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THE HOLY MOUNTAIN

Chilean madman Alejandro Jodorowsky’s successor to EL TOPO was this crazed 1973 masterpiece.  Following up EL TOPO, one of the absolute weirdest movies of all time, was no easy task, but Jodorowsky pulled it off.  Others will disagree, but I say THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is, quite simply, the wildest, weirdest, most out-of-control movie EVER MADE! 

The Package 
     Please understand, the above is not a claim I make lightly!  I speak the truth: THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is THE weirdest movie of all time, beating out stuff competition like UN CHIEN ANDALOU, ERASERHEAD, VIVA LA MUERTE, THE SWEET MOVIE and Jodorowsky’s other films.  It’s a rare case of a follow-up to a successful film that not only matches but outdoes its predecessor in every respect.  Yet oddly enough, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN attained only a tiny fraction of EL TOPO’S success, receiving largely indifferent critical notices and failing to win any awards; it was disqualified from official competition at the Cannes Film Festival because Jodorowsky refused to specify whether the film was Mexican or American in origin.
     In fact, it was both: The Beatles’ impresario Allen Klein was the financier and his client John Lennon reportedly the “secret” producer, but the film was shot in Mexico with much of the same crew of the Mexican-made EL TOPO...although at Klein’s insistence the spoken language was English.  Speaking of The Beatles, George Harrison was initially supposed to play THE HOLY MOUNTAIN’S lead role, but dropped out over issues of nudity.
     For over thirty years the film was largely ignored.  Due to the same Jodorowsky-Klein feud that kept EL TOPO off the market during the eighties and nineties, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN languished.  Theatrical screenings were scant, and, per Klein’s orders, only on a double bill with EL TOPO.
     Yet in May 2007 there occurred perhaps the most bizarre development yet in the twisted saga of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN: it was made commercially available on DVD, its creators having at last put their differences aside.  That means this crazed cinemutation can now be found at commercial retail outlets like the family-friendly chain store Best Buy, alongside NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM and CHARLOTTE’S WEB.  Good news?  Certainly.  Expected?  Most emphatically not!
 

The Story 
     A petty thief awakens from a drunken stupor to find himself crucified and pelted with stones.  He manages to extricate himself from the cross and chase off his attackers, and then, together with a limbless dwarf companion, explore the bizarre community surrounding them.  It teems with gas mask-wearing soldiers dancing cheek-to-cheek with civilians, birds emerging from gunshot wounds, a parade of flayed goat carcasses and a recreation of the conquest of Mexico performed by toads and lizards.  The thief grows tired of all this craziness, especially after he’s knocked out and a mold made of his body that is used to create a roomful of Jesus Christ mannequins. 
     Fleeing the town, the thief approaches a vast tower.  Scaling it, he enters a womb-like opening near the top and finds himself inside the magical lair of a white-haired shaman.  The shaman dazzles the thief by turning a turd into gold, then tells him about the nine “most powerful people in the world”, all politicians or industrialists, each corresponding to a specific planet.  We get brief biographies of these people and their various occupations, which include manufacturing war toys for children, mass producing modern art by having people with painted asses sitting on canvases, policing a fascist country, building a robot sex machine, creating a line of coffin homes, etc.
     The nine people whose stories we just witnessed are flown via helicopter to the tower, where the shaman reveals why he’s gathered them and the thief together: he needs help in assaulting the fabled Holy Mountain and the nine immortals that dwell at its summit, his aim being to attain the secret of immortality.  First, though, the shaman forces his ten charges to burn all their money and undergo a rigorous training course to free their minds from worldly concerns and form a true collective.
     From there, after a brief stop-off in a town where seekers of truth have settled after giving up the pursuit of the Holy Mountain (including caricatures of such late sixties “types” as Allen Ginsburg and Timothy Leary), the eleven adherents reach the mountain and begin their climb.  The ascent is an arduous one, involving horrific hallucinations; one of the participants, a woman, is able to continue only after she literally has sex with the Holy Mountain and “gives herself to the world”.  Once they reach the top the thief is ordered to turn back and shack up with a comely prostitute who’s followed him to the mountain.
     For the ten other participants, though, the journey continues.  The nine immortals are in sight at the top of the Holy Mountain, seated around a vast circular table--but what the protagonists find when they approach these figures provides the most unexpected development of all. 

The Direction 
     Jam-packed is a term that adequately sums up THE HOLY MOUNTAIN.  It’s certainly among the most incident-filled 113 minutes you’ll ever experience, with nearly every frame stuffed (some might even say overstuffed) with a plethora of mystical grotesquerie.  That’s in addition to the incredibly elaborate set design and what look like hundreds of extras.  Alejandro Jodorowsky made this film for a reported $1 million--today it would cost at least a hundred times that.  The film’s sheer scale was and is unprecedented, as is its creator’s audacity and imagination. 
     The spiritual dimension, as in EL TOPO, is genuine, yet THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, also like EL TOPO, is filmed and edited in such a way that even atheists will be swept along.  I believe it’s impossible for anyone without a working knowledge of every religious text in existence to fully comprehend the innumerable symbols and portents Jodorowsky hurls at us; it’s best, I’ve found, to simply bask in the filmmaker’s incomparable visual genius, which provides more than its share of entertainment value.
     Among the film’s astonishing sights are an overhead view of a table shaped and painted to resemble a giant eye; a collection of 1000 testicles kept preserved in rows upon rows of jars; a lecherous old man plucking out an eyeball and offering it to a little girl; massacred people bleeding fruit and vegetables; a guy getting his arms and legs broke and then immediately put back together; a tree stacked with castrated chickens; a hermaphrodite man spraying milk from tiger heads attached to his breasts; and much, MUCH more insane brilliance that’s bizarre, goofy, outrageous and jaw-dropping.  It’s also far too much to ingest in a single viewing, let alone two or three.  Luckily this amazing film is finally accessible on DVD and, after far too long an interval, awaiting your viewing pleasure. 


Vital Statistics 

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
ABKCO Films
 

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Producer: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Allen Klein, Robert Taicher, Roberto Viskin
Screenplay: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cinematography: Rafael Corkidi
Editing: Federico Landeros
Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Zamira Saunders, Juan Ferrara, Adriana Page, Burt Kleiner, Valerie Jodorowsky, Nicky Nichols, Richard Rutowski, Luis Loveli, Ana De Sade, Chucho-Chucho, Leticia Robles
 


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