Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Holy Mountain" (1973) - Movie Review

Be careful what you wish for is all I could think when I was watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain”, a film suggested by a fellow film enthusiast in a weekly film group I have been having for the past month. This was picked under the category “Offbeat/Experimental” that I came up for the group and if I thought “Rubber” perfectly fit there, “The Holy Mountain” which was made almost forty years back redefines it with a spank on my ass. A film that is filled with psychedelic imagery comprising colours, structures, sets, blood, flesh, violence, nudity (a lot of it) and sex. An experiment that has odd elements and weird chemistries and absolute spellbinding reaction, this is a pure experience in every bit of its entirety.

Made in the early seventies oozing with peace and love, backed by the Beatles members, Alejandro Jodorowsky begins his film with a ceremony ending with two beautiful naked women tonsured and sitting symmetrically with a mystical man in the middle. If that does not set the tone of the film, I cannot think of what else would. From that backdrop we goto a deserted land where an almost naked man (Horacio Salinas) is lying there with flies covering his face and when I say covering his face, I mean in every inch of his face the creature creeps and fills in the gap. Then comes the group of naked kids and lifts him, puts him through the cross and throws stones at him. This is where I was not hoping this film would not go and it came in the first five minutes. Whenever a person sacrifices the innocence of a kid for the purpose of art, he/she loses respect from this reviewer. I am though speaking too soon as they are out there with an innocence the director wants to portray. Having survived an early scare, I was not foolish to think this was it as there were several other near misses that I wish Jodorowsky would have used his expressive creative ability in better form and presentation. Regardless, “The Holy Mountain” continued to baffle, astound, surprise, shock, humour, scare and outright take me for a ride I have never ridden before. This is a piece of work and I mean it.

The film is filled with symbolism, cynicism and revolutionary images. Watching after nearly forty years from its creation, it still has the power to shock any viewer. As this man begins to wander around the streets of the city and goes through the surrealistic and symbolistic world of Jodorowsky, we are exposed to the religion that gets sold, marketed, entertained and ridiculed. It is hailed and imbibed with phoniness. If you have not figured it by now the plot is nowhere. Dialogues are absolutely absent for the first thirty minutes and successive imageries of carnage and sex are casually thrown around to instigate and challenge the viewer to continue watching this film. As the film hurls through those and finally lands up where the wandering christ like man ends up in a tower that lowers down a hook with a bag of gold, we meet the person the film began with. He wears a black robe with a hat covering his face entirely.

He is revealed as he begins to speak to this hobo. This is where the film takes a turn for the best. Given as a god like figure, the man or alchemist as we come to know played by the director himself, begins to provide synopsis of the most powerful people in the current world the man needs to know. This is the part we are humoured and entertained. There is the industrialist mainly a cosmetics manufacturer, a toy manufacturer, president’s financial advisor, an architect, a weapons manufacturer, an art dealer and a police chief. Each of their background reflects the time the film was made and the perspectives most of the seventies contemporary folks had in mind. While the story continued through each of them, my thoughts ran the judgments of this director who was taking the much despised self righteous route most of over the edge hippie culture took. That kind of overenthusiastic hypocrisy is annoying but when Jodorowsky shows the art dealer’s art work and the “Pantheon Bar” where a man deludes himself of LSD and other crazy drug before the group ascends the Holy Mountain, I was impressed by the balance this mad director had in his film.

“The Holy Mountain” has the most stunning imageries. It has symbolism, surrealism, absurdity, contemporary art that would bring shame to the current art forms and the daring nature of experimental film making. Its creator had the most naked form of artistic integrity that he simply denies to accept to satisfy any kind of audience. Even the most fantastic and admired directors of all time are molded by the environment and limited by the ambience they grew and live upon. Alejandro Jodorowksy’s world is not that at all. He tears the screen and splashes it with imagination, weird disturbing ones and then tender beautiful ones. Then he paints poetry and laughs with his mockery.

Having praised, disappointed and offended in parts and pieces, this reviewer would not sit through this experience again. As much as there are spellbinding photography, location and oddity in this film, the taste of this reviewer comes into place. Fortunately or unfortunately I have a certain liking to a certain common feed of films that beckons multiple viewings. Few of those might be called as offbeat but nowhere near as that of “The Holy Mountain”. While I wish Jodorowksy chose other pictures, paintings and presentations for some of the depictions, he carried those with a certain sense of moral responsibility which I can acknowledge but not agree. “The Holy Mountain” can be said as a film that would shock and awe anyone forty years from now and that is a compliment and a caution at the same time.

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