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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


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

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.

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