Monday, August 03, 2009

Film Gauge - "The Holy Mountain" (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)

What: "The Holy Mountain" (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)
When: Saturday, August 1st, 2009 12:00 AM
Where: IFC Center (323 6th Ave.)

Art cinema is a world often concerned first and foremost with the filmmaker's "vision." The likes of plot and character development are secondary to the allegorical. As such, stripped of the more tangible delights of narrative storytelling, an art film lives or dies on the strength of said filmmaker's point of view. "The Holy Mountain," Alejandro Jodorowsky's incredible 1973 work, is certainly not at a loss for ideas. An assemblage of beautiful, disturbing, indelible images, it can be read as any number of things, from a sledgehammer-symbolic screed against imperialism (religious, capitalist and otherwise) and the marginalization of minority cultures, to an absurd sketch comedy, to an epic-scale middle finger extended at Art itself. Jodorowsky proves to be a rather prickly character, and ultimately quite hard to pin down.

The director undoubtedly has big things on his mind. From the outset, the film follows protagonist Hector Salinas (billed as "The Thief," a sort of Christ-like, Forrest Gumpian straw man) into an unidentified city flanked by gas mask-clad soldiers. Hispanic civilians are executed by firing squad for the benefit of ecstatic Caucasian tourists, who chatter away, snapping pictures. A female tourist is raped by one of the soldiers as she urges her husband to get a good shot of the action. Following this display, The Thief happens upon an all-frog production of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire that ends in torrents of blood. Later on, the film profiles a war toy manufacturer that conditions children to attack "brown native vampires" and to worship a superhero named Captain Captain who fights "The Peruvian Monster." The concern Jodorowsky expresses about imperialism and the demonization of "The Other" through these outsized, darkly humorous setpieces is genuine, as is his view on the commodification of art. In an extended montage that presages the condensed visual exposition of filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson, we meet a man who runs an "art factory" that features an assembly line of people pressing their paint-covered asses to canvas.

Every bona fide "point" Jodorowsky makes, however, is undercut by a moment of flat-out comedy. In a bit reminiscent of the absurd internal logic of a Mr. Show sketch, the art dealer shows us his "love machine," a device that is impregnated by a giant metallic phallus and gives birth to a smaller love machine that screams and cries like a newborn baby. He even includes some cartoonish moments that seem to poke fun at the kind of heavy-handed political satire featured prominently in the first act of the film. A grotesque couple first seen in various sexually deviant and bathroom-related tableaux (for whatever reason, their toilet is about 5 feet tall) are revealed to be financial advisors to "the president." After suggesting exterminating the population to save the economy, they retreat to their poolside villa to bottle-feed their baby snake. As the war toy manufacturer discusses her company's clientele, Jodorowsky has some fun with such generic phrases as "the politics of the government," which is represented by a shadowy group of mismatched world leaders.

Though, rather than trying so hard to parse Jodorowsky's intentions and what it all means, perhaps the best course of action is just to let the parade of awe-inspiring images wash over you. Jodorowsky is a gifted visualist, and the film boasts many scenes of odd, startling beauty that would seem only to be cheapened by over-analysis. In the fantastic opening sequence, Jodorowsky (as "The Alchemist") shaves the heads of two twin girls in some arcane ritual. A flock of sparrows burst forth from a gunshot wound. An old man removes his false eye and presses it adoringly into the palm of a ridiculously young, Mary Magdalene-esque prostitute. A man is chased through an M.C. Escher-inspired house by a group of children dressed as mice. An old, naked man with half a beard and jaguar heads in place of his nipples screams as the jaguars spit milk into another man's face. With images like this, who cares what they mean?

Ultimately, Jodorowsky himself seems at a loss, deciding that the entire enterprise is meaningless. As The Thief, The Alchemist and the whole crew make their trek to the titular Holy Mountain to find the secret to immortality, they come across a bar peopled by travelers who have given up on the quest and turned to various false idols. One man, brandishing an assortment of drugs, explains that his Holy Mountain lies within his pill bottles. Another opines that he can't climb the mountain because he can only move horizontally. The road to enlightenment, it seems, leads to a tourist trap. Ever the smart-ass, Jodorowsky goes one step further, drawing our attention to the artificiality of the film itself, urging us to leave the theater as "real life awaits." The final moment, while prankish, is somewhat poignant, giving us permission to find our own meaning in the journey of life.

Click here to see the "Holy Mountain" trailer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

genius film in all levels