Friday, April 3, 2015

El Topo

Score Technician: Paul Bower

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s importance as an absurdist filmmaker is unassailable, but some of his early choices belie a somewhat backward relationship to human sexuality (since we’re the arbiter of that kind of stuff and all). After he made a moderate splash in the art world with the classic piece of surrealism Fando Y Lis, Jodo got enough cash together to make what we can only assume he thought would be a kickass Western. El Topo singlehanded kicked-off the Midnight Movie™ craze in America. It’s absolutely nuts. And the only way you’re going to make any sense of it is by taking along this handy scorecard. Let the nanobots guide you into this sandy hyper-colorful abyss...
  • Jodorowksy, wearing an absolutely fabulous all-black leather disco cowboy outfit riding a horse up to a post in the middle of some godforsaken desert with his naked son (played by his IRL son, Brontis)? We like where this is going… = +5pts 
  • “You are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture.” Now we REALLY like where this is going. = +15pts 
  • Oh hell yeah playing a wood flute solo while your poor naked kid buries that stuff. ROLL OPENING TITLES. #dark. = +13pts
  • Okay, so the first place you visit after telling your (still naked, btw) son to get rid of everything that’s meaningful to him is the site of a truly horrendous large-scale massacre of people and horses (donkeys?). I guess we can still dig it, but that’s a lot of death for your son and his constantly exposed genitals to witness. = -20pts 
  • Meanwhile! Up along some spectacular ridge the bad guys have set up a tableau of all the women’s shoes they could find while killing an entire town. Get Lil’ B on the phone it’s a foot party. = -5pts 
  • Alright Jorge, do you want to make out with that shoe or shoot it? Okay, both is cool, too. = +2pts 
  • Actually, if we were riding a baller black stallion with our still painfully naked and still definitely under-ten-years-old little boy and three truly degenerate gunmen surrounded us we’d do absolutely nothing, too. Checks out. = +7pts 
  • Jodorowksy and The Naked One show up at a Franciscan Mission on their search to take vengeance on the massacred villagers, and some rando bandit wearing, like, at least 5 hats starts blowing his nose on an illuminated missal. Nice touch, Jodo. Guess we can mark you down as having grown up in a Catholic country. = +50pts 
  • Apparently it gets pretty lonely in the desert, because these banditos are definitely making some conspicuously long-blonde-haired monks into their girlfriends. = -35pts 
  • Damn it, more foot stuff! This poor lady at the mission has to dress what we can only assume is a Main Boss called the Colonel and then to repay her he makes her kiss all of his grody minions on the mouth. This dude’s so dead. = -60pts 
  • Yep. Still naked. Jodo and his exhibtionist of a son aren’t about to just sit there while a bunch of rowdies have their way with an innocent young woman. = +80pts 
  • “Who are you to judge me?” asks the Colonel. “I am God.” Damn Jodo that’s a pretty messed up thing to say to some dude before you cut his genitals off and send him walking out into the desert, just as naked as your son. = -25pts 
  • When the lady you saved earlier decides she wants to come along on this journey of vengeance, literally kicking your son to the curb and calmly stating, “Destroy me. Depend on no one.” Yeah, we’re sure that’s helping, dad. = -30pts 
  • Oh no, and it’s even worse. The monks take his son to raise as their own. On the plus side, he *is* wearing clothes now. = +150pts 
  • Dying of thirst in an endless desert? Why not just shoot some weird big rock while quoting Psalm 42. Instant water fountain! = +52pts 
  • After going down on his companion, which allows her to also produce water from rocks (symbolism? At this point, yeah whatever) Jodo finds out there are four more gun masters in the desert that he needs to vanquish. And so it begins. = +8pts 
  • To be fair, a plan to find these gurus by tracing a huge spiral across the entire desert seems ill advised. = -9pts 
  • So… the first gun master is a blind dude who has no fear of death because it “doesn’t exist” and employs a dude with no legs riding a dude with no arms to be his bodyguards/hairstylists? Word. = +60pts
  • While we understand trying to live an exemplary life, shooting your lady friend’s mirror because you think she’s looking at herself too much is a big time dick move, Jodo. Not chill. = -24pts 
  • Oh, that’s so sweet. His next master gunman target, instead of killing him, decides to show him how to make matchstick sculptures and “escape himself.” But he’s also got some weird sex thing going on with his mom so we’re not going to get too ahead of ourselves. Oh yeah and the mom only makes monkey noises so that’s something. = -10pts 
  • Of course Jodo shoots him dead the first chance he gets. Did you think this was a game? = +40pts 
  • Bunnies! The next maestro lives in a huge pen of bunnies and he’s ready to jam some wrecked violin while our hero gets it in with that wood flute of his. Makes it that much sadder that you can already tell Jodo’s going to smoke this dude. = -2pts 
  • A little disappointed by this last gun maestro. He doesn’t even want to use a gun, preferring a butterfly net. Also he looks kind of like Art Carney with George Clinton’s hair. Not sure we like where this is going, tbh. = -20pts 
  • Movie’s nearly halfway over, guys. Time to kick the Christ symbolism into the highest of gears. I know! His lady companion and her lady lover shoot Jodo in all the same places where Jesus was wounded during the crucifixion. P+E+R+F+E+C+T. = +16pts 
  • You know who isn’t going to let our hero just lie down and die? A bunch of children, people with pretty gnarly deformities, and the disabled, that’s who! Let’s drag this crazy sonofabitch into our mole-people lair! = +34pts 
  • Not sure why his hair turned blonde but we’re going to keep riding this train til the end of the line. = 0pts
  • So things are a little bleak in the mole-people underground village, y’all. Not going to lie. A lot of people are basically living in oil drums down there. = -40pts 
  • “We are deformed because of the continuous incest.” Jackpot. = +50pts 
  • Could do without the old lady sucking juice out of the rear-end of some over-sized beetle. = -30pts 
  • Oh, wait. Hold on. Jodo just did the same thing and now he’s enlightened (probably?). = +5pts 
  • The end result of his awakening is a desire to cut off all his freaky hair, shave, start wearing a cassock and get to the heavy task of reforming society itself. Killer. = +32pts 
  • Bonus points for all sorts of illuminati shit in the town he goes to save. = +23pts 
  • Of all the ways to convey the decadence of this town, a scene of a bunch of gross looking older rich women being waited on hand and foot by black slaves is definitely one of them. = -20pts 
  • Oh damn Jodo’s son just showed up in his full Franciscan regalia about ready to show this town how not to savagely kill each other in the streets… We wish him the best of luck. = +3pts 
  • Although, we’re not entirely sure we want him to succeed since the current church in town is mainly a place where people get together to play Russian Roulette to see who God likes the best. = +100pts 
  • So making a go of it at an orgy in the basement of a local bar didn’t go as well as you’d planned? It’s alright, Jodo, take your little-person girlfriend and ask your estranged son to marry the two of you. What could possibly go wrong?! = +20pts 
  • Oh no, they’ve unleashed the mole-people onto the town… And they’re summarily shot by all those decadent rich people who can afford guns. Moral of the story, be able to afford guns. = -55pts 
  • It’s really quite something to watch an entire town unload on Alejandro Jodorowsky. He’s pretty much super saiyan at this point, though, so soon enough they’re all running for their lives. = +100pts 
  • And, since it is 1970 and all, why not top it off with some choice self-immolation? = +1pt 
TOTAL = +481pts
Available on: DVD, thankfully. Although for years the only copies were truly horrendous VHS monstrosities which you should never under any circumstance watch even if you think it’s cool to watch VHS tapes (this is an exception—it’s usually pretty cool).

Giving birth to the Midnight Movie was no mean feat, and it took a psychosexual and thoroughly absurd Western epic made by some crazy Ukrainian raised in Chile to get the job done. El Topo gave him quite a bit of street cred in the nascent scene of truly weird movies with large budgets, and Jodorowsky refined his particular brand of exquisitely beautiful/grotesque surrealism with The Holy Mountain before pretty much completely losing it after a failed attempt to make Dune. His contribution to the visual canon of world cinema is indispensable, but man is it ever weird. If this one piqued your interest (and it damn well better have), you owe it to yourself to grip a copy of his masterpiece, The Holy Mountain. It really is something else.

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