Prior to becoming the full-fledged Cannon Films of legend, producers of over the top action pieces and drummed up art-house disasters (as seen in the captivating and insane documentary Electric Boogaloo), Cannon Films was incorporated in 1967 and saw their beginnings primarily in producing English language versions of Swedish pornography. There was some success in these pornographic features, and while they did try to spin that success in to the main stream with films like Joe (starring Peter Boyle), Cannon saw themselves draw out controversial coverage when the decision was made to produce legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first feature, Fando y Lis. It is one of very few films, and may be the only one, to cause a riot upon its premier.
Fando y Lis is abrasive and destructive in every facet of its being. Through its washed out lens, there is a life of violence, sleaze, and molestation that does not ask for forgiveness and honestly does not care what the audience thinks of it. I guess though, that this is Jodorowsky’s intent and style. He has a vision, and he has remained steadfast in that vision of presenting unflinching artistic choices throughout his career. No matter how you find yourself interpreting that vision, there is a sense of undying passion that is often missing from the cinema in a world of Marvel and Transformers.
Fando y Lis follows the story of Fando as he drags around his partially paralyzed lover, Lis, in search of the mystical city of Tar. What is truly revealed through this most basic plot is a director struggling with the reconciliation of the savior archetype with his view of the world. Technically Fando y Lis is based on a play written by Fernando Arrabal, well, sort of based on the play. According to some academia on the film, Jodorowsky wrote his version of the play from memory in order to separate his interpretation from the text of the original play. So what we actually receive is an interpretation of an interpretation as presented through the eye of a surrealist director with a penchant for abrupt and aggressively uncomfortable violence.
What makes Fando y Lis so effective is also the same characteristic that makes the film tough to digest, and that is its unedited presentation of graphic, and often sexual deviancy. The characters, both Fando and Lis, encounter derelict towns and mountain paths that are populated with insane clergyman, rotting corpses, and a cast of characters that make the cruelest reality seem benign. There are moments of ritualistic parody drawn about by Jodorowsky through jarring and invasive scenes, and the parasitic nature of every character that Fando and Lis come across only deepens the attack on the need for a savior. It is clear that either Jodorowsky deeply fears ritualistic religions, or that through his own destructive film making he is having a one sided argument with the sacred, and is screaming that nothing should be off limits, and that true art is found in the uncomfortable and shocking. Whatever it may be, Fando y Lis is moving in the same way a punch to the gut is moving. Don’t take that as a detractor though, these types of films have their place.
What the narrative of cinema needs is a bold director to come along every so often and remind us what shock feels like. Too often we become complacent in our acceptance of political correctness and status quo to realize that we are so small and unimportant for the most part. Call it nihilistic, call it unapproachable, but never underestimate the discovery that comes from cruel and unforgiving films. Throughout Fando y Lis, we are given a need for a savior, a savior that falls short of perfection, and a hellish landscape that would test even the purest soul. Jodorowsky simply asks that we pay attention, draw our own conclusion, and understand that the things we seek salvation in can drive us to cruelty. Now, before I wrap this up, earlier in the article I said this film caused a riot, so, I feel like that deserves some elaboration. According to Wikipedia, when Fando y Lis premiered at the Acapulco film festival in 1968, a full scale riot broke out. Now, why wouldn’t you want to see a movie that caused people so much grief they felt the need to riot? Not only was the film a violent, unflinching gut-punch brought to you by the surrealist mastermind, Alejandro Jodorowsky, it also served as a beginning step in the bizarre production group that was Cannon Films.