Anchor Bay // 1973 // 113 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 25th, 2011
You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.
There are few films I have a harder time discussing coherently than The Holy Mountain. I love the film and have been rewarded time and time again in repeat viewings, but that reward comes differently each time. That's the problem. The film is so strange and enigmatic, sometimes it seems like an earnest journey toward an enlightened spirit and sometimes it seems like a giant middle finger to both his audience and the concept of spirituality (indeed, with his celebration of blasphemy and his obsession with tarot, the director himself exhibits the same enigma). Can it be both at once? Strange as it seems to me, I can only yes to that question. I'll make heads or tails of it someday but, for now, I'll be content that it's one of my very favorite films and thrilled that, after so long in obscurity, the film is finally available on Blu-ray.
A thief who looks like Jesus carouses the street with his armless-legless dwarf friend when he hears tell of an alchemist who turns feces into gold. He climbs the alchemist's tower to meet him and the alchemist (played by Jodorowsky) takes the thief under his wing, showing the thief his true plan. Along with seven of the world's wealthiest and most corrupt people, he will take them on a spiritual journey to the Holy Mountain, where they will kill the immortals living atop and take their place at the table in their rightful seats on top of the world.
The Holy Mountain is one of the most grotesquely beautiful films in the history of cinema and is more rewarding with each viewing. Though the dialog in the first twenty minutes amounts to little more than animalistic grunting, all the groundwork for the coming spiritual journey, such as it is, gets laid down immediately. Through scenes of soldiers parading the streets with flayed, crucified lambs hoisted aloft, an explosive battle pitting frogs dressed as conquistadors against chameleons dressed as natives, and a Christ-like vagrant waking up to hundreds of statues in his image staring back at him, we have no doubt where the director stands.
The man knows how to construct an image and he's not afraid to shock. It's no wonder that it caused such controversy at its premiere; if you're on the receiving end of the satire, the imagery is just plain offensive, deliberately so. When the first human words are uttered and the alchemist appears, the film shifts in tone. The alchemist introduces us to the seven others who he will accompany on this journey, the nine together representing the planets, a scummy group to say the least. Jodorowsky describes them in seven vignettes that are at once hilarious and horrifying in their skewering of corporate greed and cronyism. He follows this with his awakening of their minds on the journey to Lotus Island and the Holy Mountain. Spiritual as all this may seem, they're climbing the mountain to commit murder and escape the horrors they themselves created down below. The ironic twist is a big F-you to the audience that represents a harbinger of the self-referential entertainment world we now have to suffer through. This polarizes the audience; I think it's both hilarious and in perfect consonance with the rest of the film. The alchemist and the director, the same person, show us their tricks. To know how the gold is made, we have to see the feces.
Jodorowsky was lost to obscurity for three decades, but that ended in 2007 when Anchor Bay released their spectacular retrospective of his work (which unfortunately did not include Santa Sangre) and people could finally see the grotesque beauty of his vision. Those discs represented such a massive improvement over what had previously been available that a Blu-ray upgrade seemed almost superfluous. Once again, I was wrong; I could hardly be more impressed with this edition of The Holy Mountain. The improvement here over the standard definition release is not so dramatic as that was over the poorly dubbed VHS copies I was used to, but it couldn't be. Still, the depth of detail and clarity are substantially improved. The weird technicolor bloodshed is even stranger the faker it looks, the design of the interiors is so much more beautiful, and the awe-inspiring mountains of the Mexican terrain are so much more gorgeous; the DVD version showed the potential of the transfer and the Blu-ray is the realization of that.
Though I'm generally opposed to surround remixes of older films, the folks at Anchor Bay did a really good job on the sound design here. Jodorowsky's score is beautifully represented and the dialog, stilted and foreign as it may sound, is perfect. It isn't much of an upgrade from the Dolby Surround mix from the earlier disc, but it is still very fine.
The boxed set was filled with phenomenal extras, making it one of the finest releases of 2007. Those presented on the Blu-ray are identical to those on the DVD, but unfortunately, The Holy Mountain pulled the short straw on supplements. They're still good, but those on the Fando y Lis and El Topo are much better. Still, we get a valuable commentary from Jodorowsky, in Spanish with subtitles over the movie; he's always fun to listen to talk about his movies and lends valuable insight into the background of the film and its imagery. Deleted scenes, also with commentary, are certainly worth a look and the short featurette on the film's restoration is excellent, especially for those who didn't have to suffer through the horrid old prints. I could care less about the documentary on tarot, though it is a passion of the director and certainly relevant to the film; the whole concept is pretty stupid to me. A photo gallery and a trailer round us out.
There are times when I wonder if Jodorowsky's reputation has become inflated by how much people once had to work to see his films. Then I watch The Holy Mountain and I am firmly reminded the director is singular in the history of cinema. There has never been another movie like this before or since and it gets my vote for the best cult film ever produced. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray edition is not quite a revelation in comparison to their standard definition release, but the image and sound really shine in Hi-Def and Jodorowsky fans will most certainly want to upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery