Blu-ray Review: SANTA SANGRE
Writers: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Roberto Leoni, Claudio Argento
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cast: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell
For all the bizarre characters, mixed religious iconography, and surreal set pieces, Alejandro's Jodorowsky's SANTA SANGRE, well-deserving of its cult classic status, is his most straightforward work. It's a human story, a journey into, around, and through manhood and the subversion of coming-of-age by life events both mysterious and profound. At its core is Fenix (the young version played by Adan Jodorowsky and by Axel Jodorowsky in adulthood), the son of a gluttonous strongman/knife-thrower, Orgo (Guy Stockwell), and a trapeze performer/armless-saint-worshiping-cult leader named Concha (Blanca Guerra), who literally becomes part of his own mother and is forced to help her rid the world of the the lust and promiscuity that led to the destruction of their family.
Fenix has been raised in the circus by this aforementioned father and mother while keeping a close eye on his mother's activities in the Church of Santa Sangre ("holy blood"). He witnesses the destruction of his mother's temple, the death and funeral of an elephant, and develops a relationship with a mute girl named Alma. When his mother discovers Fenix's father canoodling with Alma's mother, The Tattooed Woman, she makes plans to put an end to their adulterous relationship. Fenix, locked in a trailer outside, only sees his mother enter the house where Orgo and The Tattooed Woman are satisfying their primal urges and then his father come out, naked and in pain, before he kills himself in the town square. He will soon discover that in the struggle inside, Orgo has sliced off Concha's arms.
Years later, Fenix is retrieved by his mother from the mental asylum he entered after the murder-suicide. Together, they put on a bizarre stage show where Fenix integrates himself into Concha's costume, his arms becoming hers. However, this configuration extends beyond the stage - they live life this way - with Fenix's hands doing Concha's bidding. Bent on righting the wrongs that led to this predicament, she forces Fenix to wield the blade she intends to use to cut down those she deems evil. There is good in Fenix's life, though, as he reunites with Alma.
Describing the plot of SANTA SANGRE to someone is ultimately futile. Every moment is packed with layers of detail, sub-plotting, and subtext, things indescribable on page. The film is full of pure, untarnished cinematic language - the images and emotions plucked directly from Jodorowsky's mind and laid naked on screen. It's a comforting assuredness, too, as even the most bizarre of the goings-on never seem to need explanation, we are carried through this lush world with these wonderfully strange people and we accept it as is.
The performances are all top notch, Jodorowsky casting his sons being, ultimately, a smart move. As a story about a man whose journey in adulthood is first sealed (in a hypnotically magical tattooing scene) and then broken like his mother's body which he thinks he must become part of to be whole, directing his own kin gives Jodorowsky the most personal connection to the material possible. SANTA SANGRE is a spectacular piece of cinema, a true masterpiece of visual language and a fully adult horror film, and, as such, deserves the best presentation possible.
Severin Films' Blu-ray release of SANTA SANGRE first impresses with a gorgeous video and audio presentation. The wonderful, natural grain of 35mm present, Severin's source must have been quite good and they must have gone through great pains for any restoration as the video appears free of any defects. Like the eye-popping colors in the video transfer, the audio is equally lush. Simon Boswell's beautiful score is crystal clear as is dialog.
Anyone who has ever heard Jodorowsky speak knows that he's more than capable of holding one's attention for extremely long periods of time, and Severin has wisely packed their supplements (a combination of the features on the old Region 2 Anchor Bay release and plenty of brand new material) full of the director and his musings. There is a feature commentary with Jodorowsky moderated by film journalist Alan Jones. Jodorowsky's English is broken at times, his accent heavy, but the scene specific commentary is quite good overall.
The true standout feature here is a new feature length documentary, Forget Everything You've Seen: The World of Santa Sangre. This is a wonderfully comprehensive piece (running at 96 minutes) that dissects the film beginning with its genesis as a chance encounter with a real-life serial killer to casting, filming, scoring and releasing. Interviews with key players are all informative. Jodorowsky's stories of incorporating people and things he saw while transforming the script into a film are eye-opening - a true story of a master at the height of his craft. This is the kind of feature that could be released on its own as a great documentary, to have it as a supplement, packed alongside other quality material, is miraculous.
There is an episode of a British television show called For One Week Only that aired in 1990, focusing on the life and career of Jodorowsky. The director, his collaborators and fans (including Dennis Hopper) are all interviewed, providing a great overview of the man and his legacy through SANTA SANGRE. Next up is Goyo Cardenas Spree Killer, a short doc on the serial killer that was the seed for SANTA SANGRE. There is a Q&A with Jodorowsky that was recorded after a 2002 screening in London that provides 25 more minutes of intriguing information.
A 30 minute interview with Jodorowsky recorded in 2003 has the director digging deep into his roots, influences, education, and filmmaking triumphs and struggles and is followed by another, shorter interview conducted by composer Simon Boswell. There are a pair of short films, Blink Jodorowsky Short by Simon Boswell(which literally has Jodorowsky blinking for a few minutes) and Echeck - Adan Jodorowsky Short Film (a surreal piece). There are 8 minutes of rough looking deleted scenes with commentary. There's a music video, Close Your Eyes, by Boswell utilizing clips from the film. Finally, there are domestic and Japanese trailers for SANTA SANGRE and trailers for other Severin releases.
Severin Film, already a powerhouse of cult cinema releases, has really outdone themselves. When tackling a film with a status like SANTA SANGRE's, a distributor really needs to step up with the best audio and visual presentation possible. That is certainly provided here. Shooting for the moon and ending up in some other galaxy, Severin decided to not only produce one of the best making-of docs seen in quite some time, they also wisely pulled together existing material, gathering it in one place to complete a comprehensive study of the film and the filmmaker. If SANTA SANGRE is pure cinema (and it is, if you like movies you should love SANTA SANGRE) then this Blu-ray is absolute home video bliss.
You can find Severin Films on Twitter (@SeverinFilms) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/severinfilms).
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