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EL TOPO AND JEANNE

August 11, 2014

In my never-ending quest for something to do in suburban El Dorado Hills, one afternoon I watched Alejandro Jodorowsky’s early film, El Topo. El Topo is said to have had a major influence on David Lynch, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Mason, George Harrison, John Lennon, Peter Gabriel and thousands of other stoners.

Like many artists from Mexico and South America Jodorowsky is addicted to symbolism in his art. To many Americans and Northern Europeans all that symbolism appears a bit loopy. Unlike the Spanish artists who also favor strong colors and symbolism, the Central and South Americans seem to have a greater affection for the many meanings implied in blood and death. One of the main differences between Italian and Spanish and South American visual arts besides how they use symbolism to tell their story is that to the Italians shadow is very much a part of the color palette.

Interestingly, when I ran my district of the New York Mental Health Information Service, I noticed Spanish, South American and recent Italian immigrants at the time of their breakdowns often spoke of seeing the suffering Christ. The Northern and Eastern Europeans tended to hallucinate Hell. Not a religious Hell, but a place of darkness, shadow and threat.

I first saw El Topo in 1970 shortly after arriving in San Francisco. I went with a woman I had just met on the bus. The theater was located near the Civic Center. It does not exist anymore.

The woman and I stayed together for three years. Her name was Jeanne. I was in love with her. She wanted to go to medical school and had to take extra courses in science to do so since she had graduated from college a few years before with a liberal arts degree. She worked hard. Eventually she succeeded in getting accepted. During the summer before medical school began we broke up. I tried to get back together with her. She by then was also seeing another man much younger than I. I asked her to marry me. She said she would need time to decide. That weekend she went hiking in the Trinity Alps. She fell off a cliff and died. The young man and I accompanied her body back to Iowa where her family lived. Two weeks after the funeral the young man went swimming in a lake somewhere in the East Bay and drowned.

There is probably some symbolism hidden in there but I am too far removed from my roots and too close to death to see it. As we age, the past and future grow more shadowy only the present remains colorful. That’s a good thing I think.

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