Alejandro Jodorowsky's follow up to his cult hit El Topo is a strange and surreal journey through the world of mysticism and the occult that forgoes the black leather clad Spaghetti Western styling of it's predecessor and instead focuses on the magical and spiritual aspects of various world theologies.
A thief bearing no small resemblance to Jesus Christ finds himself wandering through a strange world of religious imagery and strange arcane rituals. He eventually climbs a massive red tower (and in turn reaches a different spiritual plane) by using some large balloons and is taken in by 'The Alchemist', a mystical figurehead who, after proving himself by turning the thief's fecal matter into gold, introduces him to six powerful strangers of varied occupations (and based on the Tarot), each seeking enlightenment.
Each one of these individuals, naked and shaved, represents a different planet in the solar system. Teaming up with the thief and the Alchemist along with his assistant, they strip themselves of their possessions, burn all their money, and try to remove any form of self from their souls. Together they form a group who attempt to climb the Holy Mountain where they expect to overthrow the immortals that reside there and find true spiritual enlightenment.
Filled with its fair share of shocking imagery and sadistic violence, The Holy Mountain is a totally unique film filled with gorgeous compositions and amazing set pieces. The infamous reenactment of the Mexican revolution using frogs (as Spanish conquistadors) and lizards (as Aztecs) is humorous and disturbing at the same time, and in a sense it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The thief, who is obviously a metaphor for Christ (when we meet him he is coming down off of a cross) and who is compared to him on more than one occasion not the least of which is when he drives the money lenders from the temple, represents all of us and mankind's need to find God in whatever form we may deem fit. Jodorowsky has said that with this film he hoped to make a sacred piece of cinema and so he uses symbolism from various different religions to build his own take on theological enlightenment.
Once again, Jodorowsky has cast himself in the lead and surrounded himself with primarily unknown performers. His theory on this is that having a star in your film is a waste of money that should be spent on production values rather than on arrogant talent and in many ways his theory is quite astute. Here he has made an absolutely beautiful film that is at times very down to Earth and at other times very alien in appearance. There's obviously been a lot of care put into each shot as well as into the set decorations and into the costumes and it pays off as the film is gorgeous to look at even if at times it's a little hard to decipher without an innate knowledge of world religions and the occult.
Leaving itself wide open for individual interpretation while at the same time having a fairly straightforward narrative, The Holy Mountain is a film just waiting to be explained, likely in a different manner by each person who sees it.
The AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer for The Holy Mountain is sharp and colorful and quite a noticeable improvement over the standard definition DVD release. Like the El Topo Blu-ray, there is evidence of some noise reduction having been applied and if you're one of those viewers who is susceptible to that, you'll notice it, but it's not a particularly overzealous application. Texture looks very strong, you'll really notice it not just in the costumes but in the various props and bizarre sets used throughout the film - a perfect example being the shot with the Christ mannequins, you almost feel the dirt. Black levels are very good and there are no problems with compression artifacts worth noting. The image is a bit cleaner than you might expect, and there are no issues with heavy print damage or anything like that. The improvement in detail offered by the higher resolution really makes it easier than ever to appreciate just how amazing the cinematography and attention to detail is in this picture. Jodo-heads should be pretty happy with the results - if it's not on par with the latest blockbuster, did anyone really expect it to be?
Audio options are offered up in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and PCM 2.0 Stereo, both tracks sounding full and well rounded. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. The 5.1 track basically just spreads the score around, with most of the dialogue staying front and center as it should be and only some occasional ambient effects coming from the rear. It's not an overly aggressive mix, but nor should it be. There's definitely more depth and range here when compared to the previous DVD release. Optional subtitles are offered in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Anchor Bay supplies and audio commentary with Jodorowsky, in Spanish with English subtitles. Whereas the commentary on El Topo was more anecdotal and historical, this time around Jodorowsky's talk is more interpretive. He doesn't skirt around the history of the picture but he does put quite a bit of emphasis on explaining the symbols that appear throughout the picture and how many of the sets and set pieces relate to the thief's quest for enlightenment. He points out which symbols were taken from which religions, be they Islamic, Christian, Jewish or Pagan in nature, and he explains the alchemical side of things, the fecal matter into gold scene being a key moment where he delves into quite a bit of detail. He explains how George Harrison wanted to take the lead role but refused to show his anus on screen in the bathing scene and so he passed on that opportunity (he states that it probably cost him millions of dollars in the long run) and talks about why certain people were chosen for certain roles. Again, he covers his use of handicapped people in the picture and points out various scenes that involve some interesting contractions, such as the church full of prostitutes and the scene where the thief finds himself awake in a room full of fake Christs. Jodorowsky explains how he took aspects of many different religions and blended them together in an attempt to make a sacred film that would change people rather than simply entertain them, and he talks about how threats were made on his life by facets of the Mexican government who were upset over what they considered to be blasphemous imagery and with his use of uniforms in the film. This caused him to finish the shoot in New York City, where many of the indoor sets were built and where much of this footage was shot. It's very much to Jodorowsky's credit that he chose this approach for the commentary, as The Holy Mountain can be a very big pill to swallow. It's a heavy film with layers and layers of symbolism and mysticism built into its fiber and having the chance to hear some of the explanations from the writer-director-star's own mouth is very much a great way to garner further appreciation for this truly unique piece of cinema.
Also included here are some never before seen deleted scenes with commentary in Spanish with English subs. The first scene takes place in a Mexican restaurant, the second scene involves a Zen master's interaction with a student, the third scene again involves the Zen master's interaction with his students and shows them doing a ritualistic dance, the fourth shows the master feeding his students rice, the fifth scene involves the master and his students on the mountain, the sixth scene also takes place on the mountain and involves some rock climbing, the seventh scene deals with skin phobia, and the final scene involves the millionaire's son. Combined these eight deleted scenes run 5:58, and Jodorowsky's commentary explains why each of the scenes was removed and also provides some context for them.
Up next is The Tarot (7:52), a short with commentary that allows Jodorowsky to explain his fascination with Tarot cards and how he identified with much of their symbolism. He explains that The Tarot is not a way of looking into the future but a way of speaking about the present, and how you can use it to set your spirit on something to make it happen. It's an interesting short that fits in with the feature nicely in that it further explains some of the symbolism seen in the film as well as Jodorowsky's beliefs in The Tarot.
Rounding out the extra features are the original theatrical trailer with English voice-over, a restoration process short (5:30 of side by side comparison footage with narration), and a photo gallery with production stills and some interesting original script excerpts. None of the extras here are new, they've all been carried over from the previous Anchor Bay DVD release.
While there aren't any new extras to speak of, the improved audio and video quality on this Blu-ray release of The Holy Mountain definitely make it worth the double dip. The film itself holds up as a true original and this release comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.