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The Holy Mountain
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2007
In a culture desensitized by violent brutality and computer-generated wizardry, it may be enough to say that I watched The Holy Mountain, which contains neither, with my mouth hanging open the entire time. I still can't quite believe that such a film was ever made, though I've long sensed that such a film should be. While not overtly violent, The Holy Mountain is punctuated by graphic, shocking and heretical images, but these only form one aspect of its jaw-dropping resonance. Jodorowsky's film is original, audacious, visually and thematically inspired. It's also kind of funny.

In essence the film is a series of literalized metaphors about the archetypal spiritual journey to experience reality beyond illusion, a quest motivated by a desire to transcend the absurd horrors of civilization: war, greed, corruption, self-obsession and the politics of power. As such the characters and events themselves are largely symbolic. Unlike a lot of avant-garde films, Holy Mountain's narrative is structured and surprisingly linear, though it flowers like a rambling, slightly disjointed dream.

Jodorowsky's spiritual path is an unflinching synthesis of the basic conceptual and aesthetic elements of many mystical traditions, including Zen's formal simplicity, Kabbalic and Hindu ritual, Alchemical processes, Shamanic trials, master/student dynamics and the mythology of the Holy Mountain itself, all of which are gracefully blended into the artful and psychedelic texture of the film.

Despite the clichéd "ancient wisdom" aspect of some moments, The Holy Mountain achieves what is a fairly fresh and ultimately tongue-in-cheek attempt to enlighten the audience. Sometimes the pacing and editing of the film feel a little dated, but this usually adds to the film's unique style rather than diminish it. The Holy Mountain is an ambitious film, provocative in its boldness and charming in its outlandishness, and traveling with these seekers will undoubtedly color our own journeys, both inner and outer...
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
I bought this film for what has to be the lamest of reasons. I heard that John and Yoko considered it one of their favorite films. So, I figured i'd like the movie. I started the DVD, and about 20 minutes in, when the Jesus like character takes a dump inside a glass jar, which is then baked, and the fumes moved into this 8 foot large decanteur, in which the Jesus like character was enclosed, I stopped the film. Later, I started the film again, but stopped it at the anus washing scene. When this old man pulls out his glass eye, and puts it into the hand of a 7 year old child prostitute, I had to turn away, but I didnt turn it off. Hey, at least the film was making me REACT. I finally got thru the film, and thought, "This is the more weirdest film ever made." I had no idea if I had been conned, or if I had missed the point. I watched it again, after watching some of the bonus materials. (mostly about the director's daliance with Zen Dharma, and the Tarot.) Then the symbolism became clearer. I've read alchemical books, and know the Hermetic roots of the Tarot. I've explored psychedelic psychopharmacology, and various forms of gramacy. So, I could tell what Jodorowsky was presenting was serious, not a put on. This is not to say, that I was able to watch the scatological portions of the film, or the parts that caused me repulsive, subconscous fear. The third time I saw the film (ie, the third or fourth day I had it), I listened to the director's commentary. I can respect that some art, is more demanding than other art, and this film IS demanding. Thankfully, Jodorowsky deconstructes the film, explains its symbolism, its backround, and his own esthetic philosophy. So it took work on my part, to discover I was watching a profound masterpiece of cinematic art.

The commentary made clear the structure and meaning of the film. The film is NOT so conceptually avant guarde, as to be incomprehensible. It simply helps to know what the director's INTENT is. Even without that knowledge, the film is enjoyable. You dont need to have studied the TAROT for years, or know Alchemy, ceremonial magic, or Zen buddhism. Like most 20th century art, the director lives in a world that has become globalized, not just economically, but culturally, religiously, and personally. Knowing these ideas, the "plot" of the film can be explained a bit more easily. Dont worry, I couldnt give a spoiler for the plot here, if I tried. That's cos the film isnt about plot, its about artistic freedom and enlightenment.

One of the "themes" of the film, is the way religion keeps people from being spiritually enlightened. We see the Catholic church, Buddhism, and Judaism take several knock out punches, with startling, provocative imagery, which the Catholic Church considered blasphemous at the time of production. As the main character of the thief, who is a JESUS double, begins on the spiritual path, the MASTER (Jodorowsky himself) appears, and asks him, "Do you want gold?" Of course, the pseudo Jesus says yes, so that alchemical decanting takes place, where feces are magically metamorphizied into Gold. Then, the master invites the pseudo Jesus figure, to tread the path of enlightenment, with the other 9 initiate candidates, each of whom represents a different planet. Mercury is a nude black woman with symbols from the kabala tatooed on her. After that, we are taken into a large spinning room, where the plastic sculptures of each 9 initiates are shown and explained to the Theif. Each initiate represents the negative parts of that planet. The actors, and non-actors, who play these roles, went thru all kinds of strange preparations to portray their roles, including seclusion for months, while given large doses of psychedelic drugs, and forced to meditate for hours on end. (This isnt shown, but you can TELL this film is in the stratosphere somewhere...jupiter's stratosphere, not the earth's stratosphere, ok?) After the 9 initiates transcend their egos, they burn their sculptural representations, and that ends the first part of the film.

After the first section, the director cuts all the actors hair off, women and men both. Then, they try to climb up this snow capped holy mountain, in order to take over from these immortals who live on top of it for 40,000 years. They are given many chances to be lost to desire and delusion, but they all keep going. The initiates follow Jodorowsky, the master, up the mountain. Unlike the surreal, bizarre first part of the film, where imagery like toads and lizards dressed up like aztec priests and Spanish conquestitors are commonplace, the last part of the film is closer to documentary. After much dangerous struggle, the 9 archtypical initiates make it to their goal, only to discover its all been a big put on. So, the ending of the film is disappointing for some. But does that mean the film doesnt work? This film only works, if we make it work. In every way imaginable, the dense, psychedelic, humorous imagery, in tandem with the obvious sincerity of the director to make a film to enlighten his viewers, opens the viewers to almost every possible reaction a human can have to artwork. You'll be appalled, humored, nauseated, freaked out, angry, offended, disgusted, sexually aroused, and who knows what else. This is NOT family viewing, even if youre a member of the Addams family. (Manson family tho, perhaps.) So, who likes this type of film? Normally, I'd say if you liked ERAISERHEAD, or CLOCKWORK ORANGE, or VIDEODROME, you'd like this film. But really, this movie is a huge step beyond those films, in weirdness, flipped out philosophy, and offensiveness. If you are a good Catholic, you might want to avoid this DVD. If you have a squeamish stomach, avoid. The final word is this. If you could embrace art like Maplethorpe's homoerotic photography, or Fassbinder's strangest films, or music like Yoko Ono's 1970 solo album, or books like NAKED LUNCH, then I'd say you could watch the film without blinders on. If you have some exposure to Zen, Kabala, or the TAROT, all the better. Again, if religions outside our your own seem like satanism, avoid this film. If you hate Don Cherry's far out free jazz (since he helped to write the soundtrack) by all means, avoid the film. I've often heard it said, that when we are ready for the master, he appears. Likewise, I think we have to be ready for some works of art, before the esthetic objective of the artist will appear to us. If we are not "ready" for the artwork, we will just be offended, and of course, blame it on the artist, and not our own limitations. This is not fair, not to anyone. Its certainly not fair to artists in any society that claims freedom of expression. But if you want to stretch your imagination, and dont mind the iconoclastic intention of the director/writer, why not buy the film, and see what you think? Maybe you'll smash a few of your own symbols, and see things in a new way. No doubt that was what Jodorowsky wanted from his audience. Believe me, you dont need to be a psychedelic mind jockey to understand this film, anymore than you do to understand the Beatle's SGT PEPPER. The film, like all artwork, is a product of its time. But masterpieces transcend their time of creation, to become eternal symbols of mankind's quest for beauty and truth. 35 years after its premiere, HOLY MOUNTAIN remains a challenging masterpiece of world cinema.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2007
I have now purchased a copy of The Films of Alejandro Jodorowski and I give this film even a higher recommendation than I did before. The DVD is superb, and it's a nice plus to run Jodorowski's commentary track as subtitles on the film itself, since the commentary is in Spanish anyway.

El Topo was about a man seeking enlightenment and was made before Jodorowsky had ever smoked marijuana or taken LSD. The Holy Mountain is the attempt to enlighten the entire society. To prepare, he found a Guru, who gave him LSD. Then after he had gathered his cast, he took them on a three month retreat to prepare, and the film itself seems to have taken six months to shoot. When I met Jodorowsky in 2003, he called El Topo his favorite son; The Holy Mountain his troubled son; and Santa Sangre his perfect son. All three are essential works. Jodorowsky truly is Alexandro the Great.

Holy Mountain is not about being high, it is about seeing through all illusions, of which getting high very much is one of those illusions. It is a huge satire of the modern world in which the Alchemist (played by Alexandro himself) finds the most horrible people in the solar system, and then takes them on a quest that pacifies them by promising immortality - just like the regular religions!

For a film that does not go "inside" any of the characters -- we see them in beautifully framed compositions -- it is very easy to follow and never lets the viewer down. In the end, he even reveals the secret of immortality. "And here we are -- mortals, more human than ever."

I think I should note that Richard Rutowski, who worked with Oliver Stone on several of his most interesting works (like The Doors, Nixon, and U Turn), plays the character Axon.

I believe The Holy Moutain may be the most perfect Utopian vision ever put on film.

And if someone tried to make a film like this today, they'd probably be arrested.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2007
I watched El Topo immediately upon buying the Alejandro Jodorowsky DVDs a month or so ago. I've made the assertion that El Topo is one of my favorite movies ever made in a prior review, and The Holy Mountain was waiting in the wings. I have seen The Holy Mountain before but I only owned a Japanese bootleg. So I've had plenty of time to work out my ideas toward what The Holy Mountain is about and I do believe it justifies more than one or two viewings. I've never understood this film but I figured it was because I didn't try as hard at understanding it as I did with El Topo. However, at this point I've exhausted all my efforts and I will admit that with the Holy Mountain I'm stumped. I have no idea what this movie is trying to say.

The Holy Mountain opens with our protagonist, the thief who looks like Jesus Christ, befriending a deformed dwarf. A bunch of wax versions of the thief looking crucified are created and distributed throughout the community and the thief eats the face off of one of them and ties it to a bunch of balloons. The character played by Jodorowsky, the alchemist, summons the thief to approach his giant tower. There at the alchemist's tower, we are introduced to seven people whose names reference some of the nine planets. The alchemist urges them to destroy their material things and then they all go to the Holy Mountain. When they get there, Jodorowsky speaks to the cast, the crew and the audience outside of the context of the film. He says that we should leave the Holy Mountain and that real life is awaiting us.

The Holy Mountain has flashes of the religious allegorical commentary that Jodorowsky makes in El Topo, but here perhaps his brushes are too broad for me to pick up on. I'm not saying the film can't be deciphered and that theorizing what the film is about is not worth your time, but not enough made sense to me here to give the movie credit for its story. There are some really great scenes that comment here and there in ways I could follow, but the film's overall scope seems out of reach if it is present at all. Perhaps that is my fault, but if there is an overall commentary being made then I partially blame Jodorowsky for not provoking me enough to discover it.

It is a visually exciting movie but because I couldn't follow much of it, some of the film's content came off as intentionally shocking. In The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky seems to turn up the volume on some of the elements I thought were border-line gratuitous in El Topo. Firstly, the aforementioned issues of too much fuzzy imagery and broad brush strokes and that is something that might fundamentally corrupt my review if we are to assume that the point went over my head. Secondly, there is quite a bit of full frontal nudity in this movie from both genders and some of it is more graphic than what we might see in R-rated movies today, but I guess that is a sign of the times. Thirdly, what is it with Jodorowsky and castration? Not to mention poop? Anyway, tid-bits of this movie are interesting and it is like nothing I have ever seen before, so for that I will recommend The Holy Mountain, but that doesn't mean it deserves a higher rating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2011
Playful and deep, this film marks the full coming-of-age of the long tradition of surrealist film-making. Don't get me wrong ... I love Buñuel's work (for example), but Jodorowski brings a simplicity - an almost-too-obvious yet at the same time profoundly elegant approach - to the cinematographic experiment which had been lacking hitherto. The playful push-and-pull dynamic he creates with the viewer yields an experience much more expansive than the confines of the screen. "The Holy Mountain" evokes the essenceless beauty of being, and taps something deeply personal no matter how many times we've been to the summit; if you look to film for something more than diversion, this one is a must-see.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2009
Seeing The Holy Mountain is a truly unique experience. It stands alone in the history of the cinema as an original, one-of-a-kind film. There has never been nor will ever be anything else like it. Even if you don't like it, you will never forget it. Jodorowski's cinematic vision places him in the same class as Luis Bunuel, Frederico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, and Igmar Bergman.

So what's this movie about? It's one man's spiritual quest, which leads to a place that no one could foresee. This movie will keep your eyes glued to the screen. It's worth going out of your way to see it.
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21 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2007
Our friends at Anchor Bay have taken it upon themselves to release, along with ABCKO films, 2 of Alejandro Jodorowsky's brilliant works, El Topo and this film, The Holy Mountain. On this film, Jodorowsky was given carte blanche and a 1.5 million dollar budget, making it the most expensive Mexican film to date. Like El Topo, it became an underground hit, and it's even better than El Topo. The production values are better, the widescreen framing of Jodorowsky is amazing at times, and the film is just like a mad painting come to life. There is no real point at attempting to discover anything resembling a plot, as these things are not important. The imagery here is outstanding, and it is nice to see The Holy Mountain without any digital censorship (my copy is a VHS dub from a Japanese laserdisc, and there was optical censorship of pubic areas, because pubic hair was not able to be shown in Japan, which was very annoying and quite bizarre, but censors have a tendency to be weird). This is my favorite Jodorowsky film, one that you should be SOBER when you watch it. Everyone will tell you to trip to it, but the movie itself is the trip, and that's the only trip y'all have to take.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
NOTE: For the purpose of this review, I will be addressing the new Blu-Ray editions of "El Topo" and its sequel "The Holy Mountain" together. I viewed them back to back and feel that it is easy to see the two films as one experience.

Blu-Ray specs: If all you care about is how the new discs stack up, let's get that out of the way. Both films have received new HD transfers and look better and crisper than any other version that I've seen. That day-glo blood is potently orange! El Topo is in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (won't be in widescreen), while The Holy Mountain is anamorphic. Most notable special features on El Topo are Jodorowsky commentary and an additional interview. Most notable special features on The Holy Mountain are a commentary track, deleted scenes, and insight into the film restoration. Both have traditional extras like the trailer, photo gallery, and script excerpts.

Madman or genius? Pretentious hokum or revolutionary cinema? Alejandro Jodorowsky is a film maker whose vision brooks very little middle ground. It seems to be a love it or hate it proposition. In truth, I'm a fan--but his work is definitely not for everyone. I may get into trouble with the most ardent of Jodorowsky enthusiasts when I say that I get more visceral satisfaction from the madcap imagery in his films than to any purported deep meaning. As two of his trademark films hit Blu-Ray, I was pleased to get an opportunity to check out his landmark films "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain" again after about ten years. Experimental, controversial, provocative, disturbing--these demented films helped define the cult movie scene in the early seventies. "El Topo," in fact, played as a midnight movie in New York City for seven straight months. Today, they are still bizarrely fascinating but, once again, their divisive nature is likely to garner as many (if not more) detractors than admirers.

Of the two films, El Topo is closer to my heart. Starting out as a deranged western, the film morphs into a bloody existential quest, and ends as a struggle for redemption. The early scenes of this film always trap me into a full viewing! The central hero, played by Jodorowsky himself, is a gunfighter who becomes corrupted. Searching for meaning within his new existence, he tracks down four opponents with advanced battle skills and enlightened viewpoints. But these battles don't offer the solutions he had hoped for. Another chance at salvation comes about with a clan of misfits, but do they really require saving? Absurd, funny, and always intriguing--this is an incredible journey to nowhere and I love it!

The Holy Mountain has much loftier goals--but, to my mind, bigger isn't always better. A direct sequel, although relatively unrelated except for the central character, it picks up in the aftermath of the first film. Our hero now embraces a Christ-like countenance and the first third of the film presents some of the grimmest religion related spectacles you're likely to encounter on film. (In fact, the was a huge uproar at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival). Achieving a heightened state of being, he assembles a collection of powerful individuals--each representing a different planet. Stripping them down, the gang embarks on a lengthy existential quest to take a place among the gods. Strong religious allegory, mystical symbolism, and ideological iconography are brought together and are inherent parts of this film--but philosophical points tend to be hammered home. Sometimes "The Holy Mountain" loses me, it can be very heavy handed and message oriented. But still, an intriguing example of avant garde film making.

Again, the most arresting aspects of both films for me are most assuredly the visual qualities. If you like the gruesome and provocative imagery of Bunuel or Pasolini, you'll definitely want to check the films out. For entertainment, my easy choice is "El Topo." (4 stars) If you're searching for something fraught with meaning, try "The Holy Mountain." (3 1/2 stars) Or catch them together as I did. KGHarris, 4/11.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2011
Alejandro seems to always try to scare away shallow people in the first part of his films and then for those who sat through all of the things that usually make commoners hurl, upchuck, guffaw and beat their breast in outrage and agony, then and only then, does he begin laying down the foundation for a very relevant,very sane and very coherent story that does not seem odd or dangerous at all. It was like this in "Santa Sangre" also. An Irregular director with a lot to say.
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