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”
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 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- Due to an acrimonious dispute over ownership rights between Jodorowsky and Allen Klein, the film was withdrawn from circulation for 30 years, during which time it could only be seen on bootlegged VHS copies.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 IMAGE: El 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 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.