• Santa Sangre (Anchor Bay UK)



    Released by: Anchor Bay UK
    Released on: 1/26/2004
    Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
    Cast: Axel Jodorowsky
    Year: 1989
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    The Movie:

    Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre is probably the closest thing that the noted surrealist director/writer/magician has directed to date. Produced by Dario Argento’s brother Claudio (who also co-authored the screenplay along with Jodorowsky and Death Walks At Midnight scribe Roberto Leoni), and filmed in Mexico, the film captures an extremely exotic flavor through its use of bold colors and distinct imagery.

    We first meet Fenix (Jodorowsky’s oldest son, Axel), as he is perched atop a tree in a room inside a mental institution. Looking haggard, with his unkempt hair and his bare chest tattooed with a colorful eagle, we have no idea who he is or why he’s there – at least not initially. From here, the film segues through the point of view of an eagle, flying high overtop a distinctly Mexican city, into a prolonged flashback where he learn who Fenix is and how he became committed to the institution.

    In his youth, young Fenix (played in these scenes by Jodorowsky’s younger son, Adan) worked as a magician in a circus with his father, a knife thrower named Orgo (Guy Stockwell from Larry Cohen’s killer baby masterpiece, It’s Alive!), and his mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra), who is both a member of the circus and a member of the bizarre religious cult known as Santa Sangre (or, in English, Holy Blood). When a high level Catholic clergy declares their cult to be blasphemous after touring their temple (erected in honor of a woman with no arms, who Blanca declares to be a saint, despite no official sanctimony from the established Church) and dismissing the pool of holy blood as nothing but paint, a bulldozer moves in and destroys it, the cult members enraged.

    Things go from bad to worse for Concha when she finds that Orgo is having a torrid affair with another member of the circus – The Tattooed Lady (Thelma Tixou). She finds out about it the hard way, when during her performance, as she is lifted above the crowed by her hair, she sees them entwined. This causes her to stop her performance and run to them, where he promptly dismisses her. When she discovers it happen again, she douses his crotch with acid, prompting him to lock Fenix in the their trailer where he sees him cut off her arms. Orgo retreats outside the circus, and slits his own throat. When he falls to the ground, the local dogs eat his body, all of this in plain view of his son. And just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, he sees The Tattooed Lady leave the circus post haste with her daughter in tow, the deaf mute Alma, who he loves dearly.

    Cut back to the present day where we see Fenix mingling with the mentally handicapped patients in the institution he has called home for an indefinite amount of time. We also find that Alma has recently escaped from her mother, who was selling her services to the local scumbags claiming ‘you can do whatever you want to her, no one can hear her.’

    When the doctor in charge of Fenix and his fellow patients arranges a trip to the local movie theater, a drug dealer gives them all each a line of cocaine and encourages them to do it. Fenix returns to the hospital and with the help of his armless mother, escapes and begins to pick up the pieces of his old life. Together they begin performing together at a local theater where Fenix acts as Concha’s arms. Fenix also seems to be channeling some of Concha’s anger, and their relationship becomes increasingly strange as Fenix, under his mothers control, murders The Tattooed Lady.

    When a stripper who works at the same theater Fenix and Concha do attempts to seduce him, threatening Concha’s control over her sun, she too winds up dead, as Fenix reenacts his father’s knife throwing act with her on the board. He buries her, and before covering her with dirt, he paints her corpse white giving her a resemblance of sorts to the way that Alma looked when he knew her back at the circus in his childhood. Anyone else who gets in the way of Concha’s control over her son also winds up dead, including a very manly female luchadore (masked Mexican wrestler) that Fenix becomes smitten with.

    Far more conventional than his better known El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky still works his bizarre touches into the film – though this time it’s more subtle, and in turn, more effective than in his earlier films.

    His trademark shock imagery is on parade once more, as in amongst the colors of the circus in which Fenix grows up, we witness a dying elephant vomiting blood and writhing in it’s on feces (who is later sent down the cliff to the area where the poor inhabitants of the city live, so that they can feast on it’s corpse), we see Orgo tattoo his son using a knife, and of course, the amputation of Concha’s arms and Orgo’s resulting suicide. Also rather odd is the sight of seeing actual Down syndrome sufferers being subjected to snorting cocaine – a truly unusual image that is a little difficult to forget.

    Thought it’s easier to follow than some of his films, at least in a narrative sense, Jodorowsky still leaves plenty of opportunity for the viewer to develop his or her own theories as to what all the symbolism in the film is representative of (though in the commentary, he states that everything in the movie is symbolic of whatever the viewer decides it is – something he has said numerous times before about Santa Sangre and his other films as well). The aforementioned elephants, the bird imagery, the painting of the corpse, the costumes, the cult of Santa Sangre – these nuances in the film are all worthy of some thought and examination both during and after the film.

    Simon Boswell’s eclectic musical score accompanies the breathtaking cinematography courtesy of Daniele Nannuzzi, which is, quite simply, beautiful. It is as if every frame of the film was perfectly constructed in terms of composition and color scheme. The film is, even at its most shocking and grotesque, a truly beautiful work of art.

    Performances are sufficiently oddball in the film. Axel Jodorowsky does an admirable job conveying a wide range of emotions, and surprisingly enough, so does his younger brother. In their shared role, they make the viewer care about Fenix, even if we know what he’s doing is wrong. Guerra as Concha is perfectly cold and calculating in her part, and while at times we sympathize with her character (when Orgo is cheating on her), it’s ultimately hard to feel sorry for her once the last half of the film picks up.

    Wonderfully directed, skillfully acted, and simply beautiful to look at, Santa Sangre is a masterpiece that, will at times difficult and challenging (like the best films usually are), is also entertaining and even spellbinding.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Anchor Bay Entertainment UK has delivered a brilliantly colorful transfer for the film, in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 and enhanced for anamorphic television sets.

    The amount of detail visible in the transfer is amazing. Colors are bright, vibrant and strong in while the darker scenes, the blacks remain deep and don't break up at all. The only complain is that in a couple of scenes, some of the reds bleed ever so slightly, but other than that, the movie looks gorgeous and for a film that color composition plays such a hugely important role in, it's reassuring to see the transfer treated properly and given the effort that it deserves.

    The sound on the disc doesn't fair quite as well as the video. Two options are here for you to choose from - a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and an all new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The 2.0 mix is the preferable option as the 5.1 suffers from indistinct separation and can actually sound quite muffled at times, making some of the dialogue a bit difficult to comprehend. For the most part, the 2.0 mix is clearer and slightly more defined, but it lacks any true depth.

    The only extra on the first disc is a full length running commentary with director Alejandro Jodorowsky, moderated by film journalist Alan Jones. It's a fascinating listen as Jodrowsky discusses all manner of aspects of the film. Jones does an admirable job of keeping the eccentric director in check and tries to keep things from straying too far off topic, and meets with moderate success.

    On the second disc is where you’re going to find most of the extra features. The first and foremost is, presented in its entirety, is Louis Mouchet’s feature length documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky. Familiar to those who own Fantoma’s Fando Y Lis DVD (as it was also presented in its complete form on that release as well), this feature length film takes a detailed and personal look at the man who made the feature on the first disc, and it gives the viewer a nice opportunity to sort of find out what Jodorowsky is all about. With it’s opening question, simply ‘Who are you?’ (to which he answers with a strange story concerning a Chinese emperor!) to it’s closing moments, the film treats its subject with respect but isn’t afraid to probe a little bit when asking its questions. Ground covered in the almost ninety minute running time runs the gamut from art to philosophy to religion to the quest for knowledge and spiritual enlightenment.

    Considerable time is spent dealing with his shelved adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune (which ultimately was brought to the big screen by David Lynch, and then later remade again as a Sci-Fi Channel mini-series), as well as the Panic Movement which he, along with Fernando Arrabel (director of I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse and Viva La Muerte!) and Roland Topor formed in the early sixties. All in all, this is a very worthy companion piece to the film on the first disc and it was a brilliant decision on the part of Anchor Bay to include this film among the extra features, though sadly, the shot on video origins of the piece preclude it – it doesn’t look so hot. Regardless, the content is great and if you’ve any interest at all in Jodorowsky’s work, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

    In addition, there’s also a short film directed by Adan Jodorowsky entitled Echek (2:32 in length!) included here as well, and it comes with an optional commentary track. It’s a playful silent film that includes some text in French only that covers the tale of a strongman who sets out to win the heart of a beautiful woman by moving the Eiffel Tower.

    A single deleted scene from Santa Sangre can be found, presented without sound (as it was never included and therefore never dubbed), and instead another Jodorowsky commentary is included, moderated once again by Alan Jones. The two discuss why the scene was excised from the final cut of the film, and after listening to them discuss it, I tend to agree with the decision.

    David Flint contributes a text biography of Jodorowsky that, while not necessarily covering any new ground for those who are familiar with his story, is still an interesting read, especially considering they amount of time he dedicates to covering the issues surrounding El Topo and The Holy Mountain due to problems that Jodorowsky had with distributor Alan Klein. A few other interesting anecdotes are also worked into this piece, making it well worth a read.

    Jodorowsky On Stage was produced by Blue Underground and clocks in at about twenty-four minutes in length. It captures the eccentric, well, on stage after a screening of Santa Sangre from 2002 in London, England. It’s essentially a lively question and answer session, with Jodorowsky fielding questions from audience members and discussing current popular cinema, his hatred of Quentin Tarantino, and his older films like El Topo.

    A generous selection of promotional art, movie stills, news clips, video releases and more are done up right in a nice stills gallery that rounds out the second disc. A nice selection of liner notes is also included, as a hard copy, within the keep case of the two-disc set.

    The Final Word:

    Despite dropping the ball on the audio portion of this release, Anchor Bay UK have done an amazing job bringing Alejandro Jodorowsky's wonderful film to life on DVD. The picture looks great, the extras are plentiful and enhance the viewing experience of the feature film, and the movie itself is, quite simply, a masterpiece. If only his other films could get the treatment afforded this one!