"I thought that cinema was better than LSD," says 78-year-old Chilean-born director Alexandro Jodorowsky, who created a cult sensation in 1970 with El Topo, a violent, surreal, religious allegory about a leather-clad gunslinger and his naked son (respectively played by Jodorowsky and his real-life son) riding across the desert shooting everything in sight. For more than a year, audience lines wrapped around the block at the Elgin Theater to get in for the midnight screening. But because of a 30-year feud with his producer, Allen Klein, Jodorowsky's films have not been seen much since, save the bad bootleg versions the filmmaker admits to having secretly released himself. Now, fans of the visionary filmmaker can rejoice over a box set of beautifully restored copies of three of his films: El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Fando y Lis.
Of the three, my favorite is The Holy Mountain. Shot in Mexico in 1973 and using non-actors (Jodorowsky plays the lead), the film tells the story of a Zen master who leads nine disciples on a mystical journey of enlightenment. As a way to encourage the unstudied actors, Jodorowsky claims to have given the cast hallucinogens to help them capture the mood of their characters. "The Holy Mountain was a great adventure for me," says the filmmaker. "I shot this film in a different life. I am not the same man anymore." Apparently, the late George Harrison was once interested in playing the part of the Zen master but balked at the scene where the character's anus is washed on camera. Jodorowsky refused to budge on changing or cutting the scene, and although he admits the decision cost the movie millions, he has no regrets. "I didn't make films to earn money or fame. I made them to change mankind."
The Holy Mountain depicts scene after scene of scalding surrealism. A thief's boil on the back of his neck is lanced and an octopus is removed. Dead, skinless animals are transformed into crucifixes and paraded down a street. "We borrowed the carcasses from a restaurant. When I returned them later, the customers ate them," offers Jodorowsky. "The world is very ill," he continues. "The artist must be a healer. Cinema must be some kind of revelation."
Film still from El Topo, courtesy of ABKCO