The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Screenplay: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Stars: Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Alchemist), Horacio Salinas (The Thief), Ramona Saunders (The Written Woman), Juan Ferrara (Fon), Adriana Page (Isla), Burt Kleiner (Klen), Valerie Jodorowsky (Sel), Nicky Nichols (Berg), Richard Rutowsky (Axon), Luis Lomeli (Lut), Ana De Sade (The Prostitute), Chucho-Chucho (The Chimpanzee), Letícia Robles (Bald Woman 1), Connie De La Mora (Bald Woman 2), David Kapralik (Tourist), Jacqueline Voltaire (Tourist Wife)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1973
Country: U.S. / Mexico
Holy Mountain Blu-Ray
Holy MountainAfter the counterculture smash success of his sophomore film El Topo, which invented the midnight movie and enraptured an entire generation of “head” cinephiles, Alejandro Jodorowsky did exactly what we might have expected from him: He tried to top it. Of course, for those who have seen El Topo, a quasi-mystical exercise in genre revisionism that mixed bloody violence with artsy symbolism, it is hard to imagine Jodorowsky upping the ante, but that is precisely what he did with The Holy Mountain, which debuted to mixed responses at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and then settled into a successful midnight run at the Waverly in downtown New York City for the next 16 months.

For devotees of Jodorowsky’s aesthetic, which consists primarily of regurgitating variations of the surrealist imperative to shock the bourgeoisie with healthy dollops of imagery and symbolism from any number of New Age practices, The Holy Mountain is his masterpiece, a misunderstood spiritual epic that transcends the boundaries of not only mainstream cinema, but also its art and avant-garde varieties. Jodorowsky, never one to be subtle or humble, declared that he intended nothing less than enlightenment in making the film, even going so far as to suggest that he might be a prophet. “I really hope one day there will come Confucius, Mohammed, Buddha, and Christ to see me,” he reportedly said. “And we will sit at a table, taking tea and eating some brownies.”

Frankly, that sounds much better than forcing them to watch The Holy Mountain, which starts off with great promise but quickly descends into a kind of monotonous spiral of escalating pretension and wearisome shock tactics. It is easy to see why Luis Buñuel, the godfather of cinematic surrealism, chose to make his early masterwork Un chien andalou (1929; codirected with the surrealist painter Salvador Dali) only half an hour long. At some point, disjointed imagery, no matter how appalling, becomes boring and tedious, especially when the film itself has no coherent statement to make. This is not to say that Jodorowsky doesn’t have anything to say; quite the contrary, he may have had too much to say, and in trying to cram it all into a 113-minute film, he made it feel much longer than El Topo even though it is 11 minutes shorter. High on his own success and his well-rehearsed sense of counterculture importance, Jodorowsky simply let loose with ideas and images, cobbling them together with a loosely strung narrative that does little to elucidate any sense of real meaning (it doesn’t help that the film ends with what is essentially a meta-joke on the audience that only someone from the 19th century would find in any way daring or revelatory).

The general thrust of the story involves a shaman known as the Alchemist (played by Jodorowsky himself, natch) who assembles the six most powerful people in the world to climb the holy mountain of the title, at the top of which supposedly resides nine “Immortals” who run the world. The powerful people assembled by the Alchemist are a comic-strip cavalcade of cruelty, silliness, and economic excess that is intended (I supposed) to satirize the worst elements of modern western culture. Included amongst them are a toy manufacturer who uses future prophecies to make toys that will brainwash today’s children into hating their future enemies; a woman who owns a munitions company that makes highly stylized guns for every possible group (including Buddhists); and a politician who cavorts sexually with his mother (alas, incest is only one of many taboos through which Jodorowsky gleefully plows). Upping the ante from El Topo, he against fetishizes those with physical disabilities and deformities, including numerous amputees, and also wallows in an actual animal death--a parade of skinned lambs held aloft on crosses, a man sitting inside a hollowed out cow carcass like a bathtub, and a re-enactment of the Spanish conquest of Mexico using lizards and frogs slipping and sliding through rivers of blood before the whole set is blown to pieces.

Jodorowsky finds some semblance of humanity in unexpected characters, particularly a Christ-like thief (Horacio Salinas) who joins the Alchemist in his quest. The thief is the primary mode of identification throughout the film, although what, exactly, he is intended to represent is anyone’s guess. At one point the Alchemist takes his feces and literally turns them into gold, a particularly grotesque variation on Jodorowsky’s long-time interest in alchemy. Like most everything else in The Holy Mountain, this scene is simultaneously gross, fascinating, disturbing, and annoying. There are streaks of brilliance throughout the film, but because it doesn’t hold together, even its best moments get lost amidst all the junk. There is no doubt that Jodorowsky’s imagination is as deep as it is wide, but his penchant for grabbing wildly from numerous sources and cobbling them together into something that is more silly than profound is what keeps The Holy Mountain from attaining the heights (spiritual or cinematic) to which it so clearly aspires.

The Holy Mountain Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English PCM 2.0 stereo
  • Subtitles English, French, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Deleted scenes with director commentary
  • Restoration featurette
  • “The Tarot”featurette
  • Photo gallery
  • DistributorAnchor Bay Entertainment
    Release DateApril 26, 2011

    After being pulled from distribution 30 years earlier, both El Topo and Jodoworsky’s follow-up The Holy Mountain made their (official) DVD debuts in 2004. Now, seven years later, we have both films on Blu-Ray in full 1080p high-definition transfers taken from the original negatives under Jodoworsky’s supervision. The first thing viewers who have grown accustomed to worn-out old prints and bootleg discs will notice is the intensity of the colors. Jodoworsky was heavily influenced by comic books, and it shows in the garish hues in both films, whether it be the startling red of the river of blood in El Topo or the kaleidoscopic rainbow tunnel of The Holy Mountain (although the colors appear slightly more muted than the DVD editions, which looked too bright to my eyes). Both films also benefit greatly from the increased detail, which brings into sharp relief the nuances of the films’ impressive cinematography and production design (some of the more grotesque elements of the films, including actual animal carcasses, are all the more grotesque now). Skin tones appear more natural than they did on the DVDs, and the images are all-around superior in terms of balancing digital noise reduction with maintaining a filmlike appearance, thus bringing these films about as close as one could imagine to their original theatrical presentation (El Topo is presented in the proper Academy aspect ratio while The Holy Mountain is presented in the Technirama aspect ratio of 2.35:1). Both films also feature excellent, newly mixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtracks. They are replete with creative and disturbing sound effects, and the musical scores, which are an eclectic mix of electronic sounds, classical orchestrations, and human voices, sound rich and full.
    All of the supplements that appeared on the 2004 Anchor Bay DVD are also presented here. These include a genuinely entertaining and at times very informative audio commentary by writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who helpfully explains what everything on screen is supposed to represent; a pair of deleted scenes with optional director commentary; the original theatrical trailer; a split-screen demonstration of before and after the restoration process (which made a huge difference) narrated by Joe Beirne, senior technical advisor at Postworks; a photo gallery that includes original script excerpts; and a seven-minute featurette in which Jodoworksy discusses his fascination with the tarot.

    Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2)

    James Kendrick

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