Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsk, Horatio Salinas
“You are excrement, you can change yourself into gold.” is a line from the movie, but it could also describe what Jodorowsky attempts on film. This is 113 minutes of images of decay and desecration strung together to tell a tale of spiritual rebirth and enlightenment. Does he succeed? Well The Holy Mountain may not be cinematic gold, but he’s managed iron, with maybe some traces of copper.
The first image of the movie takes place in a room of white tiles with little black crosses. There is a black clothed man kneeling behind two identical blonds also kneeling in front of him. In a bizarre perversion of a ritualized tea service the man in black strips the blonds of their clothes, removes their fake nails and shaves their heads. Over this crawl the opening credits. After the credits the screen fades to black and reopens on another man, Horatio Salinas, passed out on the ground and laying in his own filth his face covered in flies. Lying down stream of the man’s urine is a tarot card, The Thief. The message being that this man is a thief. The Thief is discovered by a flock of children clothed only in a loincloths and a man with stunted arms and legs. They tie the man up on a cross and start to stone him. This awakens the Thief who vigorously frees himself from the cross and scares the children off. The Stunted Man cannot run away as easily and the Thief starts to beat him. The Stunted Man lights a joint and offers it befriending the Thief. Together they travel to a city where uniformed thugs in gas masks are executing students, lining them up against a wall and shooting them, the student’s wounds spouting a nasty bluish black blood. Among this carnage tourists run around making home movies. One tourist is grabbed out of the group and is “raped” by one of the thugs. Instead of being horrified the tourist motions to her companions making sure they get the spectacle on Super 8. The Thief and the Stunted Man wander through the chaos and eventually get a job hawking a reenactment of Cortez’s attack on Mexico City with chameleons and toads standing in for the Aztecs and the Conquistadors. It climaxes with buckets of blood and explosions.
There is a narrative buried in all of this symbolism. Eventually the Thief finds a giant red obelisk and storms it. Inside he finds the Alchemist, played by Alejandro, who with his alchemy turns the thief’s shit into gold. The Alchemist gives him a choice of the gold or immortality. The Thief chooses immortality and the Alchemist teams him with six other individuals all of them representing some vice or sin. The Alchemist submits them all to a spiritual cleansing and training and when he deems them ready they set out to climb the Holy Mountain to confront the Gods and wrest immortality from them.
The Holy Mountain is an amazing film in many respects. It has gobs of amazing imagery, it’s wonderfully blasphemous and occasionally genuinely shocking. But at the same time it is trite, predictable and cliché. Maybe it’s a matter of time. Possibly all of the new age enlightenment stuff that comes across as rather pat now was new and fresh in 1973 when the movie was originally released. Unfortunately it’s not possible to put yourself in the mind frame of a 1973 moviegoer which means The Holy Mountain is an interesting, but not entertaining film. Normally that would be a failing but Jodowowsky isn’t trying to divert you for two hours he’s trying to open your eyes and heart for the rest of your life. As far as I’m concerned he’s failed in that respect too. Strangely the problem is not that the symbolism is too obscure it the opposite, it’s not surreal enough. If the imagery was so far out there that you had no choice but to sit back and sort of let it roll over you picking up the themes through osmosis, letting it tickle your subconscious. Instead your brain is constantly in overdrive trying to interpret what you’re seeing and build some kind of story out of it. Occasionally the imagery is so striking that it sort of stuns your brain and you quit trying to analyze it all but then Jodorowsky will zoom in on a bible covered in maggots or show a hooker walking around with a chimpanzee on her back or something else just a little too on the nose and your suddenly trying to figure everything out again. The amazing thing is that you never give up on it. You tire of trying to figure everything out but you never actually hit the stop button.
The 1080p video is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The transfer comes from a clean print with good color.. Skin tones are neutral and natural appearing. The blacks are deep and crisp yet retain detail in the shadows. The focus is crisp with lots of detail. Individual hairs and grains of sand are sharp and defined. I never noticed and aliasing, moiré, blooming or other artifacts of digital compression. It’s a great transfer for a movie whose storytelling depends so much on its visuals.
The original mono audio has been expanded out to DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround sound. The audio is presented in the original Spanish and in English. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and French. Like the rest of the film the sound is a bit surreal. The dialog, what there is of it, and foley seem compressed and lacking in atmosphere like they are just tacked on, which is likely an intentional effect that Jodorowsky was going for.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The disc comes in the now familiar blue tinted standard Blu Ray case with artwork based on striking imagery from the opening credits of the movie. As far as extras go there is an audio commentary with Jodorowsky explaining a lot of the symbolism in the film, which is great but you kind of feel like your cheating with the visuals being laid out for you. There is a short about Tarot cards which provides a key for some of the symbolic language used in the film and another short detailing the effort that went into the restoration performed on the movie. There are also deleted scenes with commentary along with a theatrical trailer and a photo gallery that includes shots of the script with notes scribbled in the margins, original reviews and promotional materials and of course, production stills.
The film is worth watching just for the imagery and of course it could also be a lot of fun just to let it play in the background during parties.
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10
The Movie 5/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10