The flame-throwing guitar in Mad Max: Fury Road was cool and all, but it wasn’t cinema’s first weaponized six-string. That distinction may well belong to the one in The Holy Mountain. If you don’t remember it (it appears at the 1:04 mark in the trailer above), it’s probably because there’s just that much batshit stuff going on in Alejandro Jodorwosky’s surrealist masterpiece. You’re more likely to remember the “sanctuary of 1,000 testicles,” or the “love machine” that makes Woody Allen’s Orgasmatron look like a pocket vibe (what’s with movies released in 1973 and sex machines?). Or the bloody battle between frogs and chameleons dressed in Aztec and Conquistador outfits.
Luckily PETA hadn’t yet been founded when this was filmed, or their heads might’ve exploded right along with the frogs. Like Noah on acid, Jodorowsky subjected pretty much every known animal to his whims in this movie, as documented in a 1972 Rolling Stone report from the set in Mexico.
“He wanted five hundred crabs, I heard,” someone says. “No, no,” one of Alexandro’s assistants corrects, “Five hundred spiders. Only 50 crabs.”
Leaving aside the naked dude covered in tarantulas, The Holy Mountain is basically a hipster lookbook: it’s got Jesus beards, tarot cards, mid-century mod furniture, art factories in which people paint with their butts (we’ve seen that one before), tats, mysticism, ayahuasca, and wacky theme bars. The film has inspired Kanye, Erykah Badu, Brooklyn clothing designers… Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before the Pantheon Bar opens in Bushwick.
But as much as today’s hipster culture seems to have borrowed from Chilean-born Jodorowsky, he also took from New York, as he explained in a Dazed interview:
I found the actors in Max’s Kansas City in New York. I took two transvestites from there, and a guy who was ejected from Wall Street, and I found an extreme right-wing guy to play the Nazi. So they were playing roles close to themselves. They were very neurotic – normal people are neurotic but even more so in New York. I had this great idea to get them mystical enlightenment – I thought when I finished the picture, they could prepare to become monks. But they brought boxes of drugs with them and we were told the police were coming to raid us, when we were in the pyramids in Mexico, so I put the drugs down the drain. Then the actors became terrible, hated everything, because they didn’t have their drugs.
And to think that George Harrison almost got caught up in all this. Just like Jodorowsky would later cast Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and (at the rate of $100,000 per minute) Salvador Dali in his never-realized version of Dune, he tried to get the quiet Beatle on board for this one:
George Harrison wanted to play the thief in Holy Mountain. I met him in the Plaza Hotel in New York and he told me there’s one scene he didn’t want to do, when the thief shows his asshole and there is a hippopotamus. I said: ‘But it would be a big, big lesson for humanity if you could finish with your ego and show your asshole.’ He said no.
But the biggest setback for the film came after it was released: after Jodorowsky refused to direct an adaptation of The Story of O, his producer, Beatles manager Allen Klein, removed prints of The Holy Mountain from circulation for some 30 years. For a long time, if you wanted to watch it you had to secure a bootleg of the Japanese version, in which everyone’s pubes were pixelated. Trust us, you’re much better off going to IFC this weekend to watch this digitally restored version. (A mini doc about the color correction of the aging print makes clear that the Alchemist isn’t the only one who turned shit into gold.)
That it’s part of IFC’s Waverly Midnights series is appropriate: the Jodorowsky film that preceded this one, El Topo, was the first ever midnight movie (it played daily at the Elgin Theater in Chelsea, attracting viewers like Dennis Hopper). We’re not telling you to scarf some shrooms before watching The Holy Mountain, but if the “father of the midnight movie” saw fit to feed them to his actors at one point during filming…
“The Holy Mountain” at IFC Center, Fri., June 26 and Sat., June 27 at 12:15 a.m.