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on 9 August 2007
The Holy Mountain was director Alejandro Jodorowsky's follow up to the cult western El Topo; a violent and deeply mystical dream play about a mythical gunfighter cleansing himself of the violence of his past, only to find that the world itself had already been corrupted by the bloodshed of the present.

The mystical themes are fleshed out even further with The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky's second of only three films produced in the 1970's, which, much like the preceding El Topo and the director's very first film, Fando é Lis, unfolds through a series of surrealist vignettes rife with religion symbolism, sardonic satire and distancing cinematic shock tactics. To some, it remains a monumental achievement of philosophy, mysticism and surrealist satire; a film capable of changing the viewer's entire perspective on life itself through the wisdom of its central character and the potency of its imagery. To others however, the film has already become a dated relic, with some viewers arguing that extravagant pop-art production design, casual nudity and notions of questing for inner peace and tranquillity have become throwbacks to the late 1960's flower-power aesthetic; which is always easy to discredit through blind cynicism.

How will you react to it? I couldn't possibly say, though I would say it's best to approach the film with an open mind and with some familiarity with Jodorowsky's previous, and indeed, subsequent cinematic works, like El Topo, and in particular Santa Sangre, both of which offer an easier gateway into the filmmaker's heavily symbolic world than this epic rumination on life and the cosmos.

What surprised me most when viewing the film for the first time was the tremendous amount of depth that can often be lost within the giddy barrage of sights and sounds that burst from the screen in a vibrant vivid collage of philosophy, art, sex and religion. As a result, I often find it annoying when people discredit Jodorowsky as simply throwing images on the screen to shock and disarm the viewer for no apparent reason. I find similar arguments regarding the work of filmmakers like David Lynch and Miike Takashi similarly offensive. Simply listen to the audio commentary on this DVD to hear Jodorowsky taking the film apart image by image; explaining the incredible amount of minor details purged from every religion, steeped in every form of art and combined in an attempt to overload the audience's senses and perceptions to effectively change the very fabric of their own personal universe. It worked for me, though as you can possibly gather from the previous reviews, opinions are mixed.

Some will be more open to Jodorowsky's ideas than others. Some will enjoy the colourful scenarios of the opening 30 minutes, which depict the resurrection of a Christ-like character and his corruption by the modern world ravaged by war, dictatorship, organised tourism and the endless pursuit of money. The second half of the film introduces us to the other characters; a collection of evil, greedy business men, weapon designers, factory owners and foot-soldiers who, much like the Christ-like character we meet during the first chapter, decide to abandon the corrupt world in which they exist and quest with the mythical central character to the summit of the holy mountain.

As you can imagine from this sketchy plot outline, what follows is fairly episodic in design, sometimes tapping into the cinematic absurdity of Luis Bunuel and at other times reminding me of the epic opulence of early Ken Russell (in particular, films like The Devils, The Music Lovers, The Boyfriend, Mahler, etc). For the most part though, the film is pure Jodorowsky, with the central character (played by the director himself) tapping into the intensity of El Topo's iconic gunfighter, whilst the constant barrage of cripples, dwarfs, freaks and geeks cut adrift against a processions of skinned lamb carcasses, edible Jesus effigies, dog fights and the recreation of the conquest of Mexico, re-enacted with frogs that are later blown to pieces, all recalling the fevered insanity of El Topo, the warped fairytale-like quality of Fando and Lis, the gothic psychodrama of Santa Sangre and the empathetic compassion of Tusk.

Obviously, it's not going to be a film for everyone, but those already turned on to Jodorowsky's ideas will no doubt take away a great deal from the film's central message, and from the dizzying kaleidoscope of visual ideas, interpretations and sight gags that explode from the screen in a veritable barrage of colour and movement. The Tartan DVD features some fine extra features, most notably Jodorowsky's informative and fascinating audio commentary, while also doing a fairly great - if not quite perfect - job of re-mastering a film that has remained in the vaults for well over thirty years.
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on 6 August 2008
Firstly, yes - this film has been slightly over-hyped. 'The Holy Mountain' has acquired a mythic status largely due to the fact that producer Allen Klein withdrew all its prints after an argument with director Jodorowsky. Until recently the film has been talked about by many, but seen by few - so it's not surprising that in some people's minds it's come to represent a totem of forbidden genius.

All of this is slightly ironic, of course, given that the film itself presents a symbolic quest for enlightenment which turns out to be a red herring dressed up in a lysergic-tinged variety of emperor's new clothes. Jodorowsky's film is at once highly original, visually and aurally stunning (the soundtrack is in many ways the best thing about it) and wince-inducingly pretentious.

As a work of surrealism, it suffers in comparison to the films of Luis Bunuel. Like Bunuel, Jodorowsky aims to satirize the empty values of the contemporary capitalist world, but where Bunuel has a witty lightness of touch, Jodorowsky generally goes for the grandstanding statement. Ironically for such an imaginative work, 'The Holy Mountain', leaves little to the imagination. Where Bunuel leaves you wondering what precisely is in a mysterious buzzing box ('Belle de Jour') or why the party guests can't leave the room ('The Exterminating Angel'), Jodorowsky stamps his message out with some of the most gobsmackingly lurid imagery you're ever likely to see in modern cinema.

You have to give the man credit for having such an extraordinary visual imagination - though after an hour most viewers will find that some of the film's ability to stun wears off, you become used to the grammar of body horror and day-glo decadence. You could argue that imagery involving dwarves and amputees has since become a cliched shorthand for surrealism itself, even if Jodorowsky is here using physical mutilation to represent a deeper spiritual malaise.

It's clearly meant to be something a little more profound than simple entertainment, the director wants us to change the way we think and feel. As a consequence, 'The Holy Mountain' has a heavy, sermonising tone. It's probably best understood as an alchemical version of John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' - there's even a 'vanity fair' of sorts in the form of the 'pantheon bar'. If you're just after trippy kicks, you'll get these a plenty, but to see the film only in psychedelic terms is largely to miss the point....

As other reviewers have pointed out, you can see traces of Ken Russell and David Lynch all over the film - but really, flawed though it is, there isn't anything really like it in cinematic history...
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on 10 June 2007
This film has a legendary reputation and deservedly so but that does not necessarily mean it is a deathless classic like the other reviewers on this page seem to indicate ("the most important film ever made"? C'mon you cannot be serious). Firstly the restoration of the film is miraculous, the best I have ever seen considering it has been locked in a vault gathering dust for 30-odd years. The soundtrack is simply fantastic, moving all the way from vocal drones to searing rock guitar to cheesy muzak, and complements the images brilliantly. The film also contains some of the most searing, bizarre, memorable images every committed to celluloid, far too many to mention here. So what is the problem? Well after a roaring start for the first 45 minutes where the startling images and ideas pile on top of each other providing incontrovertible proof that Jodorowsky is some kind of genius the wheels sadly come off and the film loses it way, meandering for its final two thirds to an unsatisfactory conclusion (nicked off Bergman's "Persona" by the way). The bottom line is no matter how incredible the images on the screen are (and they ARE incredible) for a film really to succeed it needs a plot and a decent script (with characters you can become involved in), otherwise familiarity and boredom sets in after the initial "shock of the new" and indeed that is what happens here. This is a shame but that's not to demean Jodorowsky's achievement (it was only his third film after all, Bergman and Kurosawa made literally dozens before finally "hitting form") and as has often been said before regarding this film, it is a one-off and nothing of its ilk will likely ever be made again especially in today's anodyne film-making environment. Therefore definitely rent it / buy it and watch it but just don't expect the deathless masterpiece some say it is.
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on 3 August 2007
I watched El Topo immediately upon buying the Alejandro Jodorowsky DVDs a month or so ago. I've made the assertion that El Topo is one of my favorite movies ever made in a prior review, and The Holy Mountain was waiting in the wings. I have seen The Holy Mountain before but I only owned a Japanese bootleg. So I've had plenty of time to work out my ideas toward what The Holy Mountain is about and I do believe it justifies more than one or two viewings. I've never understood this film but I figured it was because I didn't try as hard at understanding it as I did with El Topo. However, at this point I've exhausted all my efforts and I will admit that with the Holy Mountain I'm stumped. I have no idea what this movie is trying to say.

The Holy Mountain opens with our protagonist, the thief who looks like Jesus Christ, befriending a deformed dwarf. A bunch of wax versions of the thief looking crucified are created and distributed throughout the community and the thief eats the face off of one of them and ties it to a bunch of balloons. The character played by Jodorowsky, the alchemist, summons the thief to approach his giant tower. There at the alchemist's tower, we are introduced to seven people whose names reference some of the nine planets. The alchemist urges them to destroy their material things and then they all go to the Holy Mountain. When they get there, Jodorowsky speaks to the cast, the crew and the audience outside of the context of the film. He says that we should leave the Holy Mountain and that real life is awaiting us.

The Holy Mountain has flashes of the religious allegorical commentary that Jodorowsky makes in El Topo, but here perhaps his brushes are too broad for me to pick up on. I'm not saying the film can't be deciphered and that theorizing what the film is about is not worth your time, but not enough made sense to me here to give the movie credit for its story. There are some really great scenes that comment here and there in ways I could follow, but the film's overall scope seems out of reach if it is present at all. Perhaps that is my fault, but if there is an overall commentary being made then I partially blame Jodorowsky for not provoking me enough to discover it.

It is a visually exciting movie but because I couldn't follow much of it, some of the film's content came off as intentionally shocking. In The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky seems to turn up the volume on some of the elements I thought were border-line gratuitous in El Topo. Firstly, the aforementioned issues of too much fuzzy imagery and broad brush strokes and that is something that might fundamentally corrupt my review if we are to assume that the point went over my head. Secondly, there is quite a bit of full frontal nudity in this movie from both genders and some of it is more graphic than what we might see in R-rated movies today, but I guess that is a sign of the times. Thirdly, what is it with Jodorowsky and castration? Not to mention poop? Anyway, tid-bits of this movie are interesting and it is like nothing I have ever seen before, so for that I will recommend The Holy Mountain, but that doesn't mean it deserves a higher rating.
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VINE VOICEon 17 May 2007
Having been a great fan of this film for many years, I was looking forward to this release with relish.

Holy Mountain is now crystal clear with rich sounds and deep colours. Those of us who have only seen the illicit (but Jodorowsky-sanctioned) bootleg copies are in for a surprise. It looks like a different film, vibrant and retina-burning.

It's great that this movie has been done justice. The Holy Mountain has some of the most incredible cinematography, dazzling sets and psychedelic stylings that I have seen, and all from an independent auteur on a limited budget but with great vision. From the opening moments, it is funny, baffling, surreal, mystical, horrifying, beautiful, touching and illuminating. Who cares that it flags a little in the final third?

You might think you've seen it all but believe me, until you've seen this film, you haven't. It isn't for the faint hearted but for those with an open mind, it will be an experience you never forget. This is also a movie which doesn't give up all of its secrets on the first viewing (in fact, the first time you see it, you will probably be quite overwhelmed by it all).

Scenes that will live with me forever include birds flying out of bullet wounds; protesting students being sprayed with red paint to symbolise their carnage; the thief (the image of Christ) attacking the meditating Achemist with a knife while scores of unseen chanting Buddhist monks rise to a deafening pitch; insane goings-on in the house of a man who turns out to be the Government's chief economic adviser and of course, the final audacious scene in which we begins to realise that the jokes on us . . .
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on 22 October 2014
This is one of those 1970s avant garde films that film students often rave about. I was a bit sceptical for that reason - I've sat through my fair share of that type of film and often been utterly bored at the incredibly slow pacing or infuriated by the style over substance approach that dominates a lot of films from that era. However, the Holy Mountain was a bit of a surprise to me.

There's a very loose plot, but for the most part it's a series of surreal set-pieces, combined with some vague nods to philosophy. I'm not going to go overboard in my praise of this (there's a tendency to brand anyone who made a slightly unusual film in the 1970s a genius and Jodorowsky in particular gets worshiped as a hero by some people) but what surprised me is it's undeniably entertaining. If you've watched a lot of avant garde films from this period you'll probably have seen a fair few that have treacle-like pacing - there's only so many times you can watch a man walking bleakly across an arid landscape for 6 minutes - but the Holy Mountain is generally very fast-paced and enjoyable.

I think Brazil by Terry Gilliam is probably the best comparison from mainstream cinema (i.e. things people might have actually watched) in the sense that it's completely bonkers, but also quite well made and fun to watch. There are a few brilliant characters/lines, even if at times the entire thing seems a bit too whimsical and chaotic to make any serious points. For what it's worth, I found this a lot more enoyable than El Topo (the other film by Jodorowsky that most people say is his best).
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on 30 May 2014
This is the kind of film that will generate much adoration from a few people, but it's a real love it or hate it affair.
Some will see it as full of mysticism, iconography, bold statement etc, and those viewers will praise it with a passion, others may see it differently.
I came to this via the documentary about the making of Dune, that was intriguing.
I watched El Topo, which came recommended by Jarvis Cocker and John Lennon, and I can see why they liked it. It has something about it sylistically, and it has a plot of sorts. The lead character roaming through Mexico wearing Jim Morrison's trousers, tooting on Jethro Tull's flute, blowing away everyone in his path like a maniacle Clint Eastwood. Then having an epiphany, showing redemption and a caring side towards a cave full of disabled unfortunates.
Holy Mountain, however, takes the surreal wierdness of El Topo and cranks it up to eleven.
No need for a plot, it's simply a series of surreal vignettes, loosely bound together in a kind of flow.
It's obviously of the period, late 1960's early 1970's, in it's vibrant drug induced surrealism, steeped in the vivid tones of the psychadelic hippy era.
But if you aren't an admirer of that scene, this is pretty inpenetrable stuff.
You could call Jodorowski a genius, or a naked emperor, depends on what you get from this film.
I do relate to the comment posted here that this is really more like performance art than a movie. That is exactly how I perceived Holy Mountain. Student film maker performance art, designed to shock.
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on 28 May 2013
Very striking movie with many strange, disturbing, extreme and peculiar images. There is a lot of humour to go with the more serious ideas (seeing s-t turned into gold, is that sick or funny?).

Many of the sets are fascinating looking. I get a slight A Clockwork Orange vibe from it visually.

The film reminds me of what Kenneth Anger seems to be trying to achieve, but can't due to a lack of money. Also Alejandro Jodorowsky's superior technical ability and more enjoyable set of ideas puts this light years ahead of Anger's terrible movies. They share similar fascinations with arcane spiritual matters (Anger does black magic, Jodorowsky the tarot cards) that they turn into content for their films.

It looks well-funded with many large sets and many extras. It has an almost epic quality to it.

The story is a fragmented series of set pieces but the pacing is brisk and there is enough connective tissue joining the scenes together to make it add up to a proper narrative. The introductions of the other characters in the middle goes on a bit, but there are many funny moments and weird images to make it very enjoyable. From the spiritual training to climb the mountain the film lost me a little as it started to meander in uninteresting directions. I think the last half hour is the weakest section but it's still fairly good and full of arresting images.

A very impressive, satisfying film full of striking images and ideas that entertains much more than I expected. Quite remarkable.

It's a shame everyone wears ridiculous platform boots as it dates the movie to its era.
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Some amazing imagery in this film but I didn't really find it a satisfying story to follow.

More like an assemblance of bizarre clips, any one of which would qualify as a video installation in a contemporary art gallery.

It's a bit like watching Monty Python's Holy Grail after eating rather a lot of special mushrooms and some mouldy goats cheese, all washed down with half a pint of Absynth; "GNNNN-URRRRH -Did I just see that?". You get the picture.

Pale
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on 5 February 2014
The most amazing film I think I've ever seen! Jodorowsky is as enlightened philosophically as he is in terms of design and production. Beautifully written and excetionally filmed. Thank you
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