Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I haven’t watched my Jodrowsky box yet. Part of it is just time. I haven’t had a chance. But part of it is also because I almost don’t want to watch them. I’ve waited so long for these to be on DVD that now that I have them, I almost don’t want to ruin it by watching them and finally having an opinion about these films, so often discussed, so rarely seen. Leave it to Vern to more than man up for the task. This is a fantastic Vern piece, and a reminder of why he’s one of my favorite writers about film anywhere:
‘If all mankind shitted from a two-meter high toilet, we could have all the electricity we wanted.’
–Alejandro Jodorowsky, HOLY MOUNTAIN commentary
My friends, we will have peace in the Middle East. We will find cures for cancer and AIDS. The honey bees will return to their hives. Michael Bay will apologize and surrender himself to movie jail without incident. I know these things are possible because the impossible has happened: director Alejandro Jodorowsky and producer/Beatles manager Alan Klein have ended their 30 year feud. Everybody’s friends again, so Anchor Bay releases their THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY box set Tuesday.
This is literally the Holy Grail of DVDs. When Jodorowsky ditched plans to direct THE STORY OF O thirty years ago, Klein paid him back by shelving his other movies. So EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN have been legendary cult movies, but have not received the wide home viewing they deserve. You could never get these from corporate sources like Blockbuster or Netflix, because the copies in circulation were bootlegs. Jodorowsky supplied the materials to the pirates himself just to get the movies seen. (I wonder what section Blockbuster will put EL TOPO in?)
If you tried hard enough you could get your hands on a dark, blurry VHS copy with the pubic hair blurred out and burned on Japanese subtitles. But the idea of a legit, remastered DVD version, with extras no less… too much to ask for. These would always remain secret movies, legendary movies, like that movie that kills everybody in Moriarty’s first MASTERS OF HORROR episode. Until the day I read the announcement from Anchor Bay I honestly believed it would take the death of either Jodorowsky or Klein for them to come out. If one of them was found mysteriously crucified in a circle of weird shells and dead rabbits then they might hammer out the rights, but otherwise it could never, ever happen. But now it has.
And by the way when I say it is literally the Holy Grail of DVDs, I don’t mean that it is a goblet that you could drink out of, I just mean that it gives you eternal youth by watching it and that knights used to fight over it and hide it and shit.
The three films are FANDO Y LIS (his black and white, sort of Fellini-like first feature, which has already been on a nice DVD), the legendary psychedelic western EL TOPO, and my favorite, HOLY MOUNTAIN, the weirdest fucking movie you’ll ever see. People criticize me sometimes for dropping the fuck-bomb too much in my reviews, but this is one case where even your grandma would agree that ‘weirdest movie’ wouldn’t cut it. ‘This is a weird fucking movie, dear,’ she would probaly say if you showed her the part where Jodorowsky plays an alchemist who has a guy who looks like Jesus shit in a bowl so he can process it into gold.
The transfers are beautiful. It’s amazing to see these movies so clear and bright. HOLY MOUNTAIN is alot lighter than before, but clearer, more detailed. In the later scenes, when they get to the mountain, they may have cheated a little with the digital magic, because the colors of the plants are I’m guessing more vivid than they ever looked. But it looks great. The most striking thing about EL TOPO is the way the red of the blood pops out of the screen. Eltopians are gonna shit their pants when they see this, then they will turn their shit into gold and use the gold to buy more box sets to give to their friends, who will in turn shit their pants, etc. etc. This thing is gonna spread across the globe like airwaves. Rappers will start quoting HOLY MOUNTAIN; on CRIBS they’ll have THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY next to their SCARFACE dvd. Bono will buy a thousand copies and pass them out to world leaders, so they can begin their journeys of enlightenment. Video clerks will replace their copies of THE SECRET with HOLY MOUNTAIN. In Wal-Mart, you’ll pick it up from the impulse buy area, sitting right next to BLUE COLLAR COMEDY TOUR, so you can give it to your mom for Mother’s Day. Oprah’s gonna recommend it, then start handing out pelicans. See, there’s a part in HOLY MOUNTAIN where a random pelican walks into the shot – Jodorowsky explains that pelicans are a symbol of Christ because they are said to cut themselves with their beaks and feed blood to their young. Oprah’s gonna love that. ‘YOU get a pelican! YOU get a pelican!’ As your grandma would say, total fuckin pandemonium.
EL TOPO is in the original Spanish, but it also includes the English dub if you prefer that. HOLY MOUNTAIN is only in English, they shot it that way for Alan Klein.
If you’re not familiar with these movies, I’ll try to describe them a little more. Jodorowsky is Chilean, but he made these movies in Mexico, against the wishes of the unions, the government, and the crowds who threw rocks at him after the premiere of FANDO Y LIS. Jodorowsky was a mime who wrote stories for Marcel Marceau, he’s obsessed with tarot cards, he likes violence in movies, his dad was ‘violently agnostic’ so he rebelled by studying every religion he could find and trying to make the cinematic equivalent of ‘sacred texts’ by cramming his movies to the gills with symbolism, allegory and stories of enlightenment. When he made HOLY MOUNTAIN, he says on this DVD, he really believed he was going to enlighten the world with it.
So you’d think these movies would be heavy-handed and joyless, but actually they’re fun and full of humor. Jodorowsky comes out of something called ‘The Panic Movement.’ To me it seems sort of like surrealism, except instead of just random dream images he’s clearly getting at some ideas here. I think he’s at his best when he’s making his nightmarish portrait of modern living, like the scenes where fascist troops march through the streets wielding flayed lambs on crucifixes, executing students, while a bus full of tourists drives by taking pictures and laughing.
EL TOPO is the most accessible, because it starts out like a spaghetti western. But a more violent than usual one, with lots of weird touches. There’s a scene where he finds a pen of about a hundred rabbits and they all die from his presence. And another one where Alfonse Arau (director of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE) plays a shoe fetishist bandit sucking on lady’s pumps (and he’s the least perverted of his group). At first the movie’s about this scary outlaw shooting bandits, falling in love, and traveling the desert in a spiral to find and kill The Four Masters. But by the end it’s a completely different movie, and the outlaw protagonist has become a saintly street clown married to a pretty dwarf lady he met in an underground cave. But don’t worry, you’ll like it. Hey, you liked TOMBSTONE, right? Or CITY SLICKERS? Yeah, you should check out EL TOPO.
HOLY MOUNTAIN is the craziest and most epic. It’s a low budget movie by most standards but you wouldn’t know it by all the crowd scenes, elaborate sets, the scene where the thief wakes up buried in hundreds of life sized dummies of himself, etc. There’s a scene where frogs and chameleons (wearing costumes) re-enact the conquest of Mexico on a model city. And then there’s that pelican. And a baby hippo. And a monkey who’s a major character. Jodorowsky even taught him to do a zen mediation pose.
I would be happy with just the movies, but they piled on the extras. All three have commentaries. EL TOPO has an on-camera interview with Jodorowsky. HOLY MOUNTAIN has a feature where he explains his love of tarot cards and goes through the meaning of each card. (No, he doesn’t believe they predict the future, he says only a ‘charlatan’ would tell you that.) There’s even a few deleted scenes. Nothing too exciting, but you do get to see Jodorowsky fall off the Holy Mountain. (Shoulda been a blooper reel.) The deleted scenes are most valuable for their commentary. It turns out the movie was supposed to end with a scene where a woman gives birth for real. But the woman he hired backed out. I’m sure somebody will do it some day, maybe in a Will Ferrell comedy or something.
You also get a bonus disc of LA CRAVATE, his 1957 first try at filmatism. It’s a 35 minute silent short (but in color) based on something called ‘The Transposed Heads.’ To be honest I was not too into this one, but it gives you a look at Jodorowsky’s mime background you always read about. According to the back cover ‘LA CRAVATE was considered lost for fifty years until its discovery in a German attic in 2006.’ It doesn’t say what it was doing in this attic, but I’m guessing the reels were inside an ostrich egg with Kabbalah symbols painted all over it, or maybe a weird phallic cactus.
Also you get two CDs, the original EL TOPO soundtrack album and the never released one for HOLY MOUNTAIN. This is some crazy shit, you probaly won’t want to drive around blasting it from your car stereo, but if you do I will think you’re cool.
If you already have the old FANDO Y LIS disc – and I know all you ‘fanboys’ are into black and white Chilean surrealist films, so don’t pretend you don’t have it – this seems to be the same thing. It has that English-language commentary track and the CONSTELLATION JODOROWSKY documentary. I haven’t had time to check if they edited out the comments about ‘that gangster Alan Klein.’ Anyway, that one’s been out of print for a while, and even if you already have it like I do it’s well worth fifty bucks just for the other two, not to mention the soundtracks.
The commentaries are pretty spectacular. It might be disappointing if Jodorowsky came across as a pretty normal guy, but fortunately we don’t have to worry about that. On EL TOPO he comes across as kind of a maniac, especially when talking about the animals in the movie. Apparently all those rabbits died from the heat in the desert, and he’s never eaten rabbit since. He also feels bad about shooting those two birds, but at the time he considered it an animal sacrifice for his sacred movie. He also claims to have strapped the director of photography to himself with a belt and moved him around as his way of setting up the camera. This story can’t help but remind you of the ‘doubleman’ character in the movie, the gunman with no legs strapped to the guy with no arms. ‘Two cripples make one John Wayne’ is how Jodorowsky describes them.
He also explains how the badass outlaw El Topo in the beginning was inspired by ‘rabbis, Zorro and Elvis Presley.’ He talks about the father-son themes of the movie, and his belief that every son wants to psychologically kill and castrate his father. In order to head this off with his own sons he says he painted a circle in his backyard and sumo wrestled them, but let them win sometimes. He also says ‘Godard has one testicle, I have three,’ and he explains what that means, but I’m not going to.
The feature I had to check out first, though, was the HOLY MOUNTAIN commentary. At first he rapidly goes through shot-by-shot, briefly explaining what each symbol means. (This is especially helpful in those wacked out opening credits.) Eventually he starts letting things go, though. When a real bird flies out of a hole in a dead guy’s chest and he doesn’t say anything, it’s kind of a surprise. But hey, if you ever wondered what he was thinking when he had an old half-man half-woman’s boobs turn into tiger heads and squirt milk onto a guy, now is your chance.
The guy talks like a guru, but not a pretentious one. He jokes about his idealism at that age, how he really thought ‘cinema is more powerful than LSD’ and that his movie would change mankind. I’m not into all that mysticism myself, but I love the way this guy talks about it. And I think he is genuinely wise. In one part he says people expect him to be against technology, because he’s obsessed with all this ancient alchemical shit. But he says, ‘Spiders make spider’s webs, and nobody finds it surprising. Man makes machines because that is part of their brain programming. Machines are sacred.’ He goes on to explain how technology can also be dangerous, ‘but when hasn’t human development been dangerous? Everything is dangerous.’
After that he starts describing man’s ‘three essential missions.’ While he’s explaining that ‘we must become the Universe’s conscience’ he notices someone on screen, and without skipping a beat he says, ‘This is one of the producers. He left with $300,000 and we never saw him again.’
The details of the making of the movie are fascinating. Supposedly he was protested, threatened by the government, had a gun pulled on him during filming, eventually had to flee to New York. The whole method of making the movie was dangerous, but he was serious about it. It turns out only one of the characters going on this journey was played by an actor. The millionaire is a real millionaire, the architect is a real architect, etc. He was really trying to bring them on a journey of enlightenment, and they really climbed that mountain. (No word on climbing the tower – that part sure looks real to me.)
One of the best parts is when the movie ends, the screen goes black and the commentary continues for a few minutes as Jodorowsky explains the circumstances of ending the feud with Alan Klein. He basically admits that it was created by his own stubbornness, because ‘we create our own enemies.’ It’s actually a really touching and inspiring story of making peace.
I learned alot of trivia. The American tourist who photographs his wife being raped by soldiers was played by the agent for Sly and the Family Stone. That should probaly be a question on one of those Coca-Cola slides they show before movies at the multiplex. Another good one is that George Harrison was originally going to star as the thief, but he didn’t want to do the scene where he’s in the bath and the Alchemist cleans out his butthole with a wash cloth. Jodorowsky refused to take the shot out and lost the chance to have a Beatle star in his movie!
I think that story sums Jodorowsky up pretty good. The guy is serious. On one hand, it’s so stupid to throw that away for that shot. I mean, I sure don’t like to look at him washing the dude’s butt. I would’ve been fine without it, and if the movie starred a Beatle I probaly wouldn’t have had to wait this long for the DVD. On the other hand, that’s real integrity right there. If there’s any question that the guy is a phoney, that he just wants money or attention or something, you can forget about that the moment he chooses the butt-washing shot over having his movie star one of the Beatles. He really believed in what he was doing and he wasn’t going to compromise. On the EL TOPO commentary he talks a little about his approach. He mentions test screening and producing movies for specific markets, basing movies around ‘the vulgar tastes of imbeciles’ instead of artistic expression. He doesn’t want to make a movie for a specific audience, he wants to create the audience with the movie. And he did. There is no other movie like HOLY MOUNTAIN and there probaly never will be. And maybe if there was it would throw the whole universe out of wack.
Another thing about HOLY MOUNTAIN: the movie is indestructible. What I mean by that is that nobody can ever fuck with this movie, it’s impossible. Michael Bay and his wicked co-conspirators in movie evil may have gone down my list of favorite movies and tried to buy them all out and shit all over them, using metaphorical shit rather than literal shit that can be turned into gold. And they’ve succeeded in taking a couple chunks of meat off the legacy of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Touche.
But when they get to HOLY MOUNTAIN on that list they’re fucked. I FUCKING DARE YOU ASSHOLES TO REMAKE HOLY MOUNTAIN. You can’t do it. You could never dream of doing it. People without souls don’t have dreams, but still. You could never aspire to it. If you even tried to buy the rights you’d probaly be turned into a pillar of salt. If you tried to write a treatment, you’d start bleeding from your eyes. A wound would open in your chest and a bird would fly out, diamonds would spill like blood. I want to see what a team of Bruckheimer rewriters would do with that story. Who would play the armless dwarf in the soldier helmet kicking the dummy in the alley? I guess Josh Hartnett would be pretty good as the mohawked police captain who ritualistically cuts off his recruits’ balls with scissors and collects them in jars.
SO WHY SHOULD YOU GIVE A SHIT?
I’ll be honest, most of you probaly shouldn’t watch these movies. I don’t want to call you ‘sissies’ or ‘cowards,’ I don’t want to say you’re not man enough to watch these movies, but… let’s face it, you are sissy cowards who aren’t man enough to watch these movies, unless I use reverse psychology. No, just jerkin your chain bud, I actually admire your fortitude and masculinity. But this is not everybody’s idea of entertainment. My dream of HOLY MOUNTAIN becoming a major pop culture phenomenon like NAPOLEON DYNAMITE may be a little far-fetched. A little.
I’m not gonna pretend Spider-man is in there. The only mention of super heroes is a propaganda anti-Peruvian comic book in HOLY MOUNTAIN, and on the commentary track when he says ‘James Bond is a pervert. Superman is a pervert.’ But Jodorowsky actually is a comic book writer, if that gives him any nerd-cred for you. He did alot of those stories in the ‘Heavy Metal’ magazine that pioneered the boobs and sorcery genre some of you get off on. (Don’t lie.) He also spent years trying to do DUNE as a movie, and he was the one who brought together H.R. Giger, Moebius (not Moby, Moebius) and Dan O’Bannon to do a sci-fi movie before they were snatched up for ALIEN. He also had Salvador Dali and robot Salvador Dali set to act in his movie, but they must’ve turned down Ridley Scott’s offer.
But if any of you never saw these movies, but think they sound interesting… if you are adventurous, and want to see movies unlike what anybody else is doing… if you are interested in a guy trying to use the medium to its maximum potential, then in Pelican’s name, check this shit out. I will acept your thanks in e-mail or talkbacks. To me these movies are completely unique, they got a 200 proof cinematic kick to them, and they say alot about life and the world and mankind, in a really darkly humorous way. You can’t ask for too much more from a movie. If you’re like me, feeling overloaded by the dumbass, materialistic, lowest-common denominator commercialized crap dominating pop culture these days, these movies are refreshing because they’re pretty much as far in the exact opposite direction as you could possibly get. Putting this box set out today is like throwing a hand grenade into idiocracy’s living room. The only question is whether or not it will go off, and how much of the furniture will burn.
that is a metaphor, not literal, the DVD will not explode
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/32495