Friday, 13 January 2012

The Holy Mountain - Alejandro Jodorowsky (1973)

The Holy Mountain
is Alejandro Jodorowsky's highly symbolic and surrealist tale, of a search for spiritual enlightenment. It's legendary not only for its iconic use of hallucinatory imagery, but also for being one of the most expensive Mexican productions of its era with a budget of about 1.5 Million dollars.
The movie itself is ripe with surreal and religious metaphors making it quite hard to follow in a linear fashion.  It opens on Jodorowsky himself as the Alchemist; in a lavish room dressed in stunning religious inspired clothing. He has two naked women with him, whom he begins to silently shave.  
Next a Christ like figure known as the Thief is awoken atop a cross, being stoned by a group of naked children who are goaded by an armless legless man. The Thief chases off the children, and then embraces the limbless man. 

They enter a city being overrun by a bloody revolt. Tourists shove camera's into dead peasants faces; obviously enjoying the rich local flavor. One woman is forcibly grabbed, who is then raped in the street; much to her amusement. 

The Thief is then confronted by copies of himself, made by overweight Romans. He rejects them, destroying them in rage. He eventually comes to a large monolithic structure, which lowers down a hook with a bag of gold and grapes. He casts it aside and grabs on to the hook and it raises him for a silent ascent that seems to last an eternity.

In this place he meets Jodorowsky's The Alchemist and try's to kill him with a knife; The Alchemist stuns the Thief and removes a tumor that closely resembles an octopus from his neck. The Alchemist then collects The Thieves excrement in a glass container and burns it; transforming it into solid gold. 
Next we are introduced to their seven companions, each representing their own planet. Each of the seven are holders of their own great fortunes, all of them profiteering from others suffering either directly or indirectly. They burn their fortunes, and then the real journey to the Holy Mountain begins... 
The film provides a marriage of sound and visuals on par with greats like A Clock Work Orange. The use of sound and music is fantastic and bizarre heightening the film's bizarre atmosphere. In many ways the sound editing is definitely one of the movies strongest aspects, it left me shell shocked and completely absorbed.
The Holy Mountain has its own sense of dark humor that even the least keen observer is likely to pick up on. From the drug king who strives to tempt them away from their spiritual journey, the comfort factory's of Venus. The Holy Mountain had me in stitches when I wasn't entranced or horrified. 

The performances are all incredibly brave, much nudity is seen but the film is far from exploitative. The actors all lay themselves bare in there performances. In fact, legends say, Jodorowsky lived with his crew on a commune for a month before filming began; the sense of family between them is palpable.
Rafael Corkidi lends spectacular cinematography to the film, never loosing control in a world jam packed with undeniably brave and sometimes nightmarish visuals. This isn't prone to use its words to explain itself and relies strongly on the filmmaker’s eye to tell its story. It's to the Holy Mountains benefit that it is so visually well planned and executed. The set and the camera work combine in imaginative ways I've never seen before, sometimes tricking us into thinking the camera is moving when it's really a set; it making us believe a war between lizards and toads in a miniature city is larger then life.

 The Holy Mountain is visually fascinating movie that lends itself to being examined time and time again and is filmed on some of the best, highly detailed and vibrant sets I've ever seen. In many ways they are there own character, changing from the squalor of a Mexican village, to present day aristocrats to the utterly surreal and impressionistic. 

Being one of the most visually advanced movies I've ever seen going from unimaginable beauty, extreme stylization to at times the very grotesque; it's nessicary to note powerful imagery alone is not enough to make a great film, the Holy Mountain works because there is so much going on under the surface; it's a meditation on not just religion, drugs and war; but our entire society. All while marrying the art direction, to sound and exquisite editing in an extravagant way that could never be fully duplicated.
It comes with my highest recommendation but only for those who are know that seeking the difficult answers can itself be a challenging task.