Tuesday, August 11, 2015

El Topo

El Topo is a 1970 Mexican surrealist western from filmmaker and artist Alejandro Jodorowsky, who wrote and also stars in the title role. The movie is filled to the brim with strange, violent, symbolic imagery and has been a midnight movie staple since its release. Jodorowsky once described himself to Roger Ebert as "born in Bolivia, of Russian parents, lived in Chile, worked in Paris, was the partner of Marcel Marceau, founded the 'Panic' movement with Fernando Arrabal, directed 100 plays in Mexico, drew a comic strip, made 'El Topo,' and now lives in the United States -- having not been accepted anywhere, because in Bolivia I was a Russian, in Chile I was a Jew, in Paris I was a Chilean, in Mexico I was French, and now, in America, I am a Mexican."

So Jodorowsky has lived a strange and varied life that is very much reflected in the movie, which is all over the place symbolically and narratively. Because of this, I don't feel like the movie works. I don't feel like his imagery is powerful enough to sustain not having a propulsive narrative. He substitutes violence for story and imagery for depth. I'm sure the symbols mean something to Jodorowsky himself, but they seemed too varied and not cohesive or meaningful to me. This makes the movie's 2 hour run time feel muuuuuuuuuch longer than it is or should feel.

I was sad to react this way to this movie, as I love westerns, violence doesn't bother me much, and after loving The Hourglass Sanatorium (which still grows in my mind) and Mulholland Drive, I was thinking maybe I'd just not been exposed to the right surreal art for me. As it stands, however, I guess only a certain kind, or maybe a certain approach, works for me.

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