Digi-Schlock: SANTA SANGRE (Severin Blu-Ray)

For the longest time, Alejandro Jodorowsky belonged to that unfortunate category of cult filmmakers whose work was easier to read about than to actually see.  His most famous films, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, were tied up due to legal wranglings with financier/infamous music biz crook Allen Klein and his debut Fando Y Lis was considered a lost film.  Thankfully, Anchor Bay did a lot to correct that situation with a box set of his films that included handsomely mastered versions of those three titles.  All that was left was of his major work was Santa Sangre, which was only available in the U.S. via OOP, edited tape and laserdisc versions.

Luckily for Jodorowsky fans, Severin Films has stepped up to the plate with a fresh edition of Santa Sangre that does well by this odd but unforgettable cult film.  This blu-ray disc offers a pristine transfer of the film with rich colors – particularly in a few scenes that use primary-colored lighting – and a fine sense of detail.  In terms of soundtrack, there is a lossless stereo 2.0 English mix as well as Italian stereo and Spanish mono mixes.  Since the film was primarily shot in English, that track is an ideal option – and it delivers a nice soundscape that presents the film’s blend of musical styles with appropriate heft.

Even better, there are hours of special features on this disc that mix items from a previous UK special edition with new material produced especially for this set.  The barrage of bonuses begins with a fun commentary track that pairs Jodorowsky with critic Alan Jones.  Jones does a good job of keeping the irreverent director on track and their differing approaches to reading a film (Jones is scholarly, Jodorowsky is instinctive) make this track an entertaining listen.  The most entertaining bit might come when Jodorowsky becomes humorously exasperated when asked what inspired him to make a particular choice and blurts out “An apple tree make apples!”

There is also a lavish documentary that was prepared especially for this set.  It is entitled Forget Everything You Have Ever Known (the tagline from Santa Sangre) and runs about 96 minutes as it covers how the film came to be, how the script was regularly expanded and changed on set by the director and the reactions of several of its actors – including the two Jodorowsky sons who played the main character.  Jodorowsky holds court throughout and is dazzling, oft hilarious raconteur but his memories are nicely fleshed out by the other participants.  The soft-spoken Adan Jodorowsky is particularly compelling, relating the often-scary tales of how his father used tough methods to get the right emotions out him.  Fans will also be pleased by the inclusion of Thelma Tixou, the actress who essayed the film’s Tattooed Lady character: she tells fun stories about the challenges of playing a fully-tattooed character and performing in the knife-throwing scene.  She even shows some of her dance moves!

Those two supplements are just the tip of the iceberg.  Also included is a segment of the BBC show For One Week Only that focuses on Jodorowsky.  Host Jonathan Ross extensively interviews the always-entertaining director (look for his response to a critique of the female characters in his films) and also features quips from the likes of Dennis Hopper and critic J. Hoberman.  A profile of Goyo Cardenas, the real-life serial killer whose case inspired Santa Sangre, is also fascinating in a rather grisly way.  Composer Simon Boswell interviews Jodorowsky for a brief but fun segment

Boswell also contributes two short films built around music from the film: “Blink Jodorowsky” is kind of a like a Warhol short – it just shows the director opening and closing his eyes in time to music – but “Close Your Eyes” is a full-on music video that uses Santa Sangre footage and a sample of Jodorowsky’s voice to dazzling effect.  There’s also a brief silent short by Adan Jodorowsky that includes optional commentary: it’s light but charming stuff with a convincing mock-silent film vibe.  The shorter side of things is rounded out by trailers for Santa Sangre (English and Japanese) plus some bonus trailers for other Severin fare and a stills gallery.

Your Humble Reviewer has saved two of his favorite extras for last: Jodorowsky On Stage is a relaxed Q&A session filmed in front of an English audience after a Santa Sangre screening in 2002 while another interview from 2003 is a straightforward talking-head piece with the director holding forth on a variety of topics.  The first of these segments shows how entertaining Jodorowsky can be a live situation, playing off the audience with the skill of a veteran stand-up comedian.  His physical demonstration of his opinions on Tarantino and Rodriguez films is particularly funny.  The second piece offers a lot of fascinating shoot-from-the-hip anecdotes and opinions on a variety of topics, including a fascinating revelation that this trippiest of directors has little use for drugs.

In short, Severin’s blu-ray edition of Santa Sangre works both as a definitive edition of this film and as an in-depth exploration of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the artist.  Even the overlap in anecdotes and opinions between the features is interesting because Jodorowsky often brings out different shadings to his thoughts in a different situation.  Though it is early in the year, Your Humble Reviewer is confident that this disc will be tough to beat as a contender in the “Best Discs of 2011” roundups at year’s end.

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