Sunday, May 12, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "EL TOPO"

EL TOPO (1970)

Director/Screenplay: Alejandro Jodorowsky




After years of his films being caught up in legal battles over copyright ownership, finally, the films of cult Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky were finally been released on DVD. While other films of his like “Fando Y Lis,” "Santa Sangre" and “The Holy Mountain,” are essential masterpieces in their own right, “El Topo,” is usually considered above the rest. This…- well I was about to say Western, but that’s too narrow and deceiving to describe this film (or any of Jodorowsky’s films), this unpredictable quasi-avant-garde (whatever that means) western, was championed originally by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who got it to play at midnight showing at the Elgin Theatre in New York, which ran it for a year straight, making it the first Midnight Movie. (Sorry to burst that bubble “Rocky Horror…” fans)

This film isn’t just filled with gorgeous albeit bizarre images, it is, gorgeous and bizarre images. From the opening shots with El Topo (Jodorowsky) and his son Haji (Jodorowsky’s son Brontis) riding on a dark horse, him wearing all black leather, while his 7-year old son is naked, and they come across a town that’s been ambushed and destroyed, hundreds of dead bodies, lying along a river of blood and desert, this movie has a universe all to its own. Maybe not even the universe, it could just be the ramblings of Jodorowsky's rabid imagination. The people who did the ambushing do such strange activities as target practice with women’s high heel shoes, and slice bananas samurai style. Finding the ambushers is only part one of this epic, however, as El Topo, along with a woman (Mara Lorenzio) who’s he kinda saved from them, journey through the desert to challenge the four great master gunfighters. During this odyssey, they’re joined by another woman, Gitana (Berta Lomeli) who’s apparently better than Annie Oakley on the gun, makes Indiana Jones look like an amateur on the whip. Dressing in similar black clothes as El Topo, she’s more determined to seduce the woman than El Topo is. Who knew lesbian dominatrixes existed back then? 

I’ve been trying to narrow down the images in my head to figure out which are the important ones describe, but there’s so many in this movie that it’s impossible to make such a distinction.  He uses circus-like creatures like Fellini, disabled and dismembered actors like Serigo Leone or Tod Browning, even a scene where a gunfighter is surrounded by hundreds of live and dead rabbits that’s predates Herzog’s great ending of “Aguirre…,” with the boat filled with monkeys. If there’s any meaning to all of these symbols, and images, other than Jodorowsky probably thought they’d look amazing on film, I can’t find it. When there’s just one glass unicorn, then it’s symbolic. When there’s a 1000 different ones, they’re just random images you come across, like a dream. The name “El Topo” even, is only disguised as symbolic, as it means “The Mole,” and they spin a tale about the mole who spends his life digging out from underground, only to be blinded by the sunlight, but that’s not true in real life, or in the movie, even though there is a scene where El Topo, climbs his way out of a whole; he sees the world clearer than everybody at that moment.

The quick-jump cutting editing techniques that bare similarities to Eisenstein and Godard are used extensively, but carefully and creatively, clearly showing his influence on other filmmakers as wide-ranging from Tarantino to Guy Ritchie.  His films are cited as influences for people as wide-ranging as Dennis Hopper to Marilyn Manson. Few filmmakers are as visionary as Jodorowsky, and even fewer films are as strange, unpredictable, bizarre, and utterly fascinating as “El Topo.” This isn’t just the first midnight movie, “El Topo” is the best midnight movie.   


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