SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (16)

By: Nikhil Singh
August 23, 2021

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.

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Illustration by the author

JOURNEY TO IXTLAN (1976)

In 1976, Martin Scorsese originally intended to direct Jack Nicholson in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But after failing to acquire the rights, Scorsese instead turned his attention to the “unfilmable” Carlos Castaneda books, whose rights are held by Bruce Wagner. The result is the classic which we have come to know as Journey to Ixtlan. Here, at the height of his visual acuity, Scorsese’s mise-en-scènes of “modern sorcery,” filmed in the sun-stripped squares of Oaxaca, Mexico City, and the brutal magnificence of the Sonoran desert, capture the ethos of the entire decade.

It is interesting to note that Michael Crichton, the director of Coma and author of such blockbuster fiction as Jurassic Park, was once the original choice of director Nicolas Roeg for the lead in his opus The Man Who Fell to Earth. The seven-foot Crichton foreshadows all his fictions in his cold portrayal of the elusive Carlos Castaneda. Scripted by Wagner (whom Scorsese never even met! All negotiations were allegedly done through the publisher and a mysterious intermediary group called Cleargreen), the screenplay rapidly transcends the expected psychedelic overtones and grapples with a verité depiction of magical reality itself.

Shot in lush, panoramic naturalism under the photographic direction of a young Dante Spinotti, the film captures the timeless cycles of the desert expanse, in which its protagonist wrestles with magic and spiritual identity, under the mercurial tutelage of the feather-hatted Don Juan (played by a ruthless yet maniacally hilarious Donald Cammell). John Cassavetes creates a startling and terrifying character in Don Genaro, Don Juan’s sorcerer partner. Together, this duo reinvent a Jungian Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, rainbow-tripping their way through the wreckage of Sixties motifs, toward the Everyman-like future uncertainty of the Castaneda protagonist.

The nihilism of the piece is underscored by Louise Fletcher’s cameo as La Gorda. In her poignant monologue, after a fatal psychic defeat at the hands of Castaneda, she describes, without any emotion whatsoever, how she was forced to stalk her own son and seek his death in her quest for spiritual freedom. This brutal yet compelling pathology lies at the heart of a heartless era, a ’70s captured remorselessly by Scorsese. A decade which began with doves of peace and ended in uncompromising corporatisation.

The lush soundtrack by Robert Fripp carries these images, lending a bittersweet clarity to a postmodern quest for freedom. (Brian Eno plays guitar during the jaguar hunting scene.) The recent re-release of this classic masterpiece on Blu-ray is a worthy addition to any psychedelics-enhanced weekend.

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SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | PAGE EDGES | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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Enthusiasms

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