Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Screenplay Directed by the Tarot

Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s phantasmagorical film The Mansion of Madness (1972) is loosely based upon Edgar Allan Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” in which inmates take over a mental institution and change places with the doctors.

Within minutes of the film, it becomes obvious that Moctezuma used Tarot cards to develop his story, character by character and scene by scene. Every archetype of the Major Arcana appears in the film, as do several court cards. A Hermit character is dressed in a brown robe and holds a lantern. A self-proclaimed Emperor sits on a throne, in full regalia. An effigy of a Hanged Man is used to stop a horse-drawn Chariot. A High Priestess with a bejeweled third eye performs a ritual dance. A self-described Magician creates the illusion that a man has three shadows (two of which end up belonging to the goons who carry the man to his cell; this scene symbolically communicates the profound wisdom that one’s convictions make one a convict). A scythe-wielding Death figure threatens the Fool who stumbled into this truly insane asylum.

Moctezuma’s love of the Tarot was presumably fostered by his collaborations with fellow director and Tarot enthusiast Alejandro Jodorowsky (who worked with Phillipe Camoin to restore the Marseille deck). The film adaptation of Poe’s story is all the richer for being imbued with Tarot imagery.

See film stills of the full Major Arcana here, as well as a free online reading.

Special thanks to Tarot Elements for showcasing our Mansion of Madness Tarot.

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