Saturday, July 13, 2013

Just watched...

...Alejandro Jodorowsky's legendary cult film "The Holy Mountain" from 1973.

This allegorical tale about the journey to enlightenment uses symbology from a stunning array of philosophies and spiritual traditions such as the Kabbalah, the I-Ching, Numerology, Tarot, Buddhism, Astrology, Sufism, Alchemy, and even Jungian psychology.

The film is based on the books ASCENT OF MOUNT CARMEL (a work of early Christian mysticism) by St. John of the Cross and MOUNT ANALOGUE by René Daumal, who was a student of G.I. Gurdjieff. In Jodorowsky's vision, crammed with one phantasmagorical scene after another, we follow a Christ-like figure as he endures events that are reminiscent of Christ's life. But we are soon taken out of a Christian context as the Christ-like figure, now identified as "The Thief" begins a transformative journey of his own. This is a commentary on and critique of Christianity, inferring that Christianity is a primary, shallow, and stunted belief system that does nothing to address the true nature of the soul and the many levels of reality that influence our lives. For this, The Thief is put in the hands of The Alchemist (played by Jodorowsky himself) and introduced, in a stunning sequence, to seven other individuals, identified as the most powerful mortals on the planet, who will accompany him on his journey to enlightenment.

An impressive array of art--from props, paintings, and sculptures to life-size wax figures of the actors--was created for this film. Jodorowsky also designed the amazing sets and costumes. But what is truly remarkable is the way he composes his shots. There is a disturbing clarity to the surreal symbology he filmed and I see how he might have influenced artists and filmmakers like Matthew Barney, and possibly Peter Greenaway (who is a bit more murky and oblique with his sets and symbology), but I see Jodorowsky's influence the most in the work of Ken Russell. None of these artists and filmmakers have ever shied away from sexuality either and "The Holy Mountain" certainly has its share of nudity and sexual activity, but never in a gratuitous way. Jodorowsky deals with nudity much the way Greenaway does: sometimes, in life, people take off their clothes. And sometimes, in life, people even have sex! There is also a very particular kind of pace not only to the story but to the actions of the cast. Much like the films of Matthew Barney, Greeanway, and Ken Rusell, there is a highly stylized, deliberate sense to it all that is very reminiscent of Japanese Noh theater (indeed, the entire opening sequence is based on the ritualized movements of the Japanese Tea Ceremony).

This dizzying kaleidoscope of a film has stayed with me for many, many days now, with the symbols, imagery, and meaning sifting down through my subconscious. What might seem to be a jarring, random collection of images meant to puzzle actually turns out to be a powerful story of spirituality and search for self in a world not geared for such a search.

Recommend? ABSOLUTELY with the usual caveat: this is most certainly not Hollywood fare from your local mega-plex. The more you know about the spiritual and philosophical traditions I mentioned at the top, the more you will understand and appreciate this very special film.

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