MM: Considering that The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry deal directly with your experiences as a young man, do you consider them your most personal?
AJ: I’ve always made personal films. I lived in Tocopilla, a little town that I talk about in The Dance of Reality. There was only one movie theater on the weekends, and there was a library, but I read all the books there in one year. Going to the cinema was the only thing that fueled my dreams in such a small town. In that movie theater, I saw the first Frankenstein movie, The Werewolf and the first science-fiction movies. I thought films about cowboys were fairy tales; I didn’t know cowboys were from the United States. I thought they were not real. When I made El Topo, I created cowboys that were unreal because I didn’t see them as real. I thought they were from a country where there were bad guys, good guys, angels and demons. For me, cinema is the superior art because cinema has it all: acting, music, painting, sculpture. It has everything. Everything fits in cinema. It’s the most complete form of art that exists.
MM: Is surrealism alive in cinema today, or are filmmakers afraid of exploring that realm now?
AJ: It’s the industry. The industry wants to make money, and surrealism doesn’t make money. You can’t make very graphic or strong images because they don’t like that. They want you to make comic book images. Comics have a lot of imagination, but it’s superficial. Surrealism is profound images from dreams, and they are very strong. We have to make them because we are all surrealists. We all dream for about seven or eight hours each night, and we don’t stop dreaming. That’s surrealism: to accept those dreams in reality. That’s all. It’s very simple.
MM: Writing has been at the core of your work in different iterations. Was the writing process different for The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry than in your other published work?
AJ: I’m a writer. My novels and my essays are coming out in the United States now. I wrote The Dance of Reality as a novel and the same with Endless Poetry [the book it’s based on is also called Endless Poetry]. The books came first and then the screenplay I wrote in 15 days because everything was already done. Each novel took me several years. I economized the work, didn’t I? During those more than 20 years that I couldn’t make cinema for lack of money, I wrote it all in books. I didn’t stay sitting down or go out on the street with a cart to sell hot dogs; I wrote. I also made a lot of comic books, and I’m still making them in France. They are available in English now—such as The Incal. I’m like a comic book star. That’s an industrial art, and I did it to survive. In the meantime I wrote, preparing myself to go back to making cinema with patience and perseverance. Look, with patience and a little saliva, and elephant fucked an ant. I applied that saying. With patience and a little saliva, I made my little films that are playing next to Planet of the Apes.
MM: Your work is influential for countless directors throughout the years, but are there any directors that shaped you in any way or that you have admired?
AJ: During those more than 20 years I wasn’t working in cinema, I watched two films a day at night. I know all the history of cinema because I saw it, and I saw it with rage, envy and admiration. I wanted to make what I couldn’t. I thought, “How come they can do it and I can’t?” But they are in the industry, and I’m not. I will continue to not be in the industry. I will hold on and endure. But I did see some great ones: Orson Welles, of course. He was a genius destroyed by the system. Tod Browning, who made Freaks, was a formidable artist. Also Erich von Stroheim when he made silent movies. All of those were victims destroyed by the industry. I like them a lot. Later came the cinema of Buñuel and Fellini, and they marked my life too, but I don’t feel I imitated them. I told myself, “Either you are the best one or you are the distinct one.” I always tried to be myself and never pay homage or copy, but instead find my own language. I think that’s what every poet does: finds his own language. I’ve found my own language by taking care of everything. For me, cinema, unlike what people think, is not just telling a story. You film a story first and then comes post-production, which is as important as the story. Post-production is the color, editing, music and everything that there is in cinema. Cinema has such immensity. Those are some directors that you might find strange, but I admire them. I think that if a person can make a finished film, it’s already admirable. Even if it’s the worst movie in the world, there is always something good in it.
MM: Do you ever revisit your films from the ’70s and ’80s, and if so what do you think of them?
AJ: Ask me what I think of my liver or what I think of my testicles or what I think of my brain. My movies are my organs. I don’t think about them; I live with them. I’m honest. I don’t regret anything. Each film I made was the film I had to make in the moment I made it, without any concessions, without anything unnecessary, exactly as I wanted to make them. I respect them. I have respect for them. What else can I tell you? I’m not going to play being humble. I respect what I made because it’s honest.
MM: Despite all the setbacks and the unwanted long absence from making films, you seem enthusiastic and with a lot vitality to keep going. It’s really uplifting.
AJ: I’m going to be 89 years old. I’m 88 and a half, and I’m making plans for three more films. I might finish them when I’m 102, but I swear to you that I feel I’m only getting started. I feel very good. It’s not that I have enthusiasm; it’s that I have talent [laughs]! I love it. I’m doing what I love, I love what I’m making and I like who I’m working with. That’s essential. I can’t work with people who disagree with what I think or what I do. I work with my family if I can, and I try not to work with actors with big egos, who think they are a big thing or who think they are more important that the film. Things like that help. I also work with talented musicians. One of my sons is a musician. I’ll keep on going, however I can. If I’m successful, wonderful. If I’m not successful, wonderful. I don’t seek success. I seek being happy making what I love. MM
Endless Poetry opened in theaters July 14, 2017, courtesy of ABKCO Films.