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El Topo (1970) - Alexandro Jodorowsky
Related: 1970 - midnight movie (film genre) - South America - Alexandro Jodorowsky - art film - sixties counterculture - surrealism in the cinema - violent films - 1970s films - cult films
El Topo has been a kind of spaghetti western with crudely Bunuelian overtones. --Jeffrey Hoberman
Bibliography: Midnight Movies (1983) - Jeffrey Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum
El Topo (1970) - Alexandro Jodorowsky [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
"In December 1970, Jonas Mekas was organizing one of his periodic festivals of avant-garde films at the Elgin, a rundown six hundred seat theater, not unlike the Charles, on Eighth Avenue just north of Greenwich Village. Although the program was laden with major avant-garde figures, the most widely attended screenings were those on the three nights devoted to the films of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Elgin management took advantage of the hippie crowds to announce an added feature-Alexandro Jodorowsky's El Topo to be shown at midnight because, as the first ad announced, it was "a film too heavy to be shown any other way."" --Midnight Movies (1983)
El Topo (The Mole) is a 1970 allegorical, cult western movie and underground film, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. Characterized by its bizarre characters and occurrences, use of maimed and dwarf performers, and heavy doses of Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy, the film is about the eponymous character - a violent, black-clad gunfighter - and his quest for enlightenment.
The movie takes place in two parts. The first half, in an unnamed desert, involves the title character's journey with his newly found woman to defeat the four great masters of pistol duelling. As El Topo encounters each of the first three masters, the master teaches El Topo a lesson and they then duel, in which El Topo cheats every time. The final master kills himself, in a demonstration of the unimportance of life. The first half ends with El Topo's betrayal and near-murder by the woman and an unamed informant.
The second half of the movie takes place years later, after El Topo is rescued by a band of deformed outcasts, saving him from death. The outcasts take El Topo to their underground community, where he, comatose, meditates on the four lessons for many years. When he awakes, he is 'born again' with the help of the outcasts, and goes on a quest to free them from their subterranean prison.
With the help of his dwarf girlfriend and his full-grown son, El Topo digs an exit out of the cave, only to see the others of his community murdered by cultists from a nearby town. In a rage, El Topo kills them all, then pours gasoline on himself and sets himself on fire, as he has learned all he can about life.
El Topo's son and girlfriend survive the ordeal and make a grave for his remains, which later becomes a beehive full of honey.
InterpretationThe film is sometimes interpreted as a metaphor for the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the four duelists representing the four great prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) of the Old Testament and El Topo himself representing Jesus Christ. 
In an animated introductory sequence, "The Mole" is directly explained to be one who has experienced the process described in the Platonic allegory of the cave, found in Plato's The Republic (dialogue).
The final scene where El Topo burned himself bears a similar imaginary to the photo of a Buddhist monk who burned himself in May of 1963 outside the U.S Embassy, during the Vietnam War as a form of protest. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Topo [Jul 2006]
Danny Peary review
Some of the action sequences are exciting. Too often they are gratuitous. The same can be said for the "sex" scenes. Much of the camerawork is excellent and eerily conveys the mystical, holy world Jodorowsky wanted to attain; but too many of the visuals and camera setups call attention to themselves. At least amidst all the carnage and religious fervor, there are a few bits of funny absurd comedy- when one of the Colonel's men washes his face with his glasses on, or when it turns out the fourth Master has a pole for a house. (However, I am not sure Jodorowsky meant this pole to be taken as humorous.) There are good things in El Topoćit is obviously made by an intelligent man who is a talented filmmaker from a visual standpoint. But it is just too unwieldly. It reminds me of college days when you didn't have enough time to do projects for every course so handed in the same one to several classes. El Topo makes you wonder if Jodorowsky didn't take a number of unrelated subjects one semester and then out of desperation make the one film which could be handed in to any of his professors (Masters). That may explain why it is overloaded with the sum total of Jodorowsky's knowledge/learning. It should be an impressive film, but it falls flat because it lacks clarity. As Pauline Kael stated, that this film has impact doesn't make it art. My aphorism: that this film is beyond our comprehension doesn't make it profound. --http://www.hotweird.com/jodorowsky/peary.html [Jul 2006]
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