The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain ★★★★★

In direct contrast to the kinds of humanistic and cinematic successes that come from rigorous collaboration, Alexandro [sic] Jodorowsky's crowning achievement is the product of an unusual degree of individual freedom and control over a film production. Free of (initial) interference thanks to the financiers at heavyweight U.S. distributor ABKCO - who hoped to contrive another cult hit matching the unexpected success of El Topo - Jodo contributed an ehaustively singular direction, script, starring role, set design/decor, and co-authored the original score. While his previous works were met with controversy, especially in Mexico, this time his staged-in-public excesses resulted in exile and a need to smuggle the negatives out of the country before he could complete and release the film.

"You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold."

In my first-time viewing, I understood this piece's focus to be a primarily visual psychedelic odyssey, one that both delights and agitates with aggressively subversive, offensive, and esoteric aesthetics. It’s not an incorrect way to experience the film, and one could spend many hours digging into all the references as the disc supplements do. But Jodo is genuinely trying to communicate more than that here: how to use the many paths of symbolism to overcome your own limitations. His personal interests and politics are of course still keys to the puzzle, but none more than a passion for the tarot, which features heavily in the second act as the alchemist master assembles his disciples.

”A cellular organism is alive when it’s linked to its environment. If the organism cuts its ties with the environment, it dies. The same is true of the human spirit. If you don’t have links, if you don’t relate, you die. The Madman goes to the World to get linked to it. When you are linked to everyone there are no enemies.” - from The Tarot featurette

Such a self-indulgent project expressing Jodo’s favorite methods of personal transformation does ironically open up as a universal transcendental message, directly encouraging the audience to heed his words and lessons from the journey in order to prosper. While the film’s climax and conclusion are inspired by Daumal’s incomplete story Mount Analogue,* it’s the title from Kopp’s If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!** I thought of most frequently while viewing. Who is a Buddha? In this context it's a guru or master or authority figure, someone who professes to hold special knowledge and wisdom that takes great effort to attain. But once a disciple passes their tests and truly gets on the level, one discovers the master was their equal all along and similarly lacks any definitive answers to the secret meanings of life.

At times Jodo comes frighteningly close to a charismatic cult leader in this film, in his other films, and in his public persona. This self-styling is borne more of an enthusiasm to shock others out of the mundane and banal life and a desire to help them be present in their own lives. For someone set to an existential autopilot, these challenges and trappings are meant to push one into steering their own ship rather than a desire to have them subservient to demagoguery. In an infamous concluding zoom-out that predates The Pythons, the master releases the audience as if we were each one his disciples awaiting the ultimate answer to the film's enigmas and therefore some means to decode the mysteries of our own lives.

”Learn how to climb just one rock, and you’ll learn how to climb the mountain.”

The myriad ways The Holy Mountain highlights the madness of civilized life itself by condemning our material consumerism and spiritual hollowness recalls the words of English artist John Minton: "We're all awash in a sea of blood, and the least we can do is wave to each other." For this film I'd similarly adapt the pretentious warning shared in the original poster notes from the Van der Graaf Generator album whose name was inspired by Minton’s words:

“Don't [watch] when you're hustling, because it won't get in your head. Don't [watch] when you're angry, because you'll smash something. Don't [watch] when you're depressed, because you'll get more so. Don't [watch] with any preoccupations, because you'll blow it. And if you're a perpetually angry, depressed hustler with set ideas, don't bother, it wasn't meant for you in the first place.”

*haven’t read it yet, only read about it
**haven’t read it yet either, both are collecting dust along with an unholy mountain of other art-to-be-investigated

12 of 30 for No-stream November

Block or Report

Matt liked these reviews