In a corrupt, greed-fueled world, a powerful alchemist leads a messianic character and seven materialistic figures to the Holy Mountain, where they hope to achieve enlightenment.
“You are excrement. You can turn yourself into gold.”
“I can’t easily think of another filmmaker as uncompromisingly personal as Alejandro Jodorowsky. He and his cinema evoke either a magnetism for their idiosyncrasies, or a complete dismissal for their shock-value as distasteful nonsense. There is no in-between. His concoction of mysticism and erratic, physically aggressive cinema is part of a deeply personal and spiritual journey through art, one which he adapted into his own therapeutic practice known as “Psychomagic.” Over time I have come to understand Jodorowsky’s difficult and fascinating career as a cinematic odyssey composed of two halves - first an exploration of the external for a mystical and elusive “truth” and then an internal excavation and confrontation with trauma, reality, and the subconscious.”
“It was financed by The Beatles manager Allen Klein after he was introduced to the director by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Inspired by the 16th century spiritual treatise Ascent of Mount Carmel and the book Mount Analogue by Rene Damal, Jodorowsky prepared for the filming of the movie by spending a week without sleep under the guidance of a Japanese Zen master. During filming, the main cast spent months doing a variety of spiritual exercises that included Zen, Sufi and yoga practices. To top things off Jodorowsky gave the actors psilocybin mushrooms in order to get them into the correct frame of mind during a pivotal scene.”
“Margaret Barton-Fumo: Let’s go back in pursuit of a chronology. You were born in Chile, but then you moved to Paris in the Fifties.
Alejandro Jodorowsky: 1953. I went to Paris for three things. I was 23 years old. I wanted to work with Marcel Marceau because I loved mime. I wanted to study with the philosophers in the Sorbonne. And I wanted to go to the Surrealist movement of André Breton. I did these three things. I worked with Marcel for years, I wrote pantomimes for him—the best pantomime I wrote myself called “The Cage” [the iconic routine in which the mime positions his hands on an invisible wall in front of him]. Then I spent two years with Breton during the last moments of the Surrealist group, and I studied philosophy in the Sorbonne.
The camera movement in your films from that time period, especially El Topo and The Holy Mountain, is very reserved.
The cinematography is calm, but everything in front of the camera, all of the images are so vibrant. I have some ethics of shooting. Not this [mimes framing a close-up] because that is television. Not when you have the camera here, I put an object here [between the subject and the camera]. An aesthetic effort, never. Only you. No shadow. Natural. Things like that. Every movement for me has a meaning, with a moral meaning for the camera, no? A moral meaning.”