ENDLESS POETRY, biopic, not rated, in Spanish with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 4 chiles
In the early ’70s, a bizarre Western called El Topo shook up the cinephile world and helped to ignite the phenomenon of midnight screenings. Devotees showed up night after night at urban art houses, usually the better or worse for mind-altering substances, and pondered the deeper meanings of its heady, psychedelic mix of surrealism, spiritualism, and violence.
El Topo was the work of a Chilean-French poet and artist named Alejandro Jodorowsky, and it became a cult classic. He followed the film with The Holy Mountain (1973), which enjoyed some of the same success, and then embarked on an ambitious but ill-fated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, an effort that never made it out of the gate (but became the subject of a 2013 documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune). In the four decades since, Jodorowsky has kept absurdly busy as a poet, author, graphic novelist, comic book artist, playwright, theater director, composer, spiritualist, and filmmaker, but he has not been much in the mainstream public eye.
In 2013 he released The Dance of Reality, a film based on his autobiography that focuses on his early life in Tocopilla, Chile. He’s now picked up where that left off with a second cinematic volume, Endless Poetry, which follows his journey into young adulthood and his plunge into the art world. It’s an affectionate, exuberant look back from the perspective of his 88 years on the agonies and ecstasies of a young man embracing and abandoning himself to the life of an artist. Alejandro is played as a boy by Jeremias Herskovits, reprising his role in the earlier picture, and as a young man by the filmmaker’s youngest son, Adan Jodorowsky. His older brother, Brontis, returns as Alejandro’s stern father, as does Pamela Flores as his mother, who delivers all of her dialogue in song.
Flores doubles as the poet Stella Díaz Varín, who initiates the young man into the joys of sex, more or less. Leandro Taub plays another fellow poet, Enrique Lihn, with whom Alejandro embarks on one of the movie’s most delightful sequences, a stroll through Santiago in which the two young men decide that as poets, they should have license to walk a straight line without turning aside for conventional impediments like parked cars and private houses. Jodorowsky himself turns up from time to time, a white-bearded éminence grise offering words of advice and encouragement to his youthful self. The movie is full of the kind of visual extravagances that will endear it to the director’s admirers, but it will also win new fans with an accessible, audience-friendly story arc.
And it ends with the promise of more. Jodorowsky is reportedly planning a film quintet to bring us up to date on his life. Who knows — if he lives long enough, maybe there’ll be enough for six.
Visual feast: A scene from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry