Alejandro Jodorowsky Opens Up About Albina And The Dog-Men

Alejandro Jodorowsky Opens Up About Albina And The Dog-Men

The filmmaker discusses his magical world on the occasion of his newest novel’s english translation—but don’t call it magical realism

The filmmaker discusses his magical world on the occasion of his newest novel’s english translation—but don’t call it magical realism

Text: Blake Butler

I’m live on Skype with Alejandro Jodorowsky, talking about cyborgs and rebirth, when my sister texts me that she’s gone into labor with her first child. I don’t bring it up in our conversation, but I can’t stop smiling. I can’t help but imagine that the legendary Chilean director and author’s voice is in my head right now for a reason, one that has something to do with the sublime.

“One day is a fantastic gift, one more day,” Jodorowsky is saying from Paris. “What is a year? It’s a circle around the sun. That is all.”

Casual viewers of Jodorowsky’s work—from his most well-known midnight cult films El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) all the way up to his most recent creations, the newly translated novels Where the Bird Sings Best (2015) and Albina and the Dog-Men (May 10, Restless Books)—might not expect to find a message of such life-affirming exuberance coming from a man whose halting imagery includes scenes in which a thief eats the face off of a mass-produced replica of Jesus Christ. That would only be because they do not fully understand: Jodorowsky’s work is nothing if not deeply spiritual, intensely dedicated to beauty, discovery, and enlightenment.

“Today, for me, art is the way to discover who you are,” Jodorowsky says, his voice ripe with conviction even through the filter of the computer speakers. “To heal this long history full of wars, of blood, of economic difficulty—why would you do that? What can we do? For me, I want to change the world. And I cannot, but I can start to change it. And I cannot change myself, but I can start to change myself.”

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In Jodorowsky’s work, the fact that the unexpected might occur at any moment imbues the audience’s experience with something akin to a religious encounter. It’s much more than shock or even mere entertainment.

“Myself, I am not making magical realism,” Jodorowsky explains, while describing how, like the writer Gabriel García Márquez, he learned to tell stories by listening to his grandmother narrate family history mixed and interspersed with dreams. “I am making real magic. Real magic because it continues, no? It is not an effect of magic; the magic is real.”

And this magic is not bound to the page or the screen. Often in the midst of Jodorowsky’s work, one gets the sense that one isn’t just watching or reading, but that somehow the reach of the art extends out of the frame, invoking the surrounding world, the universe. The Holy Mountain famously ends with the revelation of the cameras and the production crew around them, the director himself proclaiming, “Nothing has an end…We must not stay here, prisoners! We shall break the illusion.” For Jodorowsky, the art of film does not end with the film itself, nor does the present end as it becomes past.

“Our unconscious works with the history of a lot of generations,” Jodorowsky tells me. “We are the product of that history, and the trees and lightning inside of a person want to live in the present, to live here and now. But here it is called the history of the universe, of the planet, and now we cannot say, ‘No, that is only the present,’ because we are the product of that past, and we must know from where we are coming to know where we are going.”

Jodorowsky lives his daily life without routine. He says he finds the greatest happiness in waking up beside the woman he loves, whom he often must ask what day it is. He doesn’t waste time brooding over his own neuroses or personal failures, nor does he fret over being creative every day.

“You cannot be great every year,” he says. “Do it that one time, wait to have something, then do other things.” He loves to read. He also, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, loves Twitter; each day from 12 to 1, he tweets, taking joy in seeing what people respond to the most.

For the past half-century, Jodorowsky has written dozens of books: graphic novels, plays, short story collections, poetry, essays, books on his films, spiritual texts, and surreal narratives, like Albina and the Dog-Men. In this tale, sexual desire for the hero, Albina, transforms men into dogs. This and other allegorical inversions illustrate a corrupt and fantastic world that feels cynical at times and, at others, almost optimistic, at least when it comes to beauty.

“I don’t believe in individuality anymore,” he explains. “I live it, but as the idea of having no own-ness, and having beauty. Everyone has personal beauty, and that is the role of literature, art: to show the other his own beauty, not our beauty, your beauty.”

That beauty, for Jodorowsky, has no price tag. It is not a vessel that can be bound by the margins and controls placed on it by those more interested in attracting crowds than making something timeless, sublime. This was proven when he notoriously walked away from years of work on a 14-hour adaptation of Dune when no studio would agree to foot the bill for the terms of his epic vision.

For Jodorowsky, this line in the sand where dollars and logic intrude on the transcendent isn’t one that may be blurred; he would rather wait 30 years for the right opportunity than to compromise now.

“Art is not a business,” Jodorowsky says calmly, without a hint of doubt. “Art is art. If you make money, fantastic. Money is not happiness, but without money you are not happy. So then you do the work, and if you have money, fantastic, but if you make the work to have money, it’s like a dog dancing for a stick.”

Albina and the Dog-Men is available now from Restless Books

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