Film Reviews

The Holy Mountain Alejandro Jodorowsky

Rating - 7/10

Alejandro Jodorowsky's films have been compared to psychedelics, by himself as often as anybody else. The Holy Mountain is indeed a spectacular trip. After El Topo became a cult phenomenon and caught the eye of a few wacky Beatles, Jodorowsky was bankrolled by John and Yoko to make a more expensive, even trippier extravaganza. The Holy Mountain, made in 1973, is an invaluable piece of film history in that movies this radical, unconventional, and unhinged from the conventions of narrative cinema are rarely allowed to be made on such a scale (even more rarely were they not made by Federico Fellini). Unfortunately, the downside to having such famous patrons was the effective burying of El Topo and The Holy Mountain for years as pawns and grudges in a few of the many conflicts that transpired since the Beatles started getting paid. Finally these cult treasures arrive on commercial DVD.

The Holy Mountain is less a story than a wildly tangential journey to the titular location/state of being/symbol/facade/what is it? Many things, but never humble, Jodorowsky plays a Christ figure who goes through a series of bizarre set pieces until convening with a series of powerful figures representing the planets of the solar system, with whom he makes the journey. Sequences don't cohere or always have much to do with each other beyond walking from one to another. The introductions of characters such as "Fon, He whose planet is Venus" and "Isla, She whose planet is Mars" are standalone epics unto themselves, delivering vivid portraits of entire societies in thrall to different types of monstrously abused power. The wild, all encompassing rush of sequences and ideas has been influential to artists as unexpected as El-P (watching The Holy Mountain, I discovered it was the source of some great Company Flow vocal samples).

Repeatedly and progressively, most assumptions and institutions in civilization - religion, government, commerce, military, self-identity, cinema itself - are torn apart, lampooned, and stripped away. The Holy Mountain is cinematically rapturous, with its kalaedoscopic color, huge, inventive set design, elaborate costuming (this has got to be pornography for funny hat fetishists), and ingenious, unteathered cinematography. This is truly a movie that appears to have been made at the limit of its maker's imagination, with nonstop trippy conceits being enacted on a series of gorgeous locations and extravagant, mammoth sets by a cast of hundreds. The prevailing philosophy of human set dressing is "Why have ten people when you can have 200?" Copious nudity, copious bloodshed, copious invention from Jodorowsky, a mime, magician and provacateur who studied with, among others, Marcel Marceau.

Jodorowsky makes his films, to paraphrase him, from his testacles to have the effect of psychedelics of the viewer (not to recreate the sights and sounds of acid, but to itself function as acid). There is a stubborn integrity in that he did not use The Holy Mountain, his big budget extravaganza, to do something more conventionally sensible, but to craft the fullest, least compromised, and biggest expression of his abstract aesthetic. There is a great deal of success in making a movie that has the effect of a psychedelic, but that is also to a fault. Along with the reality expanding inspiration of a trip, the movie also suffers from the exhaustion of the comedown.

The film is so inspired and limitless with its ideas, visually and thematically, that, depending on the viewer's endurance, they cease to register at some point, and the crushing or transcendent becomes commonplace. Having stared hard at both the void and the infinite, there is the gnawing suspicion that nothing particularly profound has ultimately materialized. Cosmic notions and moments of divine clarity intermingle with trifling personal demons as Jodorowsky's narciscism and misogyny sometimes threaten to overwhelm the mythical phantasmagoria. This may be the point (and the end is heavier on defeatism and negation than the hypercreative beginning and middle) and it may be a trifling complaint for such an overwhelmingly inspired and unique film, but Jodorowsky's kitchen sink maximalism leaves none of his provacative ideas deeply explored. It is hard, however, not to admire The Holy Mountain, and these flaws are part and parcel with the several indelible images and sequences (it is, after all, better for a movie to have too much magic than too little).