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August 08, 2005

Santa Sangre

Alejandro Jodorowsky - 1989
Anchor Bay U.K. Region 2 DVD

After reading an article on Santa Sangre by Roger Ebert describing the film as unlike anything he had seen, I was intrigued. I finally saw the DVD. I even spent a couple minutes listening to the commentary between Jodorowky and someone named Alan Jones. Jodorowsky claimed that he wrote the screenplay entirely himself and that Roberto Leoni and Producer Claudio Argento shared credit in order to obtain Italian financing. Based on what I saw on the screen, Roger Ebert hasn't seen any of the films Claudio Argento usually produces, and Jodorowsky may be less than honest.

The film is about a young boy named Fenix who is the son of a circus strongman, Orgo, and an acrobat, Concha. Fenix also is a magician. His mother has also created a church centered on a created saint, a woman who was raped, had her arms cut off, and was left for dead. Her remaining pool of blood is claimed to be holy, but a visiting priest declares that it is only red paint. Concha finds Orgo with the tatooed lady and spills acid on Orgo's genitals. Orgo cuts off Concha's arms so she resembles the "saint" she has worshipped, and kills himself. Young Fenix goes mad seeing the fate of his parents, and is institutionalized. As an adult, Fenix is reunited with Concha. He provides his arms for her as part of a stage act. Additionally he murders women on her demand, acting without a will of his own. Concha claims she is keeping her son pure.

There is a scene where Fenix is watching James Whale's film of The Invisible Man. Concha reminds Fenix that he is invisible, that no one notices him. The filmmaker most echoed in Santa Sangre though is Tod Browning. Between the dwarf that his Fenix' best friend, as well as the several physically deformed people throughout the film, I was constantly reminded of Freaks. Unlike Freaks, Santa Sangre's freaks are not confined to the circus, but are part of the larger world. Another film by Browning that has a circus setting is The Unknown with Lon Chaney as an armless knife thrower, and Joan Crawford as his protegee, found in the arms of the circus strongman. One of the key characters, Alma, is a deaf-mute like the parents of Lon Chaney. So much of Santa Sangre's basic narrative seems made up of various elements from Browning's films, the best of which were about performers and illusionists, often a small band against the outside world.

Some of the scenes of murder could easily be a part of Italian gialli, horror thrillers. This is hardly coincidental as Claudio Argento is the brother of Dario Argento, as well as his producer. The psycho-sexual aspects are a staple of giallo. Assuming that the Argento brothers have similar interests, the circus setting is not distant from Dario Argento's films which have performing artists as protagonists. The other credited writer, Roberto Leoni, has several thrillers to his name. Keeping in mind that Hitchcock's Psycho was a major influence on giallo, it should surprise no one that Fenix is ultimately a variation of Norman Bates, the most famous screen serial killer and mama's boy.

Actually, I liked Santa Sangre. For me, it was more watchable than the earlier Jodorowsky films I've seen, Fando and Lisa and El Topo. I can see why Ebert brought up comparisons with Fellini and Bunuel, but I also think there were other filmmakers that inspired Santa Sangre.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 8, 2005 07:38 PM


Peter--Just an idea/suggestion. But I wonder if you could do a blog post or say a little bit in your comments section about your experience with Nicheflix--the pros and cons, what you like about it, etc. I don't know anybody else who subscribes, and it might be of great interest to cinephiles (I know it would be to me). I'll check back on your site later. Thanks.

Posted by: girish at August 9, 2005 07:19 PM

Saw this one myself on video, early in my relationship with Mr. Campaspe. I admired the technique and the daring, but simply could not imagine every wanting to see the thing again. (Much less owning it, but the mysteries of male video/DVD collections are many.) I felt the same way about Crash (the David Cronenberg one). View it once, consider it viewed for all time.

I have linked to your blog on Self-Styled Siren, by the by. Hope that is all right. I am enjoying this site a great deal.

Posted by: Campaspe at August 10, 2005 10:56 AM