By Shade Rupe
With El Topo and The Holy Mountain seeing a limited theatrical release earlier this year, and now, at long last, official DVD releases as well, most of the well-justified hoopla has focused on these films as cult classics, landmarks in the early history of the pre-video era's "midnight movie" phenomenon. Some of the coverage has gone further, telling the story of the dispute between Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky and Beatles manager Allen Klein, who has owned the rights to these films and kept them out of circulation for three decades.
But few realize that Jodorowsky had been a wildly creative force before those films and has been ever since as well. With Roland Topor and Fernando Arrabal, he rattled the Parisian art and theater scenes in the early 60s with happenings that would come to be known as the Panic Movement, and to this day, comic aficionados eagerly await the next book he'll have out as a result of his collaboration with the likes of Jean Giraud (Moebius). And that's not even touching on his research into Tarot and psychotherapy and his ongoing work on television and in theater. Here, Shade Rupe talks with Jodorowsky about his famously eclectic career.
Were you already doing theater work and art work before you created the Panic group with Roland Topor and Arrabal?
Had you done any film work before Panic?
Well, when I was 9, I made a 16mm picture... But the picture got lost.
Were you friends with Cocteau?
We knew him. Not friends, he was too famous.
Was it based on something he had written?
No, it was based on the history of Thomas Mann.
When did you meet Roland Topor and Fernando Arrabal? Did you already have the idea in mind for a Panic Theater, a "happening" theater and you met them? Or were you friends with them and then it grew out of that friendship?
Well, I knew Arrabal was making theater, happenings, and then I knew him as a writer, and Topor through Arrabal. And I brought them to a group I was going to at that time to talk. And we get bored with these talks and then we did the Panic.
So you knew Andre [Guittard].
It was three years in the Panic troupe. Three years.
Do you remember the first production the three of you put on?
It was a happening for Panic. A four-hour happening. And the first part was a big drawing of Topor, initiation of a young girl to the feminine thing, like the first time he brings her to sleep, or the first time she put on heels. It was a ceremony. And then was a Catholic play of one act. But they say they will act the happening. And at the last moment, they were afraid, they didn't act.
What year was the first production?
It was '74.
Was it something where you were on a stage and people would come watch or was it...?
Most of it happened at the Institute North America, and this is how it [came together]. I mean, I took out everything that was in the theater, I cleaned it up... and I put this - how would you call this? [pantomimes a staircase] Something like that.
Like stairs, or...
Stairs. Okay. And I knew that something was of value. Because in that time, I write this for my pantomime [artist] Mask Maker, who was a huge success. But in the beginning, he didn't want to take my advice. And then, I [sold my copyright] and I worked after. But for an enormous amount of money. I was rich. And then there was all this money in the happening.
I wanted to be the Cecil B. DeMille of the happening. And there was a French guy whose name was Label. This Label was a criminal because he didn't like the problems. There were a lot of artists. Myself, I said, I will go with you, but I will not make a little [scene] - I will make an enormous scene. I will be the Cecil B. DeMille of scenes. He laughed. He didn't believe it. But when he saw what I did, it was an enormous object; it was so enormous, he got completely jealous. And tried to erase my happening. I was to not speak. Not to say anything to the press. He destroyed the picture; they took it. Because there are pieces in the newspaper and the newspaper writes something, a lot of people will see that. I was so astonished, that someone would try to kill a piece of art, out of jealousy.
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