The Holy Mountain (1973)
By: Robert Winter on November 5, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Siren Visual (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 109 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Hector Salinas, Ramona Saunders
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Country: Mexico/USA
Cauterising Christianity, Freudian symbolism, sexuality, mysticism, contemporary politics and a wealth of arcane texts from all corners of the globe, The Holy Mountain is a tour de force of shocking and highly compelling imagery. Like a psychedelic tourniquet, all of these often obscure references are bound together to eke out and propel one Christ-like man's journey towards self-actualisation.

Filmed at a time in director Alejandro Jodorowsky's career when he discovered the wonders of LSD, The Holy Mountain is the astonishing product of how he used the drug to tap into his subconscious and let it bleed from his mind onto celluloid. It also helped that John Lennon financed much of the film after falling in love with the director's turgid, mystical western El Topo, so Jodorowsky had a reasonable budget to translate his drug-fueled inspirations.

The story itself is quite simple – a thief, down on his luck, covered in flies and marinating in his own piss awakens from an alcoholic bender to set out a quest for his holy grail – a treasure trove of gold hidden in a place called the Tower of Initiation. Lifted up to the top of the tower by a gold hook, the thief breaks a thin membrane covering the entrance and enters a magical world of gods and monsters. Here he is cleansed of his past life and shown the true horrors of the world such as hatred, war and other diseases of the mind. Each Pandora's Box of evil is governed by powerful corporate executives who are symbolically represented as the nine planets of our Milky Way.

But as the thief descends further down his path of righteousness, the narrative gets quite complex - a man squirts breast milk through a pair of baby leopard heads into the mouth of another man and a rotten-toothed paedophile removes his real glass eye and hands it over to a young girl to demonstrate his desire for her. And I'm sure you won't forget the sequence where a naked black woman plays a cello while the thief takes a shit in a glass jar and has it cooked by an alchemist until it turns to gold.

Dialogue is sparse and only really used to ground the proceedings when the following examples of the surreal threaten to totally alienate the audience - toads dressed as Nazis soldiers and chameleons in Aztec garb are blown up during a gory re-creation of bloodshed and genocide; a parade of skinned lambs on crucifixes are marched through the streets, while a drag queen dressed as the Holy Mary skins a horse near semi-naked fat temple merchants selling crucifixes to ogling tourists. But just when it seems Jodorowsky has disappeared up his own psychotronic sphincter, a character will offer some choice words on the nature of humanity and our place in the universe to bring us back down to Earth. All this is just a fraction of the astonishing and mind-blowing sequences presented throughout the film.
Video
Holy Mountain is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. To truly appreciate the tender loving care that went into fixing up the problems in the original negative, it's recommended you watch the restoration featurette contained in the extras. Every frame has been cleaned and colour-corrected to create a stunningly crisp and vibrant transfer.
Audio
The preferred English 5.1 option beautifully showcases the equally bizarre soundtrack and score, which consists of esoteric chants, metallic chimes, exotic percussion and grandiose orchestral arrangements. Some of the more high-end frequencies suffer from a slight distortion, but generally the sound is crystal clear and quite immersive.
Extra Features
Audio commentary with Alejandro Jodorowsky - "Superman is a being who can't make love as his ejaculation would be too powerful and kill his partner – it would shoot out through her brain." If ever a film needed a comprehensive analysis of the director's intent then The Holy Mountain is surely on top of the list. Fortunately, we are graced with a terrific commentary track by Jodorowsky, who is highly articulate, intelligent and offers a cornucopia of insights. This subtitled commentary is an essential listen. I found it just as fascinating as watching the film itself. He even talks about how the Mexican President asked him to remove "uniforms" and most of the religious visuals from the film. He was told by the President that it "could get dangerous", inferring his life was in danger. In fact, he received many death threats and had to pack up his family and move to New York.

Deleted scenes – Jodorowsky discusses a number of scenes that didn't make the final cut. Interestingly, he talks about how he wanted a real birth to end the film with, but the woman backed out at the last minute.

The Tarot – Jodorowsky waxes lyrical about his fascination with Tarot cards and what they mean to him in a spiritual and psychological sense.

Restoration process – Using a split screen, this is an attention-grabbing look at how they turned the aged original negative into a thing of vibrant beauty. The entire painstaking process was done under the close supervision of Jodorowsky.

Theatrical trailer.
The Verdict
It may sound cliché, but Holy Mountain is film that has to be seen and experienced. Jodorowsky takes the metaphysical and puts on show an organic, visceral overture that can only be truly appreciated when you're in the right frame of mind. If watching a film under the influence of mind-altering substances is not your thing, play the film once then watch it again with the commentary track turned on to put you in the mood.
Movie Score
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