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Classic Americana and avant-garde European cinema sensibilities meet Zen Buddhism and the Bible as master gunfighter and comic mystic EL TOPO (played by writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky) must defeat his four sharp shooting rivals on an ever increasing bizarre path to allegorical self-enlightenment and surreal resurrection. Released in 1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo was the landmark film that began the whole Midnight Movie phenomena of the counterculture crazy 1970's. The film was the most talked about, most controversial quasi-Western head trip ever made, transforming the way risk-taking audiences, seeking mainstream Hollywood alternatives, watched edgy underground films. To say that El Topo became a cult classic is something of an understatement in light of its surprisingly broad acceptance fueled, in part, by ringing endorsements from John Lennon and Yoko Ono that made it a commercial success in its own time.
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I would rank this as Jodorowsky's second best work, with The Holy Mountain at the top.
I would read this as a symbolic critique against the modern tendency to use our rationality to critique. But this movie presents an UTTERLY and OBVIOUSLY symbolic journey, so, in this sense it is more post-modernist than some of his other films. Given, the others are also totally symbolic, but they are more driving. This film, I feel lends itself more to a variety of interpretations, and so that's why I'd call it post-modernist.
I wouldn't debate with someone else who thought my one sentence summation of what I see was incorrect, and I won't perform a thematic analysis in a review, though if you'd like to discuss it in the comments section of the reviews, I'd be glad to.
I think this is intentionally more open to interpretation than, say The Holy Mountain, though he does place the main character on a spiritual journey - of sorts - and this is often considered to be the first movie while The Holy Mountain thought to be the second. I think that is an interpretive conclusion and that each movie stands on it's own. While perhaps this movie could be seen thematically as a prelude to The Holy Mountain, I'd make the case that it isn't that cohesive. I just think Jodorowsky is consistent in his perspective and approach to spiritual themes.
That said, "El Topo" is a film unlike anything you've ever seen. It tells the tale of a wandering gunslinger who over the course of the first half of the movie fights four 'masters' and then finds himself in a cave of deformed people in the second act, where he becomes a monk who must help them make a tunnel from their cave to the adjacent town, which is full of religious nuts and sex fiends. That's all I really need to say about the movie, if you want to see it, you either will or won't. As for the release itself, I must say, it looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-Ray, it's hard to tell that it was forty three years ago. The use of colors and camerawork are brilliant, the acting is over the top, but in a good way. It's a film filled with absurd images and acts that make you wonder what exactly it all means, but there is an underlying message in the madness. Check it out!