Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Review of El Topo

Last Friday I made the traditional pilgrimage of the film geek to another city (in this case Chicago) to see a midnight screening of “El Topo” (1971). Katie and I had time to briefly enjoy the parts of Chicago that were very near our hotel such as Millennium park with its ice sculptures and giant reflective bean. The Cloud Gate looked particularly suave with snow on the top where the reflection of clouds should be. We also caught the Chicago Art Institute for free and saw many of the works in my Modern Art course.

The highlight, needless to say, was “El Topo,” easily defeating the comparatively dull and uninspired sum of Western painting and sculpture from the past 150 years. With directing, writing and star performance by Chilean surrealist and former-mime Alejandro Jodorowsky, “El Topo” is a cult masterpiece.

Some background: When Jodorowsky made his film in 1970 there was no precedent for his brand of vivid insanity. His funding was difficult and he was unable to gain distribution until John Lennon declared it as his favorite movie after a private screening. Theater owners were convinced to show the film at midnight, so as not to interfere with their mainstream lineup, and thus the “midnight movie” was born. Rights issues tied up the 35mm print for 35 years making screenings rare and preventing a DVD release. In 2003 5-Minutes-to-Live ranked “El Topo” as the greatest cult film, above such classics as “Eraserhead” and “Spider Baby.” Newly restored for the current circuit, “El Topo” will probably make it to DVD in the near future.

Watch clips from Jodowsky’s movies at http://www.abkcofilms.com/. Do so now.

Plot summary with some spoilers below.

The title character, after forcing his nude real-life son to bury his teddy bear and a picture of his mother in the desert, returns to his village to find the denizens slaughtered. Sadistic, fetish-ridden banditos are the obvious cause and El Topo dispatches them with violent aplomb. Afterwards, at a Franciscan monastery, El Topo exchanges his son for a woman.

In the second part of the film, the woman convinces El Topo to wander the desert in search of the four “gun masters” and duel them. The quest takes many years and reaches new heights of bizarreness. Some of the amazing imagery includes a burning pyre made of rabbit corpses. In the end, the disenchanted and demoralized El Topo is betrayed and apparently killed.

In the film’s final part, El Topo awakens in a mountain after several decades of slumbering. He has become a part of the local messiah mythology for the band of deformed outcasts who dwell in the mountain. He climbs to freedom and vows to rescue his friends by earning money in the city, a den of outrageous corruption run by the disturbing Women’s Decency League. El Topo questions whether freedom is worth it if it means life in such a wretched world. After a series of revelations, tragedy befalls.

Walrus Rating: 9.5


Mad Dog said...

Well now you've gone and piqued my interest.

Patti said...

You would take a trip to Chicago to see an obscure cult film. Awesome. I'm curious now too.

Patti said...

I don't know if you have a system to read comments posted on old posts, but I saw the movie at the Webster Film Series an hour ago and was blown away. I had a hard time decided if I loved it or just found it what-in-the-hell interesting, but I think I'm closer to really liking it. Weird. And I repeat, you would go to Chicago to see it.

FilmWalrus said...

The Chicago trip was completely worth it. Possibly the most fun per minute I've ever had on a trip. Great film.

Anyway, glad you got a chance to see it on the big screen. I can't wait for "Holy Mountain" next week!