I mean…I don’t really…
How do I even start this one?
Words don’t do this film justice, so here’s the trailer. Which doesn’t do it justice either.
I don’t think there’s an inherent value in pushing limits for the sake of pushing limits. Call me crazy but I’m not a fan usually of extreme cinema, cinema which pushes visuals to such an overpowering degree that its messages and themes beyond the visuals have to be explained externally through directorial interviews. We watch cinema through a frame, and cinema which frames the illegible only transmits the illegible, or since the act of interpreting is done by both a director who makes the film, and the audience who sees the film, the audience interprets something completely different or unintended. The famous example of people starting their own fighting clubs after watching Fight Club Dir. David Fincher, 1999) can show how even when transmitting an idea, it’s other parts, namely its irony at the whole premise of the clubs themselves can be lost.
The benefit of extreme cinema though, in all its forms some I like more than others, can show us how much power the image still holds over us, more so than the word which can only conjure up images in our head, but when actually seeing images beyond anything you ever imagined at the time, it reminds you just how visceral the cinema experience can be, removed from its usual standard gloss. Finally, its other benefit is that it again works as a transaction for the alternatives in the audiences, the more open you are in mind and spirit, the more you get out of these abstract, unconventional pieces of art. But that’s a rabbit hole that one can fall too far down into, one that leads to cinema I can’t stand (read this for my thoughts on an example).
I didn’t know what I expected when I went into this film, and I still don’t quite know what I saw as I sit here writing this. Nevertheless, this film needs to be seen to even be believed, let alone understood. It’s made me question some of those tenets I expanded on above. It’s also, fucking genius.
I have a post it note stuck above my computer that says “write something timeless or something radical of the time”. The Holy Mountain (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973) is both and more. It is a film of genuine astonishment, a testament to the power of cinema in its most abstract, most peculiar and most visceral form. A film which contains the images of a true surrealist, someone who takes the real world and inverts it into itself in profound and weird and bizarre contortions and distortions. It is also a a film made by someone who has faith, in what that’s for you to find out and interpret and for Jodorowsky to know, and its definitely made by someone who’s spent a lot of the time on a drug induced spectral plane. To be able to create a cinematic capsule which can help truly transmit those visuals and those impressions, requires someone to have first experienced them, and then to be far more than competent (and just the right amount of crazy) at imagining them into the real world to be captured by a cinema camera.
It’s hard to talk about the film in non-mystical terms, as obscure as my language may appear. It’s just a work which exists on the symbolic level, and the reason why I love this film as opposed why I would dislike a work like this is because the visuals contained are not exploitative of the body. Usually when we watch films we might term extreme cinema, it is usually due to the nature of exploiting the body, either through graphic sex or graphic violence or graphic acts. It uses the body as a vessel to convey ideas, and as a result, the impressions are so strong of what we’re seeing directly done to a body that at least for me, it becomes a moot point as to what the images represent because that’s not the primary intention of the scene.
To bring it back down to Earth, imagine a film (or watch a film) like The Human Centipede (Dir. Tom Six, 2009) which the director himself said to be partially a reflection on fascism. Now regardless of how genuine that claim was, by having a concept which is so alien to the discussion of fascism (read: the entire concept of the human centipede), and one which is explored so graphically through the body, I just can’t help but shake my head ruefully. Everything can be art I’m a firm believer, but what makes good art is an understanding of the tools you’re working with. Graphic exploitation with indirect thematic links behind it will never properly transmit any other than graphic exploitation images.
But what makes The Holy Mountain different then, is that while there are certainly some strange and overpowering visuals throughout, they are visuals which on their own are overpowering through their composition, not through the exploitation of the actor’s bodies. The meeting of the alchemist in the rainbow room (what a sentence) is such an overpowering visual because of its aspects which inspire awe, not voyeurism. The bold colours, the thief moving forward knife in hand, the alchemist in one of the most amazing costumes I’ve ever seen. All those aspects and more help to build a cinematic experience, not sink us lower into the mud. Most of those who watch The Human Centipede or Salo are the morbidly curious, rather than the insane or genuinely mentally imbalanced, but morbid curiosity imbalanced against other things is depressingly empty.
And beyond that, beyond the pure immediate visual language, lays a film which is so rich in its themes and ideas that I just can’t help but get enraptured by it. It’s a film which I feel can be enjoyed how you want, whether just for the sheer absurdity of its visuals, or for the strong metaphysical backbone behind it. It certainly requires you to approach it with an open mind, and I can’t say how much you’ll get out of it, but at the very least I can say you’ll see some of the most interesting images ever put on the silver screen, just for their sheer imagination.And if cinema is the land of dreams, then what a dream this one is. And like all dreams, we need to do as the alchemist (played by Jodorowsky himself) says and wake up, “real life awaits us.” One can only dream for so long.
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