Santa Sangre Review
Despite only directing 6 films in a career spanning over 30 years, Alejandro Jodorowsky has developed a formidable reputation as an auteur, not to mention mystic and guru. Much of this reputation is due to his 1970 film El Topo, ostensibly a Western, but actually a metaphysical journey filled with striking imagery and symbolism.
Jodorowsky's low output is due to a lack of financial backing rather than a shortage of ideas, so it is perhaps unsurprising that when he was approached by producer Claudio Argento, brother of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, with a request to make a film in which 'a man kills a lot of women' Jodorowsky was more than happy to oblige if it gave him the opportunity to make another film.
Jodorowsky responded to Claudio Argento's request with Santa Sangre, a movie about a circus child called Fenix who, due to events in his childhood, develops the most interesting relationship with his mother since that of Norman Bates - with similar consequences. Although Santa Sangre is Jodorowsky's most accessible and coherent work, the director's trademark symbolism is very much in evidence, from scenes of a dying elephant with a bleeding trunk to the hallucinations of the haunted Fenix.
Setting the film in the world of the circus and circus performers allowed Jodorowsky not only to draw upon his own childhood experiences but also to present a slightly surreal world of colourful sets, costumes and characters, with the dream-like feel enhanced by the vaguely ethereal cinematography characteristic of an Argento production. Although Jodorowsky's natural instinct towards symbolism is sometimes at the expense of pacing, it also produces a film with far greater richness and depth than is typically associated with horror movies, without compromising the level of death and violence.
A slogan from the time of the film's release asked viewers to 'forget everything you've ever seen', and although the film is not as outrageous and abstract as this might imply, it remains a unique film recommended for connoisseurs of the offbeat and more adventurous horror fans.
Anchor Bay present Santa Sangre as a feature-packed two-disc release encoded for Region 2 only.
Given the age and origins of the film, the print used for the anamorphic transfer is in remarkably good condition. There are some very minor print sparkles throughout, but these are easy to ignore and the print is otherwise free from damage. Flesh-tones are rendered accurately and the primary colours of the circus are suitably vivid. Although of course the picture quality cannot match what would be expected of a more recent production, the transfer supplied is about as good as could have been hoped for.
Like the quality of the video, the original Dolby Stereo soundtrack supplied is as good as could be expected given the quality of the source. The soundtrack sounds a little thin and lacking in separation compared to modern productions, but this is no surprise given the film's age and low budget. The optional Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is a little pointless as it adds little to the audio experience.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is joined by film journalist Alan Jones for a feature-length audio commentary. For the most part, Alan Jones leads the conversation, asking informed questions of Jodorowsky and also prompting the director into providing the occasional anecdote, though sometimes Jodorowsky decides to ignore Alan's questions in favour of commenting on scenes in the film as they appear. Although the director is happy to comment on some of the film's symbolism and imagery where the choices behind them were made consciously, he is the first to admit that he cannot explain certain scenes in the film beyond defending them as the intuitive decisions of an artist. The influence of Jodorowsky's circus background, the collaboration with Claudio Argento and the use of Italian crew are also discussed in what is a reasonably entertaining and informative commentary.
The special features disc begins with Echek, a three-minute short film directed by Adan Jodorowsky, Alejandro's son and the actor who plays the young Fenix in Santa Sangre. Echek is a comic piece filmed in the style of an old silent movie, complete with solo piano score and inset frames with the dialogue, which is in French and remains strangely un-subtitled. The optional commentary is not from Adan but Alejandro, and he does little more than express his pride and happiness at his son following in his footsteps.
A four-and-a-half minute deleted scene is presented with a forced commentary by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Alan Jones. Although not essential to the film, the scene does explain plot points only implied in the finished film.
This is followed by a concise but informative text-only biography of Jodorowsky, which serves as a good introduction to next and most impressive bonus feature.
Louis Mouchet's La Constellation Jodorowsky is an 87-minute documentary that includes contributions from Fernando Arrabal, Peter Gabriel, Marcel Marceau and Jean 'Moebius' Giraud as well as Jodorowsky himself. Jodorowsky's entire career up until 1994 is discussed, covering his involvement in theatre, cinema, and comic books as well as touching upon his interest in mysticism, particularly tarot reading and a self-invented technique he terms 'psycho-magic'. Presented in French with burned-in English subtitles, La Constellation Jodorowsky is an interesting and informative look at a man who is as full of character as the art he produces.
A feature entitled Jodorowsky On Stage turns out to be a 25-minute talk given by the director after a screening of Santa Sangre at the ICA in December 2002. Jodorowsky proves to be quite the raconteur and by no means restricts himself to talking about the film itself. He discusses his fondness for Asian cinema with particular reference to the work of Takashi Miike and Kim Ki Duk's The Isle as well as giving his thoughts on life in general. Whatever the subject matter, Jodorowsky is always entertaining.
The Stills Gallery is divided into two sub-sections. The Posters section goes beyond its title and contains posters, sleeve art and promotional stills from various international cinematic and video releases of the film. Press Cuttings, as the name suggests, contains clippings from various reviews of the film from the UK press.
Anchor Bay has supplied a fine selection of extras that provide an excellent insight into the world of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Sadly only La Constellation Jodorowsky includes subtitles.
Santa Sangre provides a fine introduction to the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky as it combines his trademark symbolism with an accessible narrative containing enough violence, death and madness to satisfy more adventurous horror fans.
The Anchor Bay presentation of the film features audio and video quality as good as could have been hoped for alongside an assortment of quality extras.