Monday, February 8, 2010

Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)

Hauntingly beautiful in a way that made me not want to vomit, Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) is a work of gentle and demented grace. Filled with enough lunacy, mental trauma (seeing your father struggling to maintain his composure with acid-soaked genitalia will do that), mentally challenged cocaine users, and circus sex to last an undetermined amount of time, Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) has created a masterful ode to letting go of the past. A veiled cautionary tale about the dangers that could develop when you don't use your hands to do your own bidding, the colourful, gory (a man tries to force feed a little girl his own right ear), and richly layered enterprise is a mellifluous feast for the senses – primarily the ones that are indispensable when it comes to watching and listening to films. Whether it be the awe-inspiring visual splendour of the aerial shot of a beloved elephant bleeding from its trunk, the graveyard dream sequence (synthesizers whirl while white zombies lurch), or the maddening ferocity of the bongo music heard during a grislier than usual flophouse stabbing, everything about this film, optically and audibly, is heightened to the point of rapturous madness.

A dreamlike mishmash that jumps back and forth between reality and fantasy, and, not to mention, the past and the present, the story revolves around a mental patient named Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky). A deeply troubled man trying to come to grips with a violent incident that transpired between his parents when he was a child (Adan Jodorowsky), the film flashes back to when he performed in a traveling circus called Circo del Gringo. There we meet his knife throwing father Orgo (Guy Stockwell), his religious fanatic/trapeze artist mother Goncha (Blanca Guerra), and Alma (Faviola Elenka Tapia), the deaf-mute flaming tightrope walker he has a crush on.

The intensity of Alma's adorableness cannot be accurately measured using conventional methods.

Upsetting the big top equilibrium is a woman who is covered head-to-toe in tattoos. You see, Orgo has these little flings with the tattooed lady, and Goncha isn't too happy about it. Taking matters into her own hands, Goncha, in the spur of the moment, decides to throw a vitriolic liquid into Orgo's sexing area just as he was about to penetrate the tattooed lady with his penis (it's not a Jodorwsky flick until someone loses their junk). Even though in agony, Orgo manages to muster enough energy to chop off Goncha's arms.

Profoundly traumatized by this event (though it should be said that the large eagle chest tattoo he receives from his father and the elephant funeral procession were pretty trauma-inducing as well), we jump forward to when a now grownup yet catatonic Fenix is living in an insane asylum. Reinvigorated by a night on the hooker-filled streets with some of his fellow patients, Fenix is surprised to find his now armless mother calling to him from the street outside his cell/room. Leaving the confines of his self-stylized prison, the reunited mother-son startup a stage show that involves Fenix standing behind Goncha and acting out her arm movements.

Now, while this sounds like a cute idea for a show, the fact that Goncha has Fenix acting as her hands to do everyday chores is a tad disturbing. Things get even more troubling when Goncha starts forcing Fenix to carry out her murderous wishes. The barely sane Fenix could easily refuse to follow through with her unhinged desires, but you should have seen how inflamed Goncha became when the local monsignor told her the blood pool at her favourite church was merely paint. In fact, their heated back and forth that involved the expressions: "This is paint!" and "It's holy blood!" reminded me of a certain beer commercial from the 1980s. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is Goncha is not someone to be trifled with; even while armless.

The undulating undercarriage of the excessively tattooed woman known as "The Tattooed Woman" (played by the sturdily built Thelma Tixou) was a joy to revel in. Of course, I wouldn't go as far as to say that she was a nice person (pimping out your deaf-mute daughter to horny military personnel isn't exactly an endearing quality), but the sight of Thelma erotically savouring the exquisite longness of her ink-covered frame did a pretty good job of deflating any scorn I felt towards her. After all, she was basically just an exhibitionist who loved to give knives fellatio. And, in the long run, I can't stay mad at someone like that.

Your hands were given to you by the secretive overlords, the one's who live amongst the nonjudgmental hairs that cover the cavernous highway that is God's ass, in order to assist humankind when it comes to masturbating and eating cereal with some level of lordliness. Sure, you can pretty do both of those things without hands, but the sheer amount of rubbing and flailing involved would be so demanding, that you'd no doubt discontinue engaging in both activities after about five years of undignified struggle. Regardless, the inherent freewill to utilize your hands in any way you see fit was the main message I took away from Santa Sangre; that, and elephant funerals rarely end pleasantly. It doesn't matter if you come from a dysfunctional family populated by womanizing knife throwers and overzealous crackpots, your hands are a gift; manipulate them with impunity.

video uploaded by RaroDVD


  1. I love Jodorowsky's films. They're so surreal and bizarre, but liquid and beautiful too. You could freeze-frame at just about any given moment in his movies, print it out, and sell it in a frame as art. They're like a warmer version of Salvador Dali's paintings come to life.


  2. This is my favorite Jodorowsky film. Just watched it again a couple of weeks ago (still no Region 1 release -- aargh!) and am thrilled to find it reviewed here.

    A serious question: what do make of filmmakers who employ 'actors' that have Down's Syndrome? (Jodorowsky, Crispin Glover, Lars Von Trier): exploitation or artistic license? Where do you draw the line? I fall on the side of giving the artist the benefit of the doubt...


  3. Jonny Metro: Well said, Johnny.

    I would love to "freeze-frame" individual scenes from this movie, but alas, there is no (conventionally available) DVD for me to purchase. :(

    Russ: I don't see why actors with Down's Syndrome shouldn't be allowed to appear in movies. It's true, I haven't seen how they're portrayed by Crispin Glover (I saw The Idiots, but that was like, twelve (yikes) years ago). But from the Jodorowsky flicks I have seen, their appearances don't feel exploitative.

  4. The expansive undercarriage of The Tattooed Woman in all its ink-stained glory. (via Bride of Awesomeness)

  5. Since I have no idea what to say in response to Jodorowsky, besides the obligatory WTF?!?!, I'll tell you how excited I am that the Olympics are in Canadaland. I've bought some Canadian beer--good Quebecois Belgian-style ale, not Molson--and I'm set for the opening ceremonies tonight. Too bad I can't find some ketchup-flavo(u)red potato chips--kidding, I hate ketchup--or call up Pizza Pizza for delivery.

    The other half is not as excited. He especially hates curling. WTF?!?!

  6. I think "WTF" is an appropriate response.

    I don't drink beer. But I have to say: Woo-hoo! Belgian-style!

    My Olympic menu--if I had to come up with such a thing--would probably include a cup of decaf green tea and one kiwi.

    As far as childhood memories go, nothing quite beats the image of an infrequently washed youngster licking the red dust off their fingers after consuming a large bag of ketchup-flavoured potato chips. Good times.

    That's weird. I mean, the words "hate" and "curling" don't really go together.

    I swept the "fright-ful films" Jeopardy! category with an alarming ease. ;)

  7. This is the type of film that should be given Oscars. I was left in tears at the end. The younger version of the deaf/mute girl haunted me for weeks after I saw this.

  8. To a commenter: Is it exploitative to SHOW people with Down's Syndrome? Perhaps, but I'll rather be exploited than locked away while the world pretends I don't exist.
    Great movie, I just watched myself ( AND incidentally, GREAT BLOG!

  9. If you're WTFin' about this movie then go back to all masturbating (Hollywood) cinema. Santa Sangre is simply THE best movie of the "genre". A belgian friend.