Friday, August 23, 2013

EL TOPO (1970) - Alejandro Jodorowsky


In December of 1970, the "midnight movie" was born thanks to John Lennon, Beatles manager Allen Klein and crazed auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky. El Topo (The Mole) was its name, a surreal mash-up of spaghetti western flick, kung fu movie, religious epic and fuzzy bunny snuff film. It actually played at midnight as an add-on to some of John Lennon's own short films. It seems the producers thought no one would come to see it without the famous Beatle's pre-show imprimatur. Go figure.

Well, over 40 years later, the weird free-associative masterpiece that is El Topo is still playing somewhere almost every weekend at midnight (the IFC Center runs it constantly, faithfully) without the Lennon stamp of approval. Devoted Topo-heads now smuggle in their own joints and tabs of smiley-face LSD. I re-watched it at home, stone cold sober, and on Blu-ray. OK, I may have had a Smuttynose or two. Come on, it's El Topo!

The movie is just as surprising as the first time I saw it on a bad bootleg VHS copy, though for different reasons. Even when you know what's coming, you're still shocked that the disparate styles and influences, actors and non-actors (mostly non-actors) somehow coalesce. And all those pools of blood...how did he get them so red?! As with Fando y Lis, I couldn't help but dip into the commentary track afterwards. After being who knocked flat on my ass with his brilliance, I felt Jodorowsky owed me some sort of explanation for the wonders and horrors he'd put me through. I'm not sure that I got that exactly, but here's a few tidbits I did learn...

- Some of the women playing corpses in the opening village massacre scene nearly died of sunstroke when Jodorowsky forgot to call "cut" and they lay in the same position for several hours afterwards.

- The "phallus stone" in the desert that magically shoots water after El Topo shoots it with his gun was apparently based on his own phallus ("Short, but very thick!")

- In a related story, Jodorowsky's quote about Godard being primarily an intellectual filmmaker: "Godard has one testicle! I have three -- intellect, emotion and libido!"

- Besides making his son Brontis ride nude on horseback in the beginning of the movie, Jodorowsky also used to sumo wrestle with all of his children in the backyard.

- He wore the same pair of silk underwear with a heart on the rump (ala Eric Von Stroheim) for the duration of the shoot.

- He used a lot of Peckinpah's sets from The Wild Bunch.

- And just like in the Fando y Lis commentary track, he unfortunately continues to refer to the many people with disabilities in his films as los monstros ("the monsters"). But at least he offers a reassuring equation for making a no-budget western with no stars:

"One man with no legs + one man with no arms = one John Wayne!"

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