Auden and Tolkien wrote about the skills of inventing “secondary worlds.” Ms. Rowling’s world is a secondary secondary world, made up of intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children’s literature — from the jolly hockey-sticks school story to Roald Dahl, from “Star Wars” to Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper. Toni Morrison pointed out that clichés endure because they represent truths. Derivative narrative clichés work with children because they are comfortingly recognizable and immediately available to the child’s own power of fantasizing.
Blood-soaked and piled high with deformity, the film is commercialized Surrealism. El Topo has been called a Zen Buddhist Western, but in terms of its derivations it’s a spaghetti Western in the style of Luis Bunuel, and tinsel all the way. The avant-garde devices that once fascinated a small bohemian group because they seemed a direct pipeline to the occult and “the marvelous” now reach the new mass bohemianism of youth. But the marvelous has become a bag of old Surrealist tricks: the acid-Western style is synthesized from devices of the once avant-garde–especially L’Age d’Or and the whole lifework of Bunuel, with choice lifts from Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet, too.
The movie may seem bewildering, however, because the narrative is overlaid with a clutter of symbols and ideas. Jodorowsky employs anything that can give the audience a charge, even if the charges are drawn from different systems of thought that are–as thought–incompatible…. Well, of course, you don’t need erudition to draw on matters religious and philosophical that way–any dabbler can do it. All you need is a theatrical instinct and a talent for (a word I once promised myself never to use) frisson. Jodorowsky is, it is true, a director for whom ideas are sensuous entities–sensuous toys, really, to be played with. By piling onto the Western man-with-no-name righteous-avenger form elements from Eastern fables, Catholic symbolism, and so on, Jodorowsky achieves a kind of comic-strip mythology. And when you play with ideas this way, promiscuously–with thoughts and enigmas and with symbols of human suffering–the resonances get so thick and confused that the game may seem not just theatre but labyrinthine, ‘deep’: a masterpiece.
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