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Holy Mountain, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Great imagery, can't tell a story at all."
4 stars

I think I may be at a disadvantage in appreciating Alejandro Jodoworsky's film because I have never dabbled in illicit drugs. I am thus stuck trying to comprehend them with little frame of reference other than objective reality, which isn't going to get you very far. At least "The Holy Mountain" has the advantage of looking nice, which was more than could be said for "El Topo".

The film opens with a thief (Horacio Salinas) being tied to a cross by a throng of naked prepubescent boys who throw stones at him. He soon makes it to a city, where he and his quadruple amputee sidekick are hired by street performers who re-enact the conquest of Mexico with toads and iguanas, after which a nun decides to make a plaster cast of him with which to make statues of Jesus.. It's no wonder he soon ascends the gigantic obelisk in the middle of the town, inside of which he finds The Alchemist (Jodoworsky) who helps him to see his potential and join him and a group of rich industrialists (each represented by a planet) on a journey to the holy mountain, where they will learn the secret of immortality from the wise men who live there.

This, you must understand, only begins to hint at the strange imagery and outright bizarre sequences that occur between the film's opening and closing credits. I would guess that something like a third of the movie, if not more, is spent introducing us to the powerful men and women who will go on the quest with the Thief and Alchemist, and I'd guess that only about half of these vignettes really work. Some are just strange for the sake of being strange, and there's nothing wrong with that; Jodorowsky is making Art, pop art though it may be, and I suspect that any emotional reaction to his work is considered a positive. That section in the middle spends some time going for shock value, but mostly thinking in terms of satire. Heavy-handed satire, to be sure, but something that broad tends to still be relevant thirty years later.

Indeed, it's when Jodorowsky tries to follow some sort of linear narrative that he stumbles. The movie bogs down terribly in the last act, when we've got ten characters, all dressed the same (and with their heads shaved for good measure), wandering through the desert, generally going far too long between interesting things happening. It's like he feels that films shouldn't introduce something new and crazy during the last act, except for maybe a twist ending, so he's playing out the string in order to get there.

That's kind of a shame, because even if the film's story can (and should) be more or less ignored, Jodorowsky does manage to throw nifty visuals at the audience on a fairly regular basis. He's credited wtih both production and costume design (along with directing, writing, producing, editing, and music), so he's in a unique position in that almost everything on-screen has sprung from his head with very little filtering. The visual stuff he has no problem with, and there are few moments where what's on-screen is less than impressive

It's worth seeing "The Holy Mountain" just for its visuals, and Jodoworsky's got some interesting ideas, too. It's too bad he apparently couldn't tell a story in this medium at all, but you can't have everything.

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originally posted: 01/31/07 01:14:11
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User Comments

11/21/09 mr.mike I recommend "El Topo" and "Santa Sangre" over this one - unless you're a completist. 3 stars
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  29-Nov-1973 (R)



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