Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

EL TOPO (1970) * * *

Is it Art or a pretentious "blood and guts South American western"? Certainly the narration for the trailer is the most pretentious I've ever heard, but EL TOPO is one of my favorite films.

Mexican Alexander Jodorowsky stars as El Topo, the black-clad gunfighter who rides through the old west and has many surrealistic, grotesque, and perverse adventures. Jodorowsky also wrote and directed this powerful, violent and dazzling movie.

El Topo and his naked son Brontis (Brontis Jodorowsky) ride through the desert and hunt down a band of outlaws who have killed his wife and the inhabitants of a town. He tells Brontis, "You are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother's picture." After leaving his son at a monastery, he rides off with a woman called Mara (Mara Lorenzio) to defeat the four great masters of pistol duelling. El Topo learns something from each master, then wins each duel by cheating. The fourth master kills himself to demonstrate the unimportance of life. El Topo says, "Too much perfection is a mistake." The first half of the film ends with El Topo's betrayal and near murder by Mara.

Fortunately, El Topo is rescued by a group of deformed outcasts, who save his life and take him to their cavern community. While comatose, he meditates on the four lessons for many years. He awakes, is "born again", and is determined to free the misfits from their prison. With the help of his dwarf girlfriend (Jacqueline Luis) and his full-grown priest son (Robert John), he digs an escape exit but his friends are murdered by cultists in a nearby town. El Topo kills them all, then pours oil on himself and sets himself on fire. He has learned all he can about life. His son and girlfriend make a grave for his body, which becomes a beehive full of honey.

EL TOPO (the mole) is supposedly an allegory for the Old Testament, life of Christ, and mankind's search for the meaning of life. I only notice the sublime absurdity and the blood and guts.

Originally I saw it in theatres in Spanish with English sub-titles. Now I watch it on video, dubbed into English. I prefer the Spanish. In one scene, Mara is lost, wandering in the desert saying, "Nada. Nada. Nada." Do we need a translation for this? It's much more effective in Spanish.

Others in the cast include: David Silva (The Colonel), Jose Antonio Alcaraz (Sheriff), Julian DeMeriche (Priest), Felipe Diaz Garza (Deputy), Jose Legarreta, Alfonso Arau, Jose Luis Fernandez, Alf Junco, Gerardo Zepeda, Rene Barrera, Rene Alis, Fererico Gonzales, Pablo Leder, Giuliano Girini Sasseroli, Aldo Grumelli, Ignacio Marinez Espana, Eliseo Gardea Saucedo, Hector Martinez, Paula Romo, Berta Lomeli, Juan Jose Gurrola, Victor Fosado, Agustin Isunza, Carlos Lavenant, Eliseo Pereda, Pablo Mariachal, and many others. Music was composed by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Nacho Medez. Alejandro Jodorowsky wrote the script, edited, designed the costumes, and directed.

Initially an underground film, the title EL TOPO is a metaphor of underground cinema. A mole digs to the surface, much as low-budget underground films can surface into mainstream popularity. It was John Lennon who bought the rights to EL TOPO to ensure worldwide distribution.

John Lennon loved EL TOPO. It was his favorite movie, so he financed Jodorowsky's next film, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)--equally great, but quite different. It's more shocking, bizarre, blasphemous, colourful, and psychedelic. A Christ-like figure, who is a thief, wanders through very strange scenarios and meets a mystical guide who introduces him to seven men who represent a planet in our solar system. There are unusual lines such as, "Your sacrifice completes my temple of 1,000 testicles" and "Rub your clitoris on the mountain." A group of nine go to Lotus Island to replace the nine immortal masters who live on a holy mountain.

Lennon's help with HOLY MOUNTAIN (La Montana Sagrada) turned into a nighmare for Jodorowsky, because sleazy manager Allen Klein acquired the rights to EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN. Klein hates Jodorowky and would not allow his movies to be shown or distributed in North America.

Alejandro Jodorowsky said of Allen Klein: "It would be good that all people who admire my work demand life-time jail for Klein, under the charge of cultural murder."

Klein's "cultural murder" all but destroyed Jodorowsky's career. After too many years, he returned to making films, but they are quite different and not as entertaining. His other films include: FANDO AND LIS (1967), THE TUSK (1978), SANTA SANGRE (1989), and RAINBOW THIEF (1990). In 2004 Klein finally relented and legally allowed Jodorowsky's films to be made available, but very little has changed.

Most people who have seen EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN have watched bootleg copies of copies of copies. Mine were imported from Japan, dubbed into English with Japanese sub-titles.

Blog Archive