Santa Sangre (US - BD RA)
Gabe celebrates the first official US release of Jodorowsky's masterpiece...
Fenix spends his formative years in an old fashion circus, working as a magician under his father, the knife thrower. Fenix’s mother is a trapeze artist and religious zealot who worships a patron saint who was raped and literally disarmed. When Fenix’s mother catches his father in bed with the circus’ tattooed woman, she attacks his genitals with sulfuric acid, and has her own arms chopped off for her trouble. Fenix witnesses the entire attack, and is sent to an insane asylum, where he ages into manhood. Even crazier stuff happens when Fenix is released, but I’d rather not spoil anymore for you people.
Alejandro Jodorowsky isn’t the most prolific filmmaker on the planet, but to my mind he’s the most talented and important art house director that ever lived. I’m sure there are plenty of Fellini, Greenaway and Bergman loyalists that will vehemently disagree, but I find that Jodorowsky’s films feature a heart and soul I’ve never experienced from the more popular art house stars’ work. My first viewing of El Topo, one of the movies most responsible for the rise of midnight showings of cult films, was a genuinely life changing event, and remains near the top of my short list of ‘must see’ motion pictures. I genuinely think everyone that considers themselves a serious film viewer owes it to themselves to watch this hallucinatory ode to classic Western filmmaking. Santa Sangre, the director’s fifth film after the mind boggling Holy Mountain, and little seen Tusk, isn’t as entertaining or rewatchable as El Topo, but it’s Jodorowsky’s most accomplished work, and about as close to a conventional narrative as the director is capable of achieving (note: I still haven’t managed to see The Rainbow Thief, which has been called Jodorowsky’s most mainstream feature despite the director’s best efforts). Santa Sangre is an easier watch than Jodorowsky’s other non- El Topo work, especially because it isn’t too weighted down with Catholic and political subtext, like Holy Mountain, a film that veers into possibly unintentional comedy time and time again (though some of the absurd images simply have to be intended as funny).
Santa Sangre is certainly a dark film, easily classifiable as at least 50% straight horror, and it’s not surprising that it received an NC-17 rating in America for its excessively bloody violence and reasonably graphic sex. But it’s far from a stuffy picture, and the subtext is mostly reserved for obvious sexual metaphors. Jodorowsky actually appears to take pleasure in simply being absurd with his surrealist visuals, and one assumes that he wouldn’t be offended by an audience giggling during certain sequences (especially those featuring aggressive phalluses). The classical circus setting draws positive comparisons to Tod Browning’s classic ode to deformity Freaks (which Jodorowsky admits as influence in interviews), and Jodorowsky takes huge inspiration from Marcel Marceau’s groundbreaking mime work (the director actually took lessons from Marceau as a young adult), rendering most of the dialogue practically redundant (one of the major supporting characters is entirely mute). The film washes over the audience like an inescapable fever dream, yet even bereft of dialogue is still an interactive and thoughtful experience.
Conceptual images valued over plot and dialogue isn’t a rarity in Jodorowsky’s filmography. This is yet another experiment run almost exclusively by visual oddities, but Santa Sangre also represents the director utilizing his best visual storytelling, as it features a reasonably orthodox narrative structure, and a plot that can actually be summed up on the back of a video box (seriously, I dare you to do the same with Fando y Lis or Holy Mountain). The acting is also in keeping with the director’s M.O, and is classifiable as extremely melodramatic. The characters are drawn in remarkably broad terms, which will definitely turn off many first time viewers, as will some of the more grotesque images, but those prepared to deal with politically incorrect scenes of downs syndrome children snorting cocaine, or a tattoo covered mother prostituting her underage daughter, will discover a fascinating, surrealist universe unlike any they’ve experienced before (unless, of course, they’re already familiar with Jodorowsky’s other films).
Up to this point Santa Sangre was never released on digital media in the United States. The only ways to see the film were a cut, R-rated VHS, a nearly impossible to find uncut NC-17 VHS (both of which were not presented in widescreen), or an OOP R2 Anchor Bay DVD (I suppose bootlegging was another option, but we’ll pretend such things don’t happen). The availability of a high definition release (along with Severin’s same day standard definition DVD release) is especially exciting for collectors, specifically those without multi-region players or the money to purchase a limited release, rental only VHS. Like most high definition updates of older cult films, this disc improves colour quality more than anything. Details are much sharper, the overall composition is sharper, but the brightened palette really makes the difference, especially the all important reds (check out the climax, where a black and white flashback is pocked only with red hues). These rich reds pop off the screen, and maintain a solid hue without bleeding or exhibiting much compression noise (there are a few halos here and there, but nothing excessive). This print is a bit on the dark side, so the improved colours don’t compare favourably to Severin’s incredible Blu-ray release of Richard Stanley’s Hardware (sometimes we set our personal bars a little too high), but there are some sequences that leap off the screen, especially those scorched with monochromatic, neon gels. There are some film based artefacts that lead me to believe Severin’s source material wasn’t the most impressive, but real ‘damage’ isn’t an issue, and film grain, though omnipresent, is fine and easy to ignore. One could complain about inconsistent clarity, but again I believe these are inherently part of the source material.
Severin has included three audio options – English 2.0 stereo, Italian 2.0 stereo and Spanish 2.0 mono (the Anchor Bay R2 disc featured a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix of the English track, which never really works as well as the original 2.0). Technically, and possibly surprisingly to most viewers, the English track is the preferred one, as most of the actors are, in fact, speaking English, even thought it’s clearly a second language to most of them (some of the most common English dubbers in Italy appear on the track). Language and dialogue is, as stated in the review section almost moot, however, as it is in El Topo and The Holy Mountain, so the choice of track has more to do with the quality of the sound than the lip-sync and dialogue. The English track features the least distortion, but the Spanish and Italian tracks feature clearer sound effects. The Spanish track is both the richest track, and the track that features the most high end distortion. In the end I suppose the English track is the ideal experience, but nothing is presented uncompressed, so on the whole the aural representations are a minor disappointment. I’ve always had some problems with some of the film’s music. The traditional Mexican and circus stuff works so well it’s hard for me to accept Simon Boswell’s (one of Dario Argento’s favourite composers through the late ‘80s) more electronic and ‘modern’ cues (Jodorowsky calls it a ‘pastiche’ of horror music). This iffy score is usually each track’s strongest suit, however, and gives the LFE an important boost.
Severin, a studio not really known for their extra features, positively blasts this one out of the park. This disc is loaded, putting the Anchor Bay R2 disc to shame, though it does borrow a few bits and pieces. The first piece of borrowed material is the audio commentary, which features Jodorowsky and film journalist/Dario Argento biographer Alan Jones. Jones is invaluable because he’s quite knowledgeable (being friends with producer Claudio Argento couldn’t have hurt), and a good moderator/interviewer. Jodorowsky is also hard to understand when speaking English, so Jones also acts as a bit of a translator. The most interesting stuff I learned from this track (which I’d never bothered to listen to before) includes discussion of Jodorowsky’s comic book and film inspirations (Jodorowsky can deny it all he wants, Santa Sangre owes quite a bit to Psycho), and consistent insistence that most of the more cryptic images don’t actually mean anything to the director. It’s nice to know that such a brilliant artist likes to create art for art’s sake, and isn’t afraid to lampoon himself. This is a valuable track, especially for those of us that aren’t quite clever enough to catch the multiple meanings behind the images. The timing of the track is a little off, likely due to the original recording’s PAL speed up.
The new extras begin with ‘Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre’ (96:00, HD), a massive seven part making-of documentary. This includes interviews with Jodorowsky, co-writer Roberto Leoni, actors Cristobal (aka: Axel) and Adan Jodorowsky, Tino Tapia, Thelma Tixou, Blanca Guerra, Sabrina Dennison, and Elenka Tapia, composer Simon Boswell, and publicist Greg Day. The director starts with his introduction to the story, and real life inspiration, who he met by chance in person. Leoni then builds upon this in discussing his script, and his introduction to Jodorowsky. Discussion then moves to casting, including early suggestions from producer Claudio Argento – Angelica Huston and Jack Nicholson. Cooler heads prevailed, and Jodorowsky cast his sons, along with other, more appropriate actors. Then we learn about the shooting process, which includes the hardships and advantages of working on real Mexican streets with real Mexican prostitutes and transvestites. Jodorowsky and his sons proceed to discuss his love of and experiences with old school circuses, and the process behind the circus set sequences. Here the actors are permitted to discuss the difficulty of working with someone as intense as Jodorowsky. The next chapter is pretty much devoted to Thelma Tixou, who we learn was already a humungous star in Mexico thanks to her erotic dancing (apparently she did her own knife stunts). This is followed by a somewhat insane discussion from the director concerning the relationship between abusive women and their cowed sons, which leads to a more focused discussion about Blanca Guerra, and the miming process. The doc is wrapped up with a chapter concerning the musical score, and a retrospective look at the film as a whole.
New extras continue with ‘For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky’ (32:30, SD), a 1990 made for TV British documentary on the director that focuses mostly on Santa Sangre, as it was his most recent release. Along with the somewhat repetitive, but delightfully venomous Jodorowsky interview are interviews with i]The Rainbow Thief[/i] star Omar Sharif, fellow filmmaker Dennis Hopper, French sci-fi artist Moebius, and Village Voice critic Jim Hoberman, who is clearly not a fan. This is a valuable extra because the commentary and ‘Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen’ don’t cover much of the director’s early career. Now we just need a feature length documentary on the unfilmmed Dune project. ‘Goyo Cardenas Spree Killer’ (17:40, HD) is a brief but fascinating look at the real life serial killer that inspired Santa Sangre. The story is told via an expert on the case and a series of still photographs. The extras then move back into familiar territory with an entertaining 2002 Q and A with Jodorowsky (24:40, SD), which was available on the Anchor Bay release, followed directly by a 2003 interview (30:20, HD). These interviews cover a lot of familiar ground, but also fill in the remaining cracks in the director’s history. By the end of this section of extras there’s very little about the enigmatic man left to learn (spoiler: he’s not a fan of George Bush Jr.). Composer Simon Boswell’s 2010 interview (8:00, SD) is sort of icing on the cake, including brief stories about Jodorowsky’s relationship with Dennis Hopper and The Beatles.
There are two more Anchor Bay leftovers on the disc – a series of deleted scenes (7:40, SD) with Jodorowsky and Alan Jones commentary, and Adan Jodorowsky’s short film Echeck (4:00, SD) with optional elder Jodorowsky commentary. The extras are completed with two more entries from composer Simon Boswell – a short film entitled Blink Jodorowsky (2:00, SD), and ‘Close Your Eyes’ music video (5:50, SD), two trailers, and a series of Severin trailers.
Santa Sangre is, along with El Topo, a must see motion picture that will always divide audiences. But that’s what it’s all about – controversy and emotional response. This Blu-ray (and the matching DVD) release alone is reason to celebrate given the film’s lack of digital video release in the States, and the solid A/V presentation is the perfect extra incentive. Oh, and then there’s the matter of hours of extra features, many of them as yet unreleased in any world region. Severin has put some real effort into this one, and they deserve some attention. Hopefully the studio will sell enough copies that they can release more than one incredible Blu-ray collection per year in the future.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th January 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Surround 2.0 English and Italian, Dolby 2.0 Mono Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre, Director and Journalist Commentary, Deleted Scenes, For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Goyo Cardenas Spree Killer, Q and A with Jodorowsky, 2003 Interview, Simon Boswell Interviews Jodorowsky, Blink Jodorowsky, Close Your Eyes Music Video, Echeck Short Film, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cast: Guy Stockwell, Blanca Guerra, Axel Jodorowsky, Adan Jodorowsky, Tino Tapia, Thelma Tixou, Blanca Guerra, Sabrina Dennison, and Elenka Tapia
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror and Thriller
Length: 124 minutes
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