The American Society of Cinematographers

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Pirates 3
DVD Playback
Jodorowsky Films
The Conformist
ASC Close-Up
The Films of Alejandor Jodorowsky: Fando y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain (1968)
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced) and 1.33:1 (Full Frame)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Anchor Bay Entertainment, $49.95

When New York filmmaker Jonas Mekas programmed an eccentric Western called El Topo in a 1970 avant-garde film festival, he introduced an original new voice in international cinema. A unique blend of mysticism, violence and symbolism-drenched images, El Topo captivated the counterculture and allowed its director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, to make an even more ambitious and audacious epic, The Holy Mountain, as his followup. Unfortunately, a feud between Jodorowsky and his producer kept good prints of these films out of circulation for decades. Recently, however, Anchor Bay released lovingly restored editions of both films as part of its extras-packed Jodorowsky boxed set.

With its tale of a mysterious man (played by Jodorowsky) who rides through the desert on a mission of vengeance and spiritual rebirth, El Topo often plays like a New Age version of a  Spaghetti Western. Yet the strengths of El Topo are not in its plot, but in its surrealistic digressions; the script is stuffed with references to philosophy and religion that find their visual expression in unorthodox ways, including outrageous phallic imagery and characters with physical deformities. The network of visual and literary motifs is so elaborate that at times it’s impenetrable, but the movie’s style is always pleasing to the eye. This is especially true on this terrific transfer, which preserves cinematographer Rafael Corkidi’s striking contrasts between rich earth tones and explosions of bloody red. The sound mix is also excellent, filled with clarity and nuance.

El Topo is accompanied by an interview with Jodorowsky in which he covers the production and reception of the film in less than seven minutes. He elaborates further in an audio commentary track, which is compelling if not entirely convincing. (Among the director’s claims is the assertion that he directed camera movement by strapping himself to the camera operator and physically moving his body.) Nevertheless, when taken with a grain of salt, Jodorowsky’s remarks provide insight into the metaphors buried in the picture’s surrealistic imagery, and proves that there is a precise method to his madness.

El Topo is a landmark of its time, but The Holy Mountain is even more impressive. Again, Jodorowsky tells the story of one man’s spiritual quest; this time the character is a thief who travels to the titular holy mountain to find a group of alleged “immortals.” Jodorowsky adds a layer of self-conscious irony to the proceedings, constantly drawing the audience’s attention to the artifice of the filmmaking in sequences that expose the mechanisms of the special effects or show characters bleeding blue instead of red. Corkido employed the 2-perf Techniscope frame to design layered, vibrant compositions that become less stylized as the thief experiences his awakening. This transfer of the film is superb, and Jodorowsky supplies another enthusiastic commentary track.

The El Topo and Holy Mountain discs contain archives of stills, script pages and sketches. The Holy Mountain also features deleted scenes with commentary by Jodorowsky, a featurette addressing the director’s interest in tarot cards, and a film-restoration demonstration. Also included are CDs of both films’ soundtracks.

This boxed set also includes Jodorowsky’s first feature, Fando y Lis, which Corkido shot with Antonio Reynoso, and his short film La Cravate. The short is clearly apprentice work, but the stylish, playful Fando y Lis is a real discovery. This tale of a doomed young couple marries Jodorowsky’s usual preoccupations to a more conventional love story, and as a result it’s more involving and entertaining than his later work.

Unfortunately, the transfers of Fando y Lis and La Cravate aren’t quite up to the standards of the other two transfers. Both exhibit scratches and other artifacts, and there’s an occasional strobing effect in Fando that’s a bit distracting. Given the obscurity of these early works, however, Jodorowsky fans may find such complaints minor.

The best of the supplements is a feature-length profile of the filmmaker, La Constellation Jodorowsky, directed by Louis Mouchet. This documentary is particularly valuable for its information on unrealized Jodorowsky projects, which included an adaptation of Dune. Mouchet’s film also devotes time to Jodorowsky’s non-cinematic endeavors, including comic books, public speaking and tarot-card reading. Jodorowsky is a man of many facets and contradictions, which makes La Constellation fascinating to watch.

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