El Topo
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Year: 1970
TRT: 2:04

Okay, I admit it. I'm a drunk. But it's really no excuse for why I've not gotten to see this "counterculture" film until now. Sure, there's the occasional screening of a scratched-to-hell print on the underground circuit or the x-teenth generation bootleg videotape being shopped around, but it wasn't until about a year ago this film popped up on the DMR radar via a nice little documentary being shown on Starz/Encore. Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream highlighted the origins of aforementioned Midnight Movie, full of great cult film Icons like Night of the Living Dead, Eraserhead, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pink Flamingos, and The Harder They Come. But the leader, the true Genesis of this phenomenon, is El Topo. And now, 37 years later, it can be witnessed in its almost true form (minus the large screen upon which to project it and the hazy, smoke-filled air through which it should be seen, kind of a drag). And what a movie this is.

The first scene, between a father and his son, sets the stage. The next sets the tone as they ride through a village of the damned. The narrative tends to jump around a bit in regards to tempo and tone. Sometimes it's about the humorously portrayed curse of the wayward bandito or, more prevalent, is the slow decline of the protagonist into the abyss known as humankind. While starting out with a fairly stark portrayal of good and evil, this film quickly dives into those grayish areas of society, morality, sexuality and religiosity. (Damn, didn't think religiosity was an actual word, but my spell-check ain't flagging it so fuck it, it's a word.) Even the most pure of intention can become warped through pretty persuasion and blind justification.

When the Tod Browning Brigade comes Marching In, you'd think this one has run it's course. But wait! There's more! Not wholly as effective as the first two-thirds of the movie, mainly because it becomes so blatantly biting of organized society and religion, well, subtlety is tossed to the hedonistic wind that the gigantor flag of hypocrisy finds itself waving in. Damn, that's like six written lines compressed into one, I hope it makes as little sense. Sacrifice is good, it just depends on what goes in front of it: ultimate or futile.

And on a final note, a Warning to Parents! You've been alerted to the bad influences on your kids to the likes of marijuana, ecstasy, crystal meth, prescription drugs. But they Pale in comparison to sucking the scarab. Sweet Jeebus, just say No! That'll freak the shit outta anybody! But apparently it's all justified by redemption through debasement and menial labor. Sounds all too familiar, but not to me. Fuck, I can still afford Miller High Life, I got nothin' to worry about, right? Right!?! I suggest many of them or plenty of whatever your pleasure to truly enjoy this fine film and its take on modern "culture."

Great Scene: The dynamic between a legless man strapped to the back of an armless guy. Separately ineffectual, together complete, with wholly tragic results. On the upside, there's a scene here with some overtly lesbian overtones involving a pomegranate or whatever the fuck it is. Regardless the particular fruit, it's hot. A rabbit farm that, while having little to do with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, reminded me of that just the same. But overall, there's some fantastic camera work at play here, framing of scenes can't be beat. Phenomenal use of locales to accentuate the scenes and pretty haunting imagery thrown in, just for the hell of it. Visually consistent through the film, even if the story isn't.

DVD Notes: This finally hits DVD as part of The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky box set put out by Anchor Bay/abcko, and I gotta say it looks fucking great. From the few clips I've seen of the film prior to this release, you wouldn't even think this is the same film. Lots of love to a cult film that hopefully will only garner more attention as the themes addressed here are pretty universal and, sadly, still recognizable. Shown in its original aspect ration (closer to 4:3 than 16:9), optional english dub is apparently available. Not only is this a greatly restored transfer, you also get commentary by Jodorowsky as well as an on-camera interview. Dig it.