Attending the Colonial Theatre’s showing of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry on a cool Wednesday evening just as the leaves are turning was necessary. The mind grows weary if its soul function is work and income earning. Just as the leaves are changing so too is my summer’s-end bitterness turning to the jaded thoughts of winter, though intermittently distracted by snow covered New Hampshire ski slopes. What? Too self indulgent?
The film opens on a family trio, a boy leans against his mother while she delivers her lines in opera. The narrator informs us that he lost his mountains. He has moved from the country to the city. A drunk is stabbed and disemboweled outside of the shop owned by our protagonist’s father. The shop professes combat on thieves and high prices alike! A shoplifting dwarf is brutally beaten before his wife is dragged outside by the father, Jaime, only to then be stripped before a crowd who are all wearing masks of the same face with the same placid expression.
In the items abandoned by the beaten dwarf a young Alejandro Jodorowsky discovers a copy of Garcia Lorca’s poetry. He reads it instead of the biology books his father demands that he learns in order to become a doctor. “How I want your green,” the young poet reads to himself. He reads of a ship on the sea, a horse on mountains, Green! His mother sings of having to bake a strawberry cake, his father demands the boy’s assistance in counting the day’s profits. Unnamed characters dressed all in black, like stage-hand bank-robbers offer and accept props to and from the characters who seem to not see them or completely accept their presence as natural. There is an earthquake, Alejandro and his father Jaime laugh at the shaking, his mother completes her cake.
Sent to entertain himself in the garden while his parents visit his mother’s mother Alejandro has had enough. His breaking point involves chopping at a tree, the family tree, in the garden. His cousin is inspired and takes Alejandro to some artists he knows. He then confesses his love for Alejandro, but it is not reciprocated. But now our protagonist is set on his journey to realize love and truth and beauty among free thinkers and the avant-garde. If you are playing songs from Moulin Rouge in your head right now, go with it, you aren’t far off.
The place is Cafe Iris, it is where poets and muses meet every night. Even while writing this I wonder why the North Country has not enabled the existence of such a place. Our poet arrives late at night, orders a beer, watches as a woman with a lot of red hair enters, drinks beer by the liter, scribbles a bit of brilliance, and then departs after berating the guests. Having read that last line I can see how the reader may believe that indeed the North Country contains many dives and late night haunts just like this… I’ve been to all of them, trust me, none has the air of creative desperation, only desperation.
The woman was Stella Diaz Varin. Alejandro will also meet Enrique Lihn in the Cafe Iris. And on and on he will go spiraling in and around these great names in Hispanic literature. Then halfway through the film the Cafe Iris is closed to mourn the death of one of their own and Alejandro and Stella must choose the bar across the street, the Mute Parrot, but it is filled with violence and Alejandro is almost raped. Stella bears her breasts and threatens the assailants with her vagina so that they may escape. This betrayal is made worse by the encounter with Alejandro’s cousin’s corpse outside of an architecture school he never really wanted to attend.
Our protagonist continues along the bumpy road traversed by every artist with a poet’s heart forced to contend with the realities of a world harder and crueler then s/he would like. The filmmaker explores his maturation through the lenses of opera, politics, surrealism, folk music, social commentary, interpretive dance, mysticism, and history. When he finally encounters the older version of himself while dressed like a clown angel attending a parade of red devils and skeletons the viewer receives some advice directly from the legendary director, “Old age is not humiliation, you turn into a butterfly, a radiant being of pure light.”
Jodorowsky takes the viewer on a journey of maturation and artistic discovery best enjoyed in the company of Holden Caulfield and Tom Buchanan aboard the Merry Prankster bus with an angel-skeleton-Ken Kesey driving but also Jack Kerouac and Hunter Thompson by your side to write it all down. Eventually Alejandro forgives his father, we all enjoy a catharsis, and he heads off to Paris aboard a little purple boat in the company of an angel skeleton.
Sit down with your kids the day after graduation while they nurse those illnesses rife with nausea and exhaustion that always seem to come on after late high school revelries. Order pizza, pore them a ginger ale, and watch this film. There are poet’s hearts in many of us, and we all seek permission to feel them without letting down those who love us. There are no wasted shots in Jodorowsky films. At least none that any amateur writer is willing to point out below his byline. Some foreign films are “important” to see. Some are shown in schools and discussed during the last four minutes before the bell and then everybody walks around feeling free and informed for about an hour. This is one that tells the story of the loaner in the coffee shop, every weird cousin, and maybe your own kid or yourself. It will make you feel better or informed and either way, if you need a lighter introduction to Jodorowsky’s work, this is the perfect place to start.