what i watched
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el topo (alejandro jodorowsky, 1970)

I watched this countless times in the early 70s. Although I don't recall ever actually seeing it at midnight, El Topo is a contender for the first "Midnight Movie", having sold out a nightly, months-long run at that hour in a theater in New York City. Someone, probably Kael, was the first to call it an "acid western", and it's true that many in its audiences were high on something. I remember thinking it was possibly the weirdest movie I'd ever seen, and I returned to it often. I even bought a book that contained the screenplay and a long interview with Jodorowsky.

Now I've revisited it, after 45 years or so. It isn't the kind of movie I grew to like ... it's rabidly incoherent, which isn't my favorite style. It's either complete nonsense or deeply symbolic ... well, El Topo is not an either/or movie, it is both nonsense and symbolic. It is a kitchen sink movie ... as the IMDB tells us, "Alejandro Jodorowsky said the film was not intended to be a comedy, a tragedy, a political film or a religious film. It was everything."

I was never bored during its 125 minutes this time around. It's so loopy, and the overdone violence so regular, that it's hard not to pay attention. There are a couple of overriding themes (please don't ask me what they are), but the movie is best as a series of vignettes, each of which grabs our attention to varying degrees. With the violence, the genre, and the surrealism, El Topo plays like the lunatic offspring of Peckinpah and Buñuel. And there was a time when that was just what I was looking for at the movies. Admittedly, that is no longer true.

So it's hard to evaluate El Topo. I'm glad I watched it again after all these years, if for no other reason than to put myself back in an earlier stage in my life. But, there are loony movies from the same time (Performance being the best example) that I love just as much today. I can't recommend El Topo to anyone other than those with a taste for the oddball, and even there, I need to include a caveat about the violence ... just to quote a few examples from the "Parents Guide" on the IMDB, "A village is shown with its massacred inhabitants littering the place. Some bloody bodies are seen from a distance. Blood is seen on walls and the ground. Some of the dead carnage belongs to animals, their entrails are seen in bloody close-ups for a split-second. Several shots of graphic branding, a man quietly burns himself to death. Several scenes feature a swarm of bees, including a scene were a man bites a hive and we presume the bees sting him. A man is swiftly castrated. Blood sprays upward for a split-second as we see his POV (we do not see his genitals). He then shoots himself in the mouth splattering the wall behind him with blood (very brief)". El Topo does have its place in movie history, and if the above doesn't scare you off, it's worth seeing once.



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