only when pushed with a rifle butt.

Lining up the first shot of the day. Nothing heavy … on a flatbed truck, on the street outside the Basilica, Paseo Fray Juan de Zumarraga, thirty naked men and boys and one woman are having their bodies spattered with blood as the sun pounds down and traffic backs up. A crowded street in the middle of the city outside a national shrine, paper cups of blood poured out and glistening on brown stomachs and black inky cocks as Alejandro shouts, “Camion, andale. Lacho, andale … rapido, rapido … ah-hah-hah-hah.”

A truck full of butchered bodies rolls down the street as the camera finds Lacho Salinas, a young Mexican actor who plays the Thief, twirling Basileo, an armless, legless dwarf, in his arms. The buses pile up behind police lines, locked in fuming congestion. The crowd stands quietly watching. They know it’s only for a movie, and not real at all.

Three extras are selected and made to lie down on the sidewalk in front of a long row of Indian ladies who sit ironing bloody shirts and squinting into the sun. As they lie in muddy pools of old water on the pavement, the grips bring out a large metal wash basin and a wooden crate filled with live crabs. “He wanted five hundred crabs, I heard,” someone says. “No, no,” one of Alexandro’s assistants corrects, “Five hundred spiders. Only 50 crabs.”

Whatever. The grips cut off each of the crab’s pincer claws and lay them on the pavement. “Mas, mas,” Alejandro cries, as the crabs wobble about in the hot sun, nearly dead from the heat. Alejandro’s face is getting pink from sun. He jumps in front of the camera and puts one of the crabs on an extra’s face. It sputters there, its legs in his eyes and nose. “You cut off a crab’s pincer claw and it dies, right?” one of the onlookers says. “Sure,” says Max, who is from New York City and in charge of training the actors, “It dies anyway…when you cook and eat it. What the hell…it’s a crab’s life.”

“Screept!” Alexandro shouts, ready to move on to the next shot.

As the clock on top of the Basilica marks five, the sun begins to cast long shadows on the concrete churchyard, shadows of 20 elegantly dressed people who are crawling towards the stone steps. Men in dinner jackets, women in cocktail dresses, all with black pads around their knees, inching towards the church. “Those black pads,” someone asks, “they symbolize something?” “Yeah,” one of the production assistants says. “That the suits don’t rip so we can return them to the rental place.”

As the crowd of well-dressed sinners creep toward the Basilica, the soldiers come sweeping into the churchyards on bicycles. Each one carries a rifle. On the rifle hangs a baby goat, crucified and split open, its heart hanging out. The Arriflex is on a boom mounted on a truck, shooting through the inscription on the gate: BENEDICTUS FRUCTUS VENTRI TUL. (Blessed Is The Fruit of Thy Womb.)

Then the trouble starts. The crowd on the right side of the yard has been difficult to control all day, restless, constantly moving out of position. One of them is suddenly led away by a policeman and it’s like a bust at a be-in, people shouting and whistling and following the cop at a safe but threatening distance. The hooting and whistling keeps growing until a small band of extras charge out into the middle of the square, making the shot impossible. Alexandro walks across the Basilica towards them and speaks to one of their leaders. He tells him the man has been released. “You worked with us before. Please work with us now.” He walks away.

Individual actors are trying to move the crowd back, shouting “Mas a tras. Por favor. Mas a tras.” It does no good. Arguments break out. People whirl and people push and a few sit down on the ground. Alexandro comes back and is swallowed up by an angry crowd that is feeling its strength for the first time all day. Someone grabs for his hat. The leader of the crowd tells him, “You are only playing with goats. We need them to eat. Give them to us when you are finished.” Alexandro walks away and goes into one of the trucks to sit it out.

For the next hour, the crowd is out of control, running across the churchyard with hands linked, shouting and whistling. By the time they calm down sufficiently for the shot to be attempted, the sun is already beginning to fade behind the buildings. A week later when they look at the rushes, they find it has all come out too dark and will have to be reshot. As for the extras … no one had the time to explain that there was no way they could be given the goats. They’d all been rented.

* * *

If there was almost a riot yesterday, it seems for sure they’re going to burn the trucks and eat the crew today. The location has been shifted to the Merced, the oldest and toughest fruit and vegetable market in the city, where no one has ever filmed, where police usually think twice before going because of the man on the street’s general attitude towards authority.

The film trucks are parked in a small shit-strewn lot in the middle of the marketplace, surrounded by streets of stalls filled with ripe pineapples, and long green watermelons. Mangoes, papayas, and pyramids of green and yellow bananas. Great macho trucks being unloaded. Barrels full of grapefruits gone soft from the sun. People whose clothes stink, struggling under the weight of 50-pound potato sacks, slipping in slick rivers of crushed tomatoes.

“The Virgin of Guadelupe is national shrine,” Alexandro says, “If I insult the place, people get angry, no? But no one say a thing. It was a movie. Today I think will be easier.”

Easier, as the soldiers push their gun butts into people’s chests to keep them backed off. On one of the narrow market side streets, a black muslin curtain has been draped over the entrance to a hallway. Inside the hall, an old woman is to crawl forwards into the camera, ushered along by small children in christening clothes, carrying candles. The curtain is taken away. The old woman now is to crawl into the street, past the Thief and Basileo, who grandly puts his cloak down over a puddle for her. Three quart bottles of milk are spilled out into the gutter to form a pool.

The street is choked with spectators. They hang out of windows, they are perched on the ledge of a building across the street and atop the wood panel sides of a truck. They shout “Cabrones” (stupid men) and “Action, camera. Alexandro hurry, we do not have all day.” Now and then a piece of fruit rockets out of the air and thuds into a wall or one of the soldier’s heads. Alexandro steps into the street and speaks through his bullhorn. “Please,” he says, “this is a very difficult shot. We can only do it one time. Do not make any noise or the camera will be disturbed. Please be as quiet as possible. It can only be done once. Please. Thank you.”

The crowd quiets down but is still surly, ready to erupt should anything out of the ordinary occur. The camera begins to roll. The old lady is on her knees surrounded by small children, wearing a red silk robe. A grip goes up to her and takes the robe. Completely naked, as old as death, she wobbles forward, her withered flanks shaking in the sunlight. A very cruel and pitiful sight and there is a flash of nervous laughter from atop one of the trucks. Mostly though, the crowd is stunned, the woman continues crawling forward, her eyes pale and empty, staring only into the camera. The crowd forgets it is watching a movie. When Alexandro yells “Cut” three hundred people let out their breaths. Men rush forward to pound Alexandro on the back and congratulate him. He smiles. The crowd begins to cheer. They have been tricked. Alexandro has fooled them and gotten away with another outrageous act. People follow him as he walks out of the narrow street, shouting his name.

A blonde American girl who looks like a librarian and plays one of the tourists asks, “Have you seen the script? None of us knows what’s going on. You know the British actress? She knows the rape scene is next but that’s all. I think she expects to be raped. Are you gonna be here long?” She giggles. “You ought to stay for the rains …” She giggles again and runs a nervous hand down the front of her school teacher dress, “… and the mushrooms.”

To be raped is a large blonde British actress named Jacqueline, called “Yacueleen” by most on the set. Jacqueline is wearing a plunging evening dress, lots of eye makeup, and a sad-faced little chihuahua named Frederic Henry. “Aye,” says Aleister, who is from Scotland and one of the extras, “It’s going to be grrrand to watch her get plowed.” Alexandro selects a soldier and whispers into his ear. Jacqueline looks a little worried. The soldier grins. Alexandro grins. The camera starts.

The soldier grabs Jacqueline and backs her against a stone wall. Zippp, away goes her dress, her black nylon panties, zippp, she’s all of a sudden full frontal naked in the marketplace. The soldier drops his trousers and pushes up against her. Kapralik, who plays her husband, is filming it all with his Super 8 so that the folks back home can get a look at it. David is squirming and hamming and bouncing around, bouncing around so intensely he slips and falls to the ground, slicing open one of his knees. Alexandro charges out from in back of the camera, furious, truly red in the face. “No Kapra-Lee,” he shouts. “Lissen to me. Not you. No like this. Like this.” Jackie is having a new pair of panties fitted, the soldier is zippering himself up, David is standing, being yelled at and taking it like a trouper. The next time Jackie gets “plowed,” he does just what he is supposed to, perfectly, and for the rest of his week on the set, he seems happier, as though he’d found what he’d flown down to Mexico City for.

Through it all, Lenny Gaines is saying, “Is that a fuck? I mean, does that look like a fuck to you?” Lenny is from New York, one of Allen Klein’s lieutenants, down in Mexico to check on how Allen’s money is being spent. Klein owns publicity and distribution rights to both El Topo and The Holy Mountain. “He’s got to move more. She’s gotta hook her leg around him.”

“I gotta tell Alexandro,” Lenny says finally, exasperated. “It’s not real. Doesn’t look like a fuck at all.”

* * *

It’s Saturday afternoon, and Alexandro Jodorowsky is on vacation. He won’t have to set up another shot until Monday morning. Riding away from the set back to his house, he looks out a window at a kiosk wound around with magazine covers. One says, “Angelica Marie Se Casa Con Alexandro” (Angelica Marie to Marry Alexandro.) “They say an actress is going to marry me,” Alexandro says quietly. “Oh yeah?” the driver of the car says. “Is she a good actress?” “I don’t know,” Alexandro says simply.

Inside his house, he disappears behind some doors, then waves to his visitors to join him in his library. The library is at the very top of the house, which fronts on a quiet square with a fountain. The house itself is very grand, with great windows, high ceilings, and large couches.

“You want to see some Mexican pornography?” he asks, taking down a thick leather-bound volume of pictures from one of the top shelves. The shelves are crowded: Lao-Tzu, Lenny Bruce, the Tarot, Melville’s Typee, Idries Shah on the Sufis, Claude Levi-Strauss on the makings of society, the Koran, several copies of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Zohar, books on Subud and Krishna, A Dictionary of Symbols. Piles of comic books, albums, a framed letter from John and Yoko asking Alexandro to translate the words of “Imagine” into Spanish.

“Here,” Alexandro says, carefully laying the book of pictures down. “Start from the back.” Faded postcards and yellowing photos, one leather boy inserting a beer bottle up the anus of another, one hermaphrodite, a collection of ladies involved in lesbian activities and gentlemen with remarkably sized organs. Group shots with people standing on their heads so as to be part of the action. The handtooled title on the front of the album says “Full of Memories.” Alexandro smiles like a delighted child. “Is something, no?”

Burt Kleiner comes in. “Burt,” Alexandro says, “You want to come? We are going to the studio. Lenny Gaines just called.” Bun says no. “Is my first studio, Burt,” Alexandro says proudly. “Like Fellini, I get to shoot inside. Once I have a director’s eyepiece like Fellini but I lose it right away. Ah … but Fellini, he is a great director, no?

“But, you know we lose two days this,” he says, suddenly serious. “Two days …”

“Ah, you’re right on schedule,” Burt says. “We should fly to Paris and do some scenes there. Make it part of the movie.”

Alexandro smiles. “You know I think this is the last theeng I do here. When they see this one …” He shakes his head. In order to get permission to film in the streets of the city, he has had to submit a copy of the script to the government. But not the script he is currently filming. “You have seen. I laugh at the church, at soldiers who are like assassins … I am thinking about the next feelm, I have two ideas. One is a pirate movie with the Kabbalah … I make it in New York or Chick-ago maybe. You know Chick-ago? Someone tell me Adam and Eve were born there. Yes. The Garden of Eden must be somewhere on earth, no? Where? Some say Kashmir, or Egypt. Why not Chick-ago? Can be. If this movie is good, I go to America. If not to Chile or Colombia, But I think I am finished here. I am ready.”

Burt leaves, Lenny arrives and everyone piles into Lenny’s chauffeured car to ride over to the ancient sound stage that’s been rented for a month. Alexandro steps from the dusty sunlight through two huge double doors into a gloomy hangar of a building filled with mounds of freshly made Christs, sawdust and broken boards. He breathes in the smell. “All this,” he says quietly. “For my movie.” He shows Lenny the forty-foot rainbow, the fuck machine, the room in the shape of a six-pointed star. Lenny is blown out. As they exit together, Alexandro says casually, “Of course, all this is for two minutes.” “Two minutes,” Lenny breathes. “Wow.”

“Of course, for those of us who see it,” Alexandro’s assistant says, “it’s two minutes in all our lives.”

On the ride back, Alexandro directs the driver into downtown Mexico City. He gets out and leads what has become a small entourage into a restaurant with dark wooden walls, white tablecloths, and lots of tabasco sauce and lime juice in the Bloody Marys. Conversation at the table weaves strange circles. Alexandro is told that Blindman, a spaghetti western starring Ringo Starr that Allen Klein also owns, is grossing $70,000 a week in Chicago. “Impossible,” he says. “You have seen thees peecture? In eet, they keel Reengo Starr forever …”

“Twentieth wants a sequel,” Lenny says.

“No,” Alexandro says flatly. “This I cannot believe.” He is at the head of the table behind a silver tray loaded with oysters.

“John and Yoko show me all their films in New York. Is murder, no? I fall asleep. They are such nice people. But the films. I am eating now, do you want to see a film of me eating?

Alexandro sighs and goes back to his oysters. The conversation winds around to Fellini. “I am not so interested in the man. His films are brilliant but they go back. He is a director. I do not feel like a filmmaker.” “But you are,” someone says. “Yes, but I do not feel like one. You know I am involved in a search to lose my ego,” he says, and no one contradicts him. “So when I meet Sly Stone in New York … I know … so fantastic an ego, all is lost. It is like a collision, but he is fantastic, no?”

The main dish comes and is eaten and in that stoned moment before dessert, with everyone full of good food and Bloody Marys, he begins to talk about the making of this film. “You saw them at the Basilica? I could have stopped the crowds but the actors were there, making arguments.”

But they tried to steal your hat.

“So what? What can they do to me? Take my hat? Stick their prick in my ass? Is OK. I let them. You saw in the marketplace. I do not tell them a naked woman is coming. Only that it is a difficult shot. If I tell them a naked woman, they start to yell and scream, the effect is spoiled. This way they are surprised, and quiet. Sometimes one must be a psychiatrist, no?

“Before we go there, people tell me they will kill us if we try to shoot there. But I know I can do it. I have, what is the word, chareesma. Yes, charisma. In Paris once at the Bossert school, one thousand demonstrators come charging up the street screaming. I tell a friend, ‘Watch, I weel estop them.’ I shout Estop! And they do. Valerie can tell you.”

Valerie has joined the table for dessert. She has wide eyes, orange hair, and a freckled face. She is to play Sel in the film. She and Alexandro have been together for eight years. “One time when we were in thee Panic Group,” she says in very good English, “we play to an audience of very tough students, hoodlums almost. We were doing terrible happenings, which began by a man tearing a live pigeon apart, blood and feathers. We were dreadful … like Nazis. They began to escream at us and throw theengs. Alexandro was all in black leathers. They shout at him, ‘Maricon‘ [homosexual]. He single one out of the crowd and says to heem, ‘Come down here,’ and they all stop.”

“I have thees power,” Alexandro says, insisting. “The people know me, they allow me …”

Alexandro is not letting anyone get a word of explanation in. “Art is the highest theeng. Even Socrates before he die, he compose a poem and a song. These peecture I am working on weel be experience for all who see it. I expect to be enlightened while making it. If I fail, it will be there too. But I expect to be …”

“Gee,” Lenny says, flashing on an idea, “Maybe we could re-name it ‘The Spirit Trip,’ give the kids an idea of what it’s really about …”

“You tell me, Lenny,” Alexandro says. “How much Fellini get to make a movie?”

“A million-two, a million-five,” Lenny says. “David Lean got $10 million for Ryan’s Daughter.

“For El Topo I get $400,000,” Alexandro says. “For this one, $750,000. Basileo, the dwarf, you have seen heem? He is fantastic, no? He can do anything. He has eight children. I pay him 400 pesos [$33] a day. He ask for 300. The old bums I use? I have to give them ten pesos. Ten pesos!

“I cannot make this movie for $750,000. I am tired. I need a real producer. I need better explosives to put in the chest but I cannot afford. If the peecture is good, I will ask for more next time. Two, three million. If it is bad, I weel go away. To Chile, to teach. Maybe I start another group, or become a guru.

“But if the film is good, I ask for more money. Three, four million.” His voice trails off. He looks around the table. No one says a thing. “Come,” he says to Valerie, “I am tired. We go.”

After Alexandro is gone, his assistant says, “Don’t worry about it, man. I fuck up in front of him all the time and think I’ve blown it but the next time you see him, it’s always cool. We’re like children around him.”

* * *

Jodorowsky?” says Manuel Acevas, the editor of Mexico’s only underground newspaper, Piedra Rodante. “He is an enemy of the culture. He is completely against drugs, with a narc mentality. Before his concern was only with the bourgeoisie and scaring them, he was a petit-bourgeois. Now since El Topo it is the hippies. He is a petit-hippie.

“The man is a reep-off. Money, and more money is all he wants. You have seen the house he lives in. He buy it with the money from El Topo. He is a man of talents, unquestionably, a genius, but his ego is so great, it destroys.” Manuel reaches into his desk and takes out a cartoon. “Maybe we run this soon.” The cartoon shows a Mexican actress naked save for a copy of “Panic Fables” (Alexandro’s Sunday comic strip) covering her crotch. She reaches out a hand to Alexandro who stands, holding a bag of money in one hand, saying, “What an uncomfortable position,” one of the famous lines from his cartoons. On the other side of him sits a bearded guru, who says, “My son, Zen Buddhism and Brahmanism are the way to Saint Dollar.”

“You do not have to believe me,” Manuel says. “Go and speak to Grace. You know her. Paula Roma is her stage name. She play the lesbian in El Topo. He wanted her for this one too but she say no. You go speak to her.”

Lace curtains cover the windows and fringed cloths the lamps in Grace’s ground floor apartment. Although it is the middle of the afternoon, two candles, one red, one blue, burn by two sticks of incense. Grace comes rushing in, sits down, and extracts a tightly rolled joint from a silver cigarette case. She speaks rapidly, rushing from story to story, eager for any gossip she doesn’t already know. “Ah, Alexandro,” she sighs. “I love him so much…when he is not working. When he come over, we are like two women chattering blah-blah-blah about everything. He say he want me in thees peecture. He say, ‘Eet ees a small part.’ So what? ‘Is not much money,’ he say. So what. He say, ‘You have to shave your head.’ ‘So what,’ I say. ‘For you, I shave everything.’

“But then I talk to my friends, and they say eet ees not enough money and eet ees another lesbian, so I say no. But steel, Alexandro he want to be God. And I say to heem, ‘Fuck you. There ees no God.’ You are God and I am, and you are a piece of shit also. And so am I.”

Grace stubs some ash off her joint against the bottom of the ashtray. She takes a brush out of her pocketbook and begins to rearrange her hair. It’s color she doesn’t like. The candles flicker the highlights in her Aries eyes. “Alexandro tell me people are taking so much drugs these days, they weel see another vision of the Virgin of Guadelupe. He is crazee, no? Always he want to be reech and famous and now he will be, I think. I am glad for him, I love him so much.” She bends her head to get a light off the candle. Then why, she is asked, if all he wants is to be rich and famous, is he so involved with spiritual matters, with communal living, with losing his ego.

She pauses for a moment, then inhales on the joint. “Because he has found a way to be God, and to be commercial too. Is perfect no?”

* * *

On one of the last days of shooting in the marketplace, a sideshow stage was set up with a diorama-like representation of the Aztec pyramids. Barkers dressed as clowns spieled up and down underneath a banner that read “Grand Circus of Frogs and Chameleons. Today: The Conquest of Mexico.” The wardrobe lady had been up at four to begin dressing frogs as Conquistadors and lizards as Aztec Indians, replete with tiny purple plumes that fanned out over their sun god faces. The frogs were wheeled around in wooden wagons that were supposed to be Spanish galleons but looked more like caskets. Inside them, frogs were dying slowly from exposure. The same thing had happened during El Topo, with the ring of rabbits. It was supposed to be a ring of live rabbits until one by one, they were killed by the sun.

Burt Kleiner looked around the set and shook his head in wonder. “With Alexandro,” he said, “you don’t have to be an actor. We’re all just his straw dogs.”

The next day, the pyramids were blown up, killing all the frogs and lizards that were still alive. “Did you see it?” Richard Rutowsky said. “Alexandro was up on this ladder with a wash basin full of blood, pouring it on the frogs and he slipped and it got in his hair and on his clothes. After it was over, I said, ‘You’re insane, you know?’ ‘Why you say that?’ he said. ‘Look around,’ I said. ‘The camera’s covered in black, you’re full of blood, the frogs are laying in the ruins smoldering. You’re a mass murderer.’ He just looked at me and said, ‘The Spanish did worse to the Indians.’

“Being in this film, man, is like watching a member of your own family go through changes. A year ago Alexandro was a total egomaniac. Right now, he’s in a scary place, for sure. Big money, big contracts, but give him a chance, just sit back and watch him …

“See, the church isn’t there anymore inside one building. It’s anywhere you can get people to listen. That’s why this film is so far out…and him too. He’s a special person.”

* * *

Memo From Mexico City

The script for The Holy Mountain ends with this paragraph:

“Instead of the conventional ‘The End’, the following text will appear … ‘You can write to me: Alexandro Jodorowsky, Apartado Postal Numero, Mexico City, D.F. Mexico.”


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