AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 116 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
A Thief bound to a pole frees himself and wanders through a series of bizarre and grotesque scenarios. Eventually he enters a strange tower and inside meets a mystical Guide who introduces to him seven wealthy and powerful individuals who have gone badly wrong in their lives. The Guide wants them to form a group of nine [the ninth being his assistant] to seek out a mysterious mountain. Once there, they are to displace the Immortals who live there and become immortal themselves. First of all though they have to divest themselves of all wordly goods….
As with probably all film fans, every now and again there comes a certain film which totally blows me away, which truly excites me, which seems to do new and thrilling things with the medium, which shows me things I’ve never seen, or a totally different way of looking at them. The Holy Mountain is the latest film to do that. Of course Alexandro Jodorowsky’s Fando And Lis and El Topo were pretty extraordinary, but I didn’t quite love them. With The Holy Mountain though, the concepts and philosophies seemed to totally speak to me, maybe because, having watched this previous two films I was on Jodorowksy’s wavelength [maybe a dangerous wavelength to be on! and seemed to understand more of it [well, I say seemed to]. Equally importantly, I literally felt I was tripping watching this film, as I was assaulted with one audacious image and astounding idea after another and afterwards I stil felt ‘out of it’ for a while. It’s often considered a ‘drug’ movie, and I’m sure psychedelics, in particular, played a large part in its making, but I really don’t think one needs much ‘enhancement’ to get the most out of it, just like the best psychedelic music. All it needs is a totally open mind and the ability to totally surrender oneself to what one is seeing, as Jodorowsky seems to have set out to do nothing less but make a genuinely transcendental, mystical tract on film.
He and the film’s crew lived as a commune for a month before they began work on it, the last week of which Jodorowsky had a Zen master to hand and had no sleep. The film had a much bigger budget then El Topo and it really looks like a much more expensive production, but the director only spent half the money he was given. George Harrison was considered for the main role of the Thief, but balked at the nudity involved, something Jodorowksy later regretted as his participation would have given The Holy Mountain a much bigger release than it eventually got, which was fairly limited. It was the scandal of the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and the BBFC refused to allow it to be shown in the UK outside of film clubs. Even many fans of Jodorowsky who loved his first two movies thought that he’d gone too far. It did eventually become a cult favourite among many, but I personally think it’s been criminally neglected over the years. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film got the same reaction if released now. For about 45 minutes, The Holy Mountain literally bombards you with weirdness, and this is certainly one movie that you know whether you like it or not in the first couple of minutes. With almost no dialogue in the first half an hour, we are thrown into a crazy surreal world where frogs wear Crusader armour, fashion models wear fake body parts over their clothes, people are cut open and food comes up of their bodies, a procession carries carcasses, women at a lavish party dance with men in gas masks etc. I believe that, far from being random [though I enjoyed it just as much as that too], it comments on a variety of things, mainly negative, about modern man. Using Surrealism [one of the objectives of which was to use dream imagery to show an ‘unconscious’ truth], Jodorowsky depicts a hell on earth, a consumerist, exploitative shit hole [and of course it’s far worse now!].
Through all this wanders the Thief, until he arrives at the tower. After we have been treated to the sight of the Thief’s shit being turned into gold, the middle third of the film is almost in documentary style, as we are shown the jobs of the seven other people, but again in crazy, surreal style. One bit I was totally gobsmacked by, in fact I couldn’t believe my eyes, was when one of the people has invented something called an Orgasm Machine. We see the person sticking a huge metal bar into a large square machine, then, after he’s failed to satisfy it, a scantily clad woman comes along, takes the bar and brings the machine to orgasm, whereupon it gives birth to a baby machine. Even if you find this all too messed up [and to be honest I don’t have a clue what Jodorowsky was trying to say here!], you’ve got to admire the man’s nerve and audacity for putting stuff like this on screen. The final third of the film is comparatively tame and ‘normal’, as we follow the journey to the mountain. I was expecting more madness and didn’t ‘get’ so much of it, but to be honest by this time I was so hypnotised by the movie, Jodorowksy could have shown me paint drying for half an hour and I wouldn’t have minded. The film also becomes more restrained in its commentary, though there is a great piss take of Timothy Leary that seems initially out of place in this seemingly ‘druggy’ movie, but which actually readies us for the ending. Ah, the ending! I won’t go into in detail about it, but it almost destroys not only much of what has come before but totally changes what I thought about Jodorowksy and his movies. Maybe he changed his philosophy as he progressed with making the film? Maybe he’s actually been taking the mickey for the proceeding two hours? Whatever, it’s both extremely irritating [let’s just say no enlightenment of any kind is reached] and absolutely perfect.
El Topo seemed to have a few weak scenes suffering from poor editing and even lack of interest. I noticed nothing of this in The Holy Mountain, which leads me to believe that Jodorowsky intended those scenes to be weak; nothing would surprise me with this director. Each scene in The Holy Mountain is essential, each one leads perfectly into the next, and I don’t think there was one that I couldn’t have done without. Rafael Corkidi’s cinematography is suitably vibrant and colourful until the final section, where it uses a more muted and realistic pallet. He really does help make this film look much more expensive than it is. As with the two previous Jodorowksy films, the music, some of it by Jodorowsky himself, is a strange but appropriate mixture of gypsy-type dances [with one here that I noticed was later reused in Santa Sangre] and odd ambient soundscapes, with the addition here of a rock element. Gonzalo Gavira’s astonishing use of sound was noticed by a certain William Friedkin who got him to do similarly great work on The Exorcist. The acting simply does the job and no more, but certainly isn’t poor. I’m a little uneasy about Jodorowksy’s ongoing fascination with castration, but If there is anything I didn’t like, it’s a sequence with lots of dead birds. Once again, Jodorowsky felt the need to kill a shitload of animals. What the hell’s he got against them? Then again, they looked a bit fake this time. Maybe they weren’t real at all. In any case, I just don’t want to think about it anymore!
Despite that, I believe that The Holy Mountain is the finest film I’ve seen [for the first time] in several years, and yet I’m well aware that it really is ‘fringe’ cinema, in the sense that only a small number of people will ever get anything from that, let alone as much as I did. Perhaps it is really just a load of drugged up rubbish that means nothing, but I personally think there’s a tremendous amount of things going on in it. Even if there isn’t, it shows an artist straining at the boundaries of cinema, pushing and pushing. It gives me the feeling that perhaps filmmakers have only just scratched the surface of what can be done with cinema. Wow! What a film and what an experience!