Alejandro Jodorowsky may have redefined the film-viewing experience for a couple generations of art-house thrillseekers, but he didn’t start his creative journey in cinema. Decades before he sent his audiences on the mind-altering feature-length trips (whether or not they came prepared for them with their own mind-altering substances) like El Topo and The Holy Mountain, he wrote poetry, worked as a clown, founded and directed a theater troupe, and after relocating from his native Chile to France, studied mime and performed with Marcel Marceau. Only then had life prepared him to make his first film, 1957’s La Cravate.
Telling its story in vivid color but without words, the short (which also goes under such titles as Les têtes interverties, The Transposed Heads, and most sensationalistically The Severed Heads) draws on Jodorowsky and his collaborators’ skills developed in the performing arts to convert into cinematic mime Thomas Mann’s 1950 novella The Transposed Heads: A Legend of India. Novelist Rayo Casablanca quotes Jodorowsky describing the tale as one of “a woman who has an intellectual husband, who is very weak physically. She also has a muscular but idiotic lover. She cuts the heads off of the two men and interchanges them. She remains with the muscular body and the head of the intellectual. However, after a certain time, the body of the athlete is softened and the body of the intellectual becomes vigorous and muscular.”
Mann, in Jodorowsky’s reading, “wanted to thus say that it is the intellect which makes the body,” but for nearly fifty years, his own visual interpretation went unseen. Not long after its premiere at Rome’s Cinema Auteur Festival in 1957 it went missing, presumed lost, until the sole print’s rediscovery in a German attic in 2006. Finally, Jodorowsky’s fans could see not just his directorial debut but his first starring role onscreen, with a supporting cast that included the Belgian surreal humorist Raymond Devos. The film’s moral, writes Dangerous Minds’ Paul Gallagher, “is never to lose your head over unrequited love, but find someone who loves you as you are,” but as with all of Jodorowsky’s works, feel free to take from it whatever message finds its way into your head.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.