Tag Archives: Mysticism

83. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

“Nothing in [critic’s] educations or experiences can have prepared them for The Holy Mountain. Here is a film completely outside the entire tradition of motion picture art, outside the tradition of modern theater, outside the tradition of criticism and review. Criticism is irrelevant.”–film critic Jules Siegel, a quote chosen for The Holy Mountain‘s trailer

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DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Jodorowsky

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas

PLOT: A thief, who looks like Jesus Christ, silently wanders through a bizarre and depraved city with an armless and legless midget companion, participating in a lizard circus where toads are dressed like conquistadors, bearing a crucifix through the streets and eating from Jesus’ body, and meeting a prostitute with a chimp.  He comes to a giant tower in the middle of a busy highway and rides up a hook to the top, where a mystic with a menagerie introduces him to seven companions and purifies him by burning his feces and turning it into gold, among other rituals.  After preparation the assembled nine set off the find the Holy Mountain where the immortals are said to live, so they can displace them and become like gods themselves.

Still from The Holy Mountain (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • In preparation for making the film Jodorowsky studied with two a Zen master and with a disciple of Gurdijeff.  Part of his training involved sleep deprivation (he claims he went a week without sleep) and taking LSD for the first time.
  • During filming, the Catholic church in Mexico was not happy with The Holy Mountain because of its apparent blasphemy, and the President Luis Echeverría’s regime was also angry with Jodorowsky because soldiers in Mexican uniforms were depicted massacring civilians.  There were public marches protesting the filming.  Per Jodorowsky’s DVD commentary, he left Mexico with the footage he had already shot to finish the movie in New York after receiving threats from government officials and paramilitary groups.
  • John Lennon partly financed the film.  The budget was $750,000, a fairly extravagant sum for a film largely made in Mexico in 1973.
  • According to Jodoworowsky’s DVD commentary, George Harrison wanted to play the role of the thief, but balked at playing a nude scene where the character has his anus scrubbed.  Sources at the time reported that it was Lennon who wanted the role and that he could not follow through due to scheduling conflicts.
  • Jodorowsky dubbed the voice of the thief.
  • Various “masters” the characters meet as they prepare for their ascent of the Holy Mountain were played by actual Mexican shamans and witch doctors.
  • Due to disagreements between Jodorowsky and producer Allen Klein, The Holy Mountain did not receive any sort of legitimate home video release until 2007.  The same issues plagued Jodorowsky’s previous film, El Topo.  According to Jodorowsky, Klein became angry and vindictive when, thinking it was too commercial, the director abandoned a project to adapt the erotic classic The Story of O with the producer and instead pursued an opportunity to make George Hebert’s cult science fiction novel Dune (a project Jodorowsky never completed—David Lynch was hired instead to film Dune, which ended up as a flop and an embarrassment).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are so many candidates—the apocalyptic toad and chameleon circus with amphibians dressed as conquistadors and missionaries, the giant mechanical vagina art installation stimulated by a nude woman with a probe, the hermaphrodite with leopard head breasts that squirt milk onto a proselyte—that choosing a single representative image seems like an almost arbitrary exercise.  Still, there is one trick so stunningly beautiful and effective that Jodorowsky essentially uses it twice: the live birds that fly from out of the gaping wounds of corpses mowed down by fascist soldiers.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Holy Mountain plays like a cut-up version of the world’s sacred texts. If you tore out pages from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough, and a dozen other esoteric works from the Kabbalah to Gurdijeff—throwing in a couple of sleazy pulp novels for good measure—and put them together in a giant cauldron, stirred them up and pulled out sheaves at random and asked a troupe of performance artists, carnival freaks, and hippies tripping on peyote to act them out, you might come up with a narrative something like The Holy Mountain. Here, the cauldron is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s skull, and the stirrer was LSD, and an ex-Beatle gave the director and master visual stylist a small fortune to bring any elaborate and depraved fantasy he could dream up to shocking life. The singularly bizarre results—the pure, undiluted essence of mad Jodorowsky—are unlike any film that has ever existed before, or ever shall be, world without end.


Short clip from the “Neptune” sequence of The Holy Mountain

COMMENTS: The first thirty or forty minutes of The Holy Mountain are as astounding, Continue reading 83. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

36. PI (1998)

AKA π; π: Faith in Chaos

“Very much like the universe itself, the more technologically advanced we become and as out picture of π grows larger, the more its mysteries grow.”—From “Notes on π” on the Lions Gate Pi DVD

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DIRECTED BY: Darren Aronofsky

FEATURING: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis

PLOT: Max, a reclusive mathematics genius, searches for a pattern that will help him predict the stock market with the assistance of a supercomputer he has built in his apartment.  He also suffers from terrible migraines which cause him to hallucinate, and believes (sometimes correctly) that people are stalking him.  As he gets closer to locating a certain 216 digit number that may have mystical predictive qualities, he finds himself caught between the machinations of a large corporation and a mystical sect, both of whom want the knowledge inside his head and will stop at nothing to get it.

Still from Pi (1998)

BACKGROUND:

  • Pi was made for a mere $60,000, financed largely by $100 contributions from friends and family.  Each of the cast and crew worked for an identical salary and a share of the film.  Pi eventually grossed over $3 million domestically.
  • The movie was shot in high contrast black and white reversal film stock (usually used for still photography).  In his DVD commentary Sean Gullette says that Pi was the first feature length fiction film shot this way.
  • Pi won the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury prize (losing to the now largely forgotten Slam).  It won the main prize at several smaller film festivals.
  • Aronofsky also created a graphic novel called “The Book of Ants” that presents a slightly different take on the story of Pi.
  • This was the first soundtrack scored by former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint Mansell, who has now become an in-demand Hollywood composer.
  • Aronofsky went on to further critical success with the bleak addiction parable Requiem for a Dream (2000); the weirdish science fiction/romance The Fountain (2006); the straightforward drama The Wrestler (2008), which earned Oscar nominations for stars Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei; and five more Oscar nominations (with a statuette for Natalie Portman) for Black Swan.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A brain crawling with ants that shows up in the strangest places, including on a subway staircase and in a sink.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Math wiz Max’s frequent migraine induced hallucinations give Pi


Original trailer for Pi

all the weird cachet it needs, but even without them, the hermetic world created by the mix of grainy high-contrast monochrome photography, rapid-fire montage editing, a pulsing electronic soundtrack, and ideas too grandiose and metaphysical to be completely described would have created a movie seething with weirdness.  It also features a tough, streetwise gang of devout Hasidic Jews, which by itself gives it an extra weird point.

COMMENTS:  “When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun.  So Continue reading 36. PI (1998)

7. EL TOPO (1970)

AKA The Mole (literal translation)

“Q: You’re creating this story right now.

A: Yes, this very moment.  It may not be true, but it’s beautiful.” -Alejandro Jodorowsky in “Conversations with Jodorowsky”

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky

PLOT: El Topo, a figure dressed in black and carrying his nude son on horseback behind him, uses his supernatural shooting ability to free a town from the rule of a sadistic Colonel.  He then abandons his son for the Colonel’s Woman, who convinces him to ride deep into the desert to face off against four mystical gunfighters.  All of the gunfighters die, but El Topo is betrayed, shot, and dragged into a cave by a society of deformed people, who ask the outlaw turned pacifist to help them build a tunnel so they can escape to a dusty western town run by degenerate religious fascists.

el-topo

BACKGROUND:

  • El Topo is considered to be the first “midnight movie,” the first movie to be screened in theaters almost exclusively after 12 AM.  Although the heyday of the midnight movie has past, it was a clever marketing gimmick that stressed the unusual nature of the film and positioned El Topo as an event rather than just another flick.
  • El Topo was famously championed and promoted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
  • Due to an acrimonious dispute over ownership rights between Jodorowsky and Allen Klein, the film was withdrawn from circulation for 30 years, during which time it could only be seen on bootlegged VHS copies.  The scarcity of screenings vaulted El Topo‘s already powerful reputation into a legendary one.  Jodorowsky and Klein reconciled in 2004 and the film had a legal DVD release in 2005.

INDELIBLE IMAGEEl Topo is a continuous stream of unforgettable images; any frame chosen at random inflames the imagination.  My personal favorite is the lonsghot after El Topo kills third master gunfighter, where his body lies bleeding in his own watering hole while the rest of the landscape is littered with rabbit corpses.   The iconic image, however, is  El Topo riding off on horseback with a naked child sitting behind him, holding a black umbrella over his head.  This image is particularly representative because it shows not only Jodorowsky’s gift for composition, but his penchant for shamelessly borrowing from other sources of inspiration: the concept is pinched from the most surreal moment of Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In the first scene, a man clad in black carrying an

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Original trailer for El Topo

umbrella rides through an endless desert waste.  Behind him in the saddle is a male child, naked except for a cowboy hat.  The man stops his horse by a lonely hitching post in the sand, ties the umbrella to the post, and hands the boy a teddy bear and a locket and a photograph.  The man says, “Today you are seven years old.  You are a man.  Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture.”  He pulls out a flute and plays while the naked child follows his instructions.  What makes El Topo weird is that this is the most normal and comprehensible thing that happens the film.

COMMENTS:  In Judges 14, Samson (the Hebrew version of Hercules) is attacked by a Continue reading 7. EL TOPO (1970)