Tartan have given cult film fans a reason to celebrate with the long awaited, long sought after release of the Alejandro Jodorowsky box set, a mighty six disc collection containing three of the acclaimed underground director’s works along with a whole host of extras. Crucially, this includes his masterworks “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain”, two films which have been talked about in revered tones by fans of eclectic and far out cinema ever since their original release back in the early 1970s, and which have retained their status as must see ‘midnight movie’ items despite having only been available for years as low quality bootlegs or shoddy imports. While the presence of these two alone would make the box set an essential purchase, the rest of the package also offers a number of valuable insights into the life and career of the Chilean Jodorowsky, whose surreal and allegorical works have been compared with those of art house darlings Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini, and the more modern, though equally lunatic films of David Lynch. These supplementary materials make for almost as fascinating viewing as the films themselves, detailing Jodorowsky’s success as an author, graphic novelist, playwright, and even as a Tarot card reader of celebrated renown.
“El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” are obviously the centrepieces of the box set, released complete and uncut in the UK for the first time ever, and having been digitally remastered and restored under the watchful eye of Jodorowsky himself. “El Topo” (which translates as ‘the mole’) was originally released in 1970 and is the marginally more coherent of the two, being a sort of existential Western in which the titular man (played by the director himself, who also wrote the script) hunts down a group of four master gunfighters. Although this may sound fairly straightforward, the film, which was shot in Mexico, is unforgettably bizarre, showing Jodorowsky’s incredible flair for surrealism at its best, packing in an endless stream of crazy and extreme images, including dwarves, cactus whipping cults and disembowelments. Coming as a real shock to viewers expecting some kind of Spaghetti Western, though the film doesn’t really make much sense, it is nevertheless held together by a warped internal or perhaps philosophical logic. Apparently a favourite of John Lennon, its low budget does show a bit around the edges, though this only adds to the off-kilter atmosphere and air of uncompromising imagination.
“The Holy Mountain” was Jodorowsky’s next film, and if anything is even stranger than “El Topo”. Described as the director’s ‘mescaline movie’, it follows a group of nine disciples who travel to the mountain in search of immortality where they meet a master (again played by the director, naturally) who relates to them a series of mind-bending lessons. This results in a number of hallucinogenic sequences which almost defy description, and the film is best thought of as a series of weird parables rather than as following any kind of traditional narrative. Jodorowsky plays upon and makes use of all manner of religious ideas and symbols, revolving around a kind of Buddhist philosophy, though featuring a Christ like figure and crucifixion imagery. At the same time, he works in plenty of political and social commentary, all of which combine to make a viewing experience that is truly free thinking and original – though of course what it all actually means is a matter for debate, or perhaps meditation. Thankfully, being able to, or even wanting to be able to make sense of “The Holy Mountain” is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying it, and the film serves as the same kind of cinematic acid trip visual feast as Kubrik’s classic “2001: A Space Odyssey”, though in an even stranger and less conventional fashion.
Since most viewers will likely dive in straight at the deep end with Jodorowsky’s best known works, “Fando and Lis” inevitably comes as a bit of a letdown, which is a shame as it does have plenty to offer. Marking the director’s debut and being based upon a play by his collaborator Fernando Arrabal, the 1968 film is basically a precursor to his later works, though one which still managed to whip up enough controversy of its own, apparently inspiring a riot during its premiere at the Acapulco Film Festival which saw the director being pelted with rocks as he fled the scene of the crime. Following Fando and his partially crippled girlfriend Lis as they search for the mythical city of Tar, the film sees Jodorowsky stretching his wings with plenty of bizarre and symbolic imagery. Although not as far out as his later films, and a little slow moving and clunky, the “Fando and Lis” still makes for memorably odd viewing, and whilst it would probably not merit a purchase in its own right, is definitely worth watching as part of the box set, and it is nice to see it having been rescued from cinematic obscurity.
The package features an impressive array of extras, chief amongst which is “La Constellation Jodorowsky”, a ninety minute documentary from 1994 by Louis Mouchet. As well as offering an in-depth look into the director’s life and career, which shows him to be a truly multi-talented artist, the piece gives viewers insight into one the most famous never-was of cult cinema, his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, which was eventually made by David Lynch. Coming across as a deeply spiritual man, Jodorowsky makes for a fascinating subject, and the documentary is a welcome inclusion in the box set. Also worthy of note are his 1957 twenty minute short “La Cravate”, here restored from library materials and the soundtracks to “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain”, both receiving their first release on CD. The extras certainly benefit from the participation of Jodorowsky, who provides feature length commentaries and appears in a number of short featurettes. Along with some deleted scenes and archive materials, these make for what can honestly be described as complete editions of the films.
Simply put, the Alejandro Jodorowsky box set is an absolute must for any fans of wild and weird cinema. Although undoubtedly a little rough in places, “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” have lost none of their power to amaze and mesmerise, and both remain classics that are the very definition of cult cinema.