"I liked Lady Gaga’s meat dress. It was funny. But I did that first in my Panic performance. Maybe she has seen what I’ve done – I don’t know. I like to think her song Alejandro was written for me. Her music is interesting. It’s interesting because it’s very free. But it has no meaning because what she’s singing has no hope. It is without hope. It’s only about revolution, which isn’t enough. We need a re-evolution right now, not a revolution. We need something new. Lady Gaga has a lot of energy and that is fantastic, but she is using old Surrealist images.
Surrealism was necessary – essential, even – in the 1920s to bridge the gap between rationalism and the subconscious. It started something important. But by the early 60s, it had become petit-bourgeois; it was too intellectual and romantic, and had ground to a halt. It had become respectable. They didn’t like science fiction or rock music or… let’s not make a list: the Surrealists didn’t like anything! I needed to go further than Surrealism, and that’s why I formed Panic. Surrealism – in particular with Salvador Dali – was all about ego. It was all about extreme individualism. And it’s the same with Lady Gaga. But today, individualism is over: to make a change and do something new – to truly wake up people’s minds – we have to do something collective, together as a social community. No more Dali, no more Magritte – no more working just for yourself. We have to work as one. We can do it. We can do it. I sound like Barack Obama now…"
May 24th, 1965. A crowd of 2,000 beatniks, activists and hipsters gather in the main hall at the American Students and Artists Center in Montparnasse. Somewhere amongst all the beards and black roll-necks is the Surrealist master Marcel Duchamp. They’re waiting for the penultimate act in what has been an exhausting eight-day extravaganza of “happenings” called The Second Paris Festival of Free Expression. The show about to start is Sacramental Melodrama, the latest offering from terror theatre troupe ‘Panic’, formed by Chilean-born anarchic artist Alejandro Jodorowsky and the bad boy of Spanish stage Fernando Arrabal, and famed for their violent, visceral performances. The lights begin to dim.
The curtain rises to reveal a brilliantly white set. A black car is parked centre-stage. A rock band unleashes deafening guitar feedback. A gang of topless women – each painted head-to-toe in white, black and pink – attack the vehicle with hatchets, chains and a giant pair of scissors. Dressed in a black leather fetish uniform and a white crash helmet, Jodorowsky walks out, decapitates two white geese with his gloved hands and throws their spurting heads into the dumbstruck front row… The four-hour onslaught climaxes with a frenzied Jodorowsky whipping the women with the headless birds while dressed in 20 pounds of prime beef.
Jump forward almost half a century: Jodorowsky is now 82-years-old, a celebrated author, a respected Tarot master and a living legend thanks to taboo-busting films like El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. Sat nursing a cup of English tea on a rare visit to London, he pondered the death of Surrealism and whether Lady Gaga copied his steak suit for that dress.
Text by Ben Cobb
Ben Cobb is the Editor of Another Man magazine and the author of Anarchy and Alchemy: The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Creation Books).