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the emperor's new kaftan?,
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This review is from: The Holy Mountain  [DVD] (DVD)
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...