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Holy Mountain, The (1973) * Weird & Wacky *

Holy Jumpin'
Holy Jumpin'

Genre: Avant-Garde Adventure (Mexico, USA)

Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo), Horácio Salinas

Directed By: Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo Santa Sangre)

Overview: A thief is lured by an alchemist to join an expedition to a holy mountain in a search for immortality.

Avant-Garde film has got to be the least watched genre that exists. That's fair. It's hard without promising to be a good time, and sometimes it's just totally boring (Thanks a lot Matthew Barney!).

Sometimes they sit in the 'not difficult' category, merely new and different. Usually the symbolism-heavy stuff needs a viewer who understands the often woefully underexplained themes: Angel's Egg references the Bible frequently, Un Chien Andalou and L'Âge d'or, are 'more comfortable' if you understand surrealism as well as the religious context of 1930s French Christianity - not to mention the filmmakers' childhoods for even greater subtext.

Which brings us to the treasure that is Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain. Those of you who are well versed in alchemy, Judeo-Christianity, ancient Roman mythology and various Eastern religions' meditation / enlightenment rituals will have absolutely no problem understanding the story unfolding and the symbols used. Better still, those with only a basic understanding of these things will actually be made to understand. You see, what is most special about The Holy Mountain (and an all too rare find among Avant-Garde film), is the way Alejandro actually speaks to and teaches his audience rather than talking down to them or using nonsensical symbolism 'just because'.

The film's solid foundation begins in its budget. With a modern equivalent of over $3 million, Jodorowsky had himself an real opportunity for making a quality picture, and it can easily be seen in the vivid visual spectacle vibrant in colours, patterns, elaborately designed sets and panoramic landscapes. More than anything this is magic for the eye.

On the rare occasions when the scenes turn into moments of pure surrealism, they are still well explained. For example, the most outrageous scene in the film shows some of the 'symbolic deaths' the travellers are having as they march out to the Holy Mountain. One man screams at the spiders covering his naked body (fear). Another suckles the feminine breasts of an old man - breasts that that then turn to tigers soaking the man in milk (humiliation). We all understand these visions to be highly personal to the individual having them, making the randomness enjoyable in its context.

The Holy Mountain is a film filled with messages, be they frivolous or all too telling of our shallow, consumer society that drives us away from enlightenment. Yet, even the more degenerate horrors and perverse displays aren't shocking, vile or rude the way they are in Buñuel's works. Rather they are more like celebrations of life, sexuality and even death, like the mood of a Mexican Day Of the Dead rather than a thumb-bite at the church.

If you want need full synopsis of the film, here's a very good one (spoilers, mind you).

Hard to explain how great this perversion is...
Hard to explain how great this perversion is...

Overall Rating: 82% (Cetrtainly Worthy Of A Trek)

Yes, I like more difficult Avant-Garde film too, but I was very moved by the high-art and ease of The Holy Mountain. It's entertaining, it's fun, it's enlightening. It's the kind of Avant-Garde the newbies can sink their teeth into and enjoy. And it's nice having an overall plot with a definite conclusion in something this strange.

In fact, now that' I've written this, I'm becoming angry at other 'White Tower' filmmakers for doing nothing but rubbing our faces in their self-congratulating works. Off with their heads!


More films like The Holy Mountain I say!

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Great review. I feel pretty much the same way, although I wasn't brave enough to try and put my thoughts into words -- I've found avant garde reviews to be the most difficult. Holy Mountain is definitely "high art" as you say, there's just so much to see and appreciate (the opening scene and the one with all the mannequins were my favorites).

 It's interesting the kind of response Jodorowsky's films can elicit. I turned on the first 15 minutes of The Holy Mountain for two people who had no knowledge of it, and while they were repulsed and confused for much of it, both said afterwards they would probably buy it for themselves.

Thanks Adam!  Normally I wouldn't have tried to tackle the subject either, but this is just one of those that needed to get what little my voice could offer to help get it out of obscurity.  Another thing I liked is how easy it was to get into the mindset.  We had to stop half way and watch the rest another time and it was somerthing like a mere 2 minutes before we were 'in the zone' again.
My favorite part was the last scene when the mystery is revealed and enlightement comes to the travellers as well as the audience...

Matthew Barney boring? wat. I thought Cremaster Cycle was awesome

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