New Movies -
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Old Movies -
Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012
Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
One must approach Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre without much anticipation of cinematic normality, or else it might prove a baffling experience. In this visually exciting romp, Jodorowsky tosses in so much left-field surrealism that his movie ends up detaching itself from reality well before the film makes that break an explicit selling point. Compared to this hallucinatory barrage, even the films of a fantasist such as Tim Burton seem positively mundane. It’s not really that Jodorowsky is an incredibly skilled, or at least consistently skilled, filmmaker so much as that he’s not afraid to take the audiences to a place where explanations won’t be granted. Even if the plot, when summarized, can be reduced to a familiar tale (echoes of Psycho can be found throughout), the details here are juxtaposed with one another in a manner that demands the viewer not rely on any expectations of past films seen. Jodorowsky’s vision here is certainly singular, even as it recalls Bunuel, Fellini, Hitchcock, James Whale, the German Expressionists and a multitude of other master filmmakers. Santa Sangre is cobbled together from parts, in the best possible way.
Religious guilt, crippling Freudian impulses, social status, and the majority’s arbitrary definition of madness all conspire together to form a repressive enclosure for the protagonist, yet the film he’s in seems to gleefully trample over any limiting mores. What Santa Sangre is, above all else, is a presentation of one man’s wild psyche. His obsessions are turned loose upon the world, with nary a limitation, resulting in a phantasmagoric parade of suggestive, psychologically loaded images. Knife-murders, circus freaks, insane asylums, and a hero that spends a good portion of the movie thinking he’s a hawk, collectively make the film an experience that simultaneously revolts, challenges, amuses and satirizes the audience. When the camera lingers too long on a Downs Syndrome-stricken face or a bleeding knife wound, it’s obviously a confrontation, but of a kind that few moviemakers outside of Werner Herzog would attempt. This willingness to go where few other filmmakers tread undeniably qualifies Jodorowsky as a visionary of sorts, but the film’s quality is mildly erratic. For example, a sequence that almost qualifies as a musical number occurs about forty minutes in, when a pimp guides a group of mental patients down a street in a red light district. It’s an incredibly strong sequence, but it’s lamentable that as good as the film is, it doesn’t often reach the same dizzying heights. Practically no feature film has sustained such a pitch for an entire runtime, however, so quibbling about such matters seems somewhat absurd. Perhaps more troubling, though is that the comparatively conventional third act felt at once like a disappointment and a relief (it will be interesting to see how future viewings alter this view, in any case). The conclusion provides an unlikely, but welcome burst of humanist concern, that tones down any earlier charges of exploitation. On the other hand, however, since there are so few exploitation films that go this far, is that a positive thing?