-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
cast: Alexandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Ramona Saunders, and Ana de Sade
writer and director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
109 minutes (18) 1973
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jim Steel
Well, I blame Allen Klein. If he hadn't sat on this film for three decades then more
people would have seen it. Now, instead, I will have to try and describe it. It's never
dull; I'll give it that.
First some background. John and Yoko had seen Jodorowsky's mystical western,
and persuaded Klein to put up a million dollars his next film. The Holy Mountain
was a creative success (and today holds up better than El Topo), but Klein wanted
the next project to be The Story Of O. Jodorowsky wanted to make 'Dune' instead,
and Klein embargoed his films in retaliation. El Topo and The Holy Mountain
were only available in bootleg for the next 30 years, and the production of 'Dune' collapsed,
until it eventually was filmed by the much more conventional David Lynch. Klein and Jodorowsky
have patched things up at long last, and now we are all able to see re-mastered versions of
these great films.
The film itself is a triptych. Skipping over the wonderfully bizarre credits, we arrive at
a Christ-figure who is lying, apparently crucified, on the floor of a quarry. A tarot card
identifies him as 'The Fool', although many will see him as the Christ. Later he will be
revealed to be a thief. He is approached by a paraplegic dwarf (dwarves are a big thing in
Jodorowsky's films), that's later revealed to be another aspect of the man's personality.
Then a crowd of naked children with blue genitals run up and tie the thief to a cross and
begin to stone him. He wakes up and drives them off before sharing a joint with the dwarf.
They both make their way into a modern day Mexican City where soldiers are shooting students
and American tourists are enjoying the spectacle. The Thief gets involved with a circus that
recreates the conquest of Mexico on a model city. Chameleons play the Aztecs and toads play
the Spaniards. Both sets of animals are fully costumed and much blood is shed. Afterwards the
man is captured by corpulent Romans and used to make a life-size cast of the crucified Christ.
This awakens some sort of religious idealism in him and he becomes aware of the moral corruption
around him. He also acquires followers in the form of identically dressed prostitutes. One of
them, the remarkably beautiful Ana de Sade, has a chimpanzee aspect that fulfils the same role
as the Thief's dwarf. Let's hear it for Chucho-Chuco, the hardest working chimp in the film
This is, you understand, only a rough outline that misses out much of the detail and plot.
Where were we? The Thief discovers a red tower in the middle of the city and ascends to
the top. This signals the start of the second part of the film, and is where it really
starts to get weird. The Thief goes up a tunnel and breaks through a membrane (yes, that's
right) and finds himself in a very strange multicoloured place indeed. He encounters the
Alchemist (Jodorowsky) and a female who is Mercury. Jodorowsky makes full use of his training
with Marcel Marceau here to move around the thief in a very eerie manner. He also makes fun
use of his technical skills with some of the most beautiful sets and camerawork that have
yet been filmed. Overhead shots and moving walls are balanced with the choreography of the
actors as Jodorowsky explores eastern mysticism, the tarot and Freudian symbolism. After
meeting Mercury and the Thief (Earth), we are then taken on a series of vignettes with
personifications of the rest of the planets. They embody the flaws of humanity. Saturn,
for example, is a manufacturer of toys, but all the toys are war toys. She is consuming
the children and destroying childhood. Many of the planets are obsessed with wealth and
are involved with manufacturing goods. Uranus, unfortunately, dips into Carry On
territory, but Jodorowsky still keeps the viewer hooked. It must be said that this is a
very funny film indeed.
The planets come together for the final part of the film as the Alchemist leads them on
a quest for truth at the top of the Holy Mountain. It is a hard journey, and they each
have to conquer their own fears. Many of them will be the viewer's fears as well. (Fear
of castration, anyone?) This part is as fully detailed as the previous two parts, but I
leave that for you to discover, reader. At the end Jodorowsky offers up truth (or the
potential for it) to everyone. It's an honest ending.
It's a work of genius. It's coherent, no matter what one may have read, and it contains
much that is heart-achingly beautiful or downright astounding. Don't be alarmed by the
symbolism that soaks this film - most of it means what you think it does, and on the odd
occasion that something is open to misinterpretation, one will find that it doesn't matter
in the overall plan. It also contains something that will disturb everyone (although what
that is will vary with the individual).
There is a 24-track soundtrack CD that often resembles the sort of stuff that gets played
around midnight on BBC Radio 3. It probably would have sounded really dated five years after
it was recorded, but it sounds mighty fine now. Other extras include outtakes (with the killer
reasons why they weren't used), a terrifying trailer that probably explains the blockbuster
explosion of the late 1970s (if I'd seen this first time around, I wouldn't have gone back
to the cinema for five years), a Jodorowsky feature about the tarot (the only dull thing in
the package) and a director's commentary. Oh, yes. You must make use of the director's commentary
the second time that you view it. I insist on it. Go, find. And enjoy.