Apr 15, 2014

El Topo




I have almost always had somewhat mixed feelings about Jewish-Chilean-French auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando by Lis, The Holy Mountain) and certainly get a feeling of decided disgust when I encounter his more devout disciples, yet I respect him, if for nothing else, as a filmmaker with a distinct and uncompromising vision. Indeed, as a man who wore a special pair of underwear (apparently, black silk underpants with holes exposing his testicles and penis head, as well as a green circle over the area covering the anus) so he would not mimic the contrived cowboy cockiness of John Wayne, picked out a short yet thick rock in the shape of a chode for the set that resembled his own penis, made filmic love to a Mexican dwarf and apparently actually really raped his female costar for ostensible ‘realism’ during a rape scene, forced his real-life prepubescent son to star in the film completely naked in a role also as his onscreen son, and utilized countless dead, and oftentimes mutilated, animal corpses (as the director admitted himself, he killed 300 bunny rabbits with 'karate blows' to the neck), as well as Mexican cripples, dwarves, and other human freaks, for his magnum opus El Topo (1970) aka The Mole aka The Gopher, Alejandro Jodorowsky was not merely playing around, as the director once had the gall to make the exceedingly egomaniacal claim: “If you are great, 'El Topo' is a great picture. If you are limited, 'El Topo' is limited.” Judging by Jodorowsky’s remark, I suspect the average American filmgoer is rather limited, as they would probably find the film to be grotesque garbage of the perversely pretentious sort, if not a total insult to their faith and nation. Personally, after recently re-watching the film for the fourth time, I must admit that I think El Topo is nothing short of a morbid masterwork that manages to create a marvelously misbegotten marriage between the amorality and beauteous bodily dismemberment of the Grand Guignol, the allegorical iconoclastic surrealism of Luis Buñuel, the nihilistic western ultra-violence of Sam Peckinpah, the human freakiness of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), the atmospheric celluloid spirituality of Sergei Parajanov, and the obsessive attention to detail of Stanley Kubrick, albeit in a Mestizo dimestore form. Directed by a true ‘wandering Jew’ who was born in Chile in 1929 to Ukrainian Jewish parents (Jodorowsky claims he was the product of his father raping his mother) in Chile who moved to Paris, France in the early 1950s and ultimately co-founded (with fellow surrealist western director Fernando Arrabal and Roland Topor) the Dadaist-inspired anarchistic avant-garde Panic Movement before moving to Mexico to direct his first feature Fando y Lis (1968), El Topo is undoubtedly a ‘messianic’ cinematic work where auteur Jodorowsky plays an (anti)Christ-like figure who learns from and then kills four different spiritual/philosophical gurus (whose dogmas range from Eastern philosophy to Catholic mysticism to Nietzscheanism), only to be resurrected and act as the revolutionary saint of a group of Mexican cripples, freaks, and dwarves. Quite arguably a work of absurdist Jewish messianism (Hassidic belief states that in every generation a potential Messiah exists, with Jodorowsky being the messiah of his own film), El Topo changed the way people looked at movies as a hit on the Midnight Movie circuit that mystified the counter-culture generation with its insanely idiosyncratic blend of celluloid outlaw esotericism and aesthetic and thematic acid anarchism. Unavailable for over 30 years after Jodorowsky had a falling out with copyright owner/producer Allen Klein (who had El Topo and the director’s subsequent work The Holy Mountain (1973) banned after he refused to adapt Pauline Réage's classic S&M novel Story of O 1954)), El Topo is in many ways thee ultimate ‘cult film,’ as the sort of arcane cinematic work that people could literally worship in our decidedly degenerate postmodern age. 



 Divided into four pseudo-Biblical chapters (Genesis, Prophets, Psalms, Apocalypse), El Topo follows an eponymous spiritual outlaw (Alejandro Jodorowsky)—an initially stoic avenger who sports an all-black leather rebel cowboy outfit—as he travels through the desert on horseback with his naked son Brontis (played by the director’s real-life son Brontis Jodorowsky). After El Topo tells his son, “You are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture,” the little lad follows his dad’s command and the following allegorical words are narrated, “The mole digs tunnels under the earth, looking for the sun. Sometimes, he gets to the surface. When he sees the sun, he is blinded.” From there, El Topo and his son enter a town where the entire population has been massacred aside from a dying man who begs the dark leather-clad cowboy to help him, but he gets his son Brontis to put the man out of his misery. Meanwhile, three degenerate banditos who were involved in the massacre—a freak with a serious female shoe fetish, a guy that likes slicing bananas with his sword, and a sexually depraved loser that makes an image of a naked woman out of rocks and proceeds to hump the erotic rock formation—are lurking near the town. When El Topo runs into the banditos, he immediately kills two of them and leaves the foot fetishist alive long enough to find out where his leader is located. El Topo learns that a fellow named the Colonel (David Silva, who later appeared in The Holy Mountain and Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda (1977)) has overrun a Catholic Mission where his depraved untermensch goons are engaged in sexually torturing the monks (forcing them to dress like Mother Mary in drag) and raping and torturing women. Needless to say, El Topo shows up at the Franciscan Mission and confronts the Colonel. When the Colonel asks El Topo, “Who are you to judge me?,” to which the renegade cowboy replies, “I am God,” El Topo proceeds to castrate the degenerate bandito dictator in a blood-gushing fashion. Literally and figuratively no longer a man, the Colonel commits suicide by blowing his brains out with a shotgun and El Topo takes the dead eunuch’s sex slave, who he renames Mara (Mara Lorenzio), and proceeds to do the seemingly unthinkable by abandoning his naked son Brontis with the rather effete monks of the mission. 



 El Topo and Mara head to the desert and the messianic cowboy performs live-saving miracles like shooting a stone with his revolver and making water gush out of it, so that the two do not die of dehydration. For whatever reason, El Topo decides to violently rape Mara (in the audio commentary for a recent blu-ray release of the film, the director confesses he really brutally raped the actress, stating, “It looks less spectacular than a choreographed one.”). Not long after, El Topo confesses he loves Mara and she replies with the following demand, “So that I may love you, you have to be the best. Four great gun masters live in this desert. You’ve got to look for them, and kill them.” Although El Topo is ill-equipped to take on the great gun masters, Mara convinces him to play dirty and use trickery to defeat them. The first Master El Topo takes on is a young blind hippie-like guru (played by Mexican rock musician Hector Martinez) who wears nothing but a loincloth, has a legless cripple for a servant who is strapped to an armless cripple, and is seemingly immune to bullets. El Topo defeats the Master #1 by digging a hole, which the unwittingly blind guru falls into, thus giving him the opportunity to put a bullet in his brain with very little effort. After Master #1 is killed, a ‘Woman in Black’ (Paula Romo) who is the virtual female counterpart (or Jungian ‘anima’) to El Topo shows up and agrees to guide him to the second Master. Master #2 (played by theatre director Juan José Gurrola) is a Sufi goldsmith with a serious Oedipal complex who is quite in love with his rather rough gypsy-like Mother (Bertha Lomelí), who has a man’s voice. Once again determined to win by cheating, El Topo places broken glass on the ground for the Mother step on and when momma’s boy Master #2 turns around to see if his mommy is hurt, the Mole shoots the unlucky guru when he is not looking. Master #3 is a rabbit-obsessed perfectionist whose countless bunny rabbits drop dead upon El Topo’s arrival, as the dark cowboy seems to bring a metaphysical plague with him. Knowing that Master #3 (played by Mexican antique dealer Victor Fosado) only has one shot and plans to shoot him in the chest, El Topo places a copper plate over his heart. After surviving being shot in the chest, El Topo jumps back up in joy like a shameless braggart, shoots Master #3, and arrogantly states, “Too much perfection is a mistake” (the director once stated in an interview regarding that quote, “All Oriental culture is in that sentence”) as the guru dies. Master #4 (played by retired alcoholic actor Agustin Isunza) is a half-naked toothless old bum who is so fast he can catch El Topo’s bullets in a net and fling them back at him. Luckily for El Topo, Master #4 does not care about life and proves it to El Topo by snatching his gun and blowing his brains out. While El Topo succeeds in swiftly killing all four masters, he becomes overwhelmed with grief for using such cowardly trickery to kill four gurus who provided him with priceless esoteric knowledge, so he smashes his revolver and goes completely mad, even revisiting the sites of the great men he maliciously murdered and mourning over their rotten corpse. On top of that, the ‘Lady in Black’ challenges El Topo to a duel and proceeds to shoot him in his hands, feet, and side (‘the wounds of Christ’). Turned into a callous carpet-muncher by the lesbo Lady in Black, Mara also shoots El Topo and as he dies he sees visions of the two sapphic she-bitches making lurid lesbian love. Luckily, a grotesque gang of Mexican cripples, midgets, and horribly deformed individuals find El Topo’s corpse and bring him to a cave where he is ‘resurrected’ like Christ, ultimately reawakening 20-years-later with a blond Jew-fro and drag queen makeup, thereupon resembling what looks like the most aesthetically repugnant Marilyn Monroe impersonator in history. 



 Upon his great reawakening, El Topo is told by a female dwarf (Jacqueline Luis) of the cripples that he is their savior and he will build a tunnel through the mountain cave that will help the cripples escape their imprisonment and go to a local town.  After shaving his Aryan Jew-fro and sharing a beetle with an old wise woman, El Topo is fully resurrected and powerful enough to carry out his Christ-like duties.  To fund the operation, El Topo and the Dwarf go to a discernibly decadent town where they ‘beg’ (i.e. put on Vaudeville-like performances) for change from the locals. A sort of maniac microcosm of the most infamously degenerate aspects of the United States, the town is a place where buck negroes are bought and sold into sex slavery for the perverse pleasures of old fat bourgeois white women and where people play Russian roulette at the local church where it is declared a ‘miracle’ each time a player of the game manages not to blow their brains out (though a young boy inevitably does). The flag of the village is the ‘all-seeing eye of God’ of the dollar bill, which is a sort of stand-in for the swastika of Nazi Germany (Jodorowsky once stated regarding the image, “I used it in the film as a symbol of guilt: the eye says, ‘You are guilty, you are guilty.’ Yes, a guilty society. In the film. It was a very nice symbol”). While begging in the town, El Topo and the Dwarf are taken hostage and forced to perform sex with each other in a sort of makeshift basement orgy room, thus resulting in the little person becoming pregnant. El Topo agrees to marry the Dwarf, but their priest ends up being the cowboy’s son Brontis, who is now a grown man and attempts to kill his father. After the Dwarf convinces Brontis that El Topo is a savior who plans to liberate the cripples by building the tunnel, the prodigal son agrees to wait to kill his father until after the tunnel is finished. Brontis also agrees to help beg and dig the tunnel to speed up the process of liberating the cripples, but when they finish, the son cannot bring himself to kill his papa, stating, “I cannot kill my master.” When the cripples escape via the tunnel and enter the village, they are exterminated by the local police (who are obese scat-obsessed homosexuals), which infuriates El Topo so much that he massacres all the inhabitants of the village (like his enemy the Colonel did at the beginning, thus becoming what he always hated) and proceeds to commit self-immolation à la Thích Quảng Đức. Indeed, El Topo forgot to take notice of the over-quoted words of warning from Nietzsche, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” Meanwhile, the Dwarf gives birth and she, Brontis (who is now dressed like his father and has taken over his persona), and the baby leave the village on horseback. 



 While Santa Sangre (1989) is my favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky flick, I am not going to pretend that El Topo is not the director’s most important and immaculate work. Additionally, I would go so far as saying that El Topo is not only the best film to have ever been sired in Mexico, but one of the most, if not the most, artistically genuine and ambitious of films ever directed by a Jewish filmmaker. Indeed, despite coming from a similar background (poor Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europa), Jodorowsky is contra to everything that the big Hebraic Hollywood moguls like Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer stood for. While the Goldwyns and Mayers made an absurd amount money turning cinema into a cheap product and artistically unmerited form of entertainment meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, even popularizing the dreaded musical (not to mention the western), Jodorowsky approached the medium of film from almost a quasi-spiritual angle and waged a sort of celluloid revolution against the Hollywood western genre as well as the so-called ‘American Dream’, which was also dreamed up by the Judaic bigwigs of Tinseltown. In its depiction of an anarchistic outsider who kills four spiritual gurus (and thus symbolically destroys four religions), supports the weak (i.e. the cripples) against the strong, and totally exterminates a town run and inhabited by white people, El Topo ultimately reads like a sick Semitic fantasy that is as old as Judaism itself, yet Jodorowsky expresses sorrow and guilt for his character’s actions. After all, after killing the four Masters, he is plagued by his guilt and goes completely insane. Additionally, El Topo commits suicide after exterminating the white village, which, rather unfortunately, is certainly not something that the great Jewish communist mass murderers of history like Leon Trotsky, Lazar Kaganovich, Genrikh Yagoda, and Béla Kun ever considered doing.  As demonstrated by his quoting of French traditionalist/metaphysician René Guénon in the book El Topo: A Book of the Film (1971) and incessant quoting of various religious figures and events, Jodorowsky's respect for various forms of spirituality is indisputable (he has described himself as an 'atheistic mystic") and El Topo represents his sort of cinematic Torah, with The Holy Mountain being his New Testament. As for what the experience of making the film meant to him, Jodorowsky gave the following answer in an interview featured in El Topo: A Book of the film: “I was born. A new life. Really, a new life. I think my brain opened up. When I started this interview, I spoke about my skull dividing into eight pieces, and the butterfly that came ... Maybe the butterfly was the movie. Maybe when you do something, you are changed. When I shaved my head, and when I found the landscapes, for example, those were very strong experiences -- Jungian experiences.” And, indeed, speaking of Jung, Jodorowky managed to create his own archetypes (while utilizing ancient ones) with El Topo that very few other films in cinema can boast. While I am somewhat skeptical about the idea, one can only speculate whether or not the sequel Son of El Topo will ever be made (Jodorowsky has been talking about it pretty much ever since the release of El Topo), but if one thing is for sure, it is that El Topo is and will always remain an unrivaled work of cinema, as well as the perfect antidote to the passive peace and love of the counter-culture zeitgeist.



-Ty E

8 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, you and i (and all the other followers of this site for that matter) both know that El Topo should have been the very first film to be reveiwed when you first set this site up, why has it taken you seven years to get here my old mate ?, El Topo is Soiled Sinema and Soiled Sinema is El Topo, the two will always be 'inseparable' and 'as one' (as it were) ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, i worship December 27th 1975, do you worship December 18th 1970 in the same way ! ?.

peregrine fforbes-hamilton said...

I wish Brontis had been born a girl, if you get my drift ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Believe it or not i actually thought that the film lost its way slightly when they went into the town in the second half of the movie, i think they should`ve stayed in the desert for the entire movie, all the stuff in the town was kind of conventional (relatively speaking of course) when compared to the incredibly bizarre strangeness of what went before in the desert scenes.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

My favourite scene in the movie is about half way through where they`re on that little suspension bridge in the middle of no-where in what looks like some kind of gigantic deserted mining project, theres something so indescribably magical about that entire sequence.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In 1997 (28 years after it was filmed in 1969) El Topo received its first ever screening on broadcast media (Mexican television aptly enough), there was a 10 minute introduction by a Professor Frayling which was almost as entertaining as the film itself (though not as brilliant as your reveiw obviously ! ! !), that introduction is very obscure now but it might be available on YouTube, i`m not sure, such a shame that Frayling is a British faggot though, that always spoilt it for me.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The best thing about the last 10 or 15 minutes of the movie is that El Topo was killing faggots, thats ALWAYS to be applauded.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I always liked the story about Bill Freidkin seeing El Topo and deciding to hire Gonzalo Guervera (the sound effects geezer) to do the sound effects for The Exorcist, the Mexican with no shoes came into the studio and used everyday objects like wallets and keychains to create the terrifying sounds for one of the greatest horror movies ever made, for a fee of $75 ! ! !.