The first three feature films by Alejandro Jodorowsky—Fando y Lis, El Topo and The Holy Mountain—are released this week on Region B blu-ray by Arrow Video, but the box they’re packaged in won’t look like any of the designs shown here. It was almost three years ago that Arrow asked me to create something for this box set, but backstage wrangles meant the project moved out of my hands in the early stages. This was a great disappointment since Jodorowsky’s interests and aesthetics align with my own much more than many other directors whose work has been released by Arrow. And having written the notes for the Arrow release of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso, I was looking forward to working with the company again.
In preparation for the work I rewatched almost all of Jodorowsky’s films (I still haven’t seen Tusk or The Rainbow Thief), then drew up a detailed proposal with sketches, something I seldom do for commissions. Arrow releases all have double-sided inserts in the boxes that hold the discs, one side of which shows a poster design from the film’s original release, the other a new design. My idea for the new art was to connect the three films using Tarot-like iconography (the director is a Tarot scholar, among other things), with each film also being assigned a symbol of some kind. The Surrealist fable of Fando y Lis lacks any suitable graphics so for this I chose a yin and yang symbol to represent the film’s opposed-yet-connected brother and sister characters; El Topo was to be represented by a cross-section through a revolver chamber, while the seven characters from The Holy Mountain are represented by the enneagram that Jodorowsky himself wears in the film. All three symbols are connected by the eye-in-a-triangle from El Topo, a symbol that worked while a three-film box was being planned but which wouldn’t have worked for the final release which adds Jodorowsky’s most recent film, Psychomagic, A Healing Art. For the box design I suggested metallic inks (or foils) either as highlights or in other combinations. The font was a further suggestion, Roberta being one of the typefaces of the occult revival of the 1970s. The art for each film didn’t go further than the sketch stage although I was asked to work up the El Topo design into a final piece; I wasn’t very satisfied with the end result so it isn’t posted here. One problem with the extended negotiations was they were taking place at a time when I was extremely busy with other projects, including contracted illustration work for Editorial Alma. There was no contract for the Arrow commission so it had to take second place even though it was the work I most wanted to be concentrating on at the time. Collisions such as these are an occupational hazard when you’re working freelance.
As things turned out the stumbling block wasn’t my art and design suggestions (which Arrow liked) but the parties described in communications as “the rights-holders”. These individuals apparently disliked the Arrow Video aesthetic and wanted something more directly connected with the films, preferably photographic material which is what you now see on the discs and the box art. It should be emphasised that the rights-holders are not the director, whose wishes for the presentation of his work were never part of the discussion. Given the previous activities of the rights-holders we should probably be grateful that the first three films have been reissued at all. For details of Jodorowsky’s difficulties with one rights-holder in particular, see this interview by Jay Babcock.
On the upside (there is one!), the box set is a typically high-quality Arrow release, with new transfers of the films approved by the director. The bonuses include Jodorowsky’s short films (including his explanation of Tarot symbolism), Louis Mouchet’s feature-length documentary, La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994), soundtrack CDs of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, a small poster and set of postcards, and a substantial booklet. In the end the most important thing is that the films are available for home viewing once again, not their exterior decoration.