El Topo Reviews
There is only one El Topo. The film is allegorical and cannot be taken literally and visually for what is displayed. It is an underground masterpiece still revered to this day by the art crowd. All cinema students should challenge themselves to watch this, as it will knock their developing instincts for a loop.
I neither liked nor despised this film. Rather, I found it fascinating and unique. Good luck in sitting through the entire film!
Having already witnessed the mind-bending experience of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (1973), I was quite aware of what to expect from El Topo. So when the film took off with no clear narrative, the lighthearted soundtrack of an odd comedy movie and the image of a naked young boy, I wasn't surprised. But since El Topo had iconography of a more obvious genre, it seemed like it would offer more coherence. Then again, expecting the unexpected is the only way to handle Alejandro Jodorowsky feature lest you walk away from the experience angry, bored or some other emotion of negativity. Confusion is a definite, but that is part of the grace in the experience.
El Topo is exactly as convoluted, sick and twisted as any Alejandro Jodorowsky fan would expect. It doesn't offer a finite narrative but rather a collection of performance art and installations captured by the lens of a camera. There are all kinds of themes that come with this, predominantly revolving around the titular protagonist on his quest for enlightenment. Viewers can tune in and out of El Topo at random times and will have experienced the narrative as clearly as if they had actively sat and intensively watched the experience as the narrative structure is very loose. The story is not meant for the viewers to string together, it merely hangs in different points for the viewer to enjoy selectively. Alejandro Jodorowsky has a clear vision for this project and supervises the visuals with tenacity while also being responsible for the screenplay and playing the lead character. His dedication to the project is extensively thorough on many levels from behind and in front of the camera, and it certainly shows even if the coherence is as unpredictable as everything else.
Visually, El Topo is a brilliant experience. Alejandro Jodorowsky has a distinctive taste for imagery which is impossible for any other director to match, and against the backdrop of a western landscape the experience is nothing short of breathtaking. The dry western scenery comes with both a feeling of grim death and bright life simultaneously. These feelings sometimes cross paths in the same shot creating a magnificent contrast in composition, almost as if many of the hots are genuine landscape paintings. The feeling of artistry in El Topo is almost overwhelming at times, and it is of such grace that it works to compensate for the narrative most of the time. As a western film, El Topo doesn't stop there. The way that images are structured proves brilliant because the director manages to make use of the same shapes, colours and psychosexual imagery in a different setting this time around. And it is all captured with cinematography that uses a mix of traditional western techniques and genuine atmospheric technique.
The setting is enhanced by the addition of impressive production design and detailed costumes, and the feature doesn't hold back with blood and gore either. It never goes excessive, but what's more impressive is the fact that the light nature of the atmosphere makes the violence seem all the more artistic. This is largely due to Alejandro Jodorowsky's work on the musical score which captures the intended mood very well and maintains its cultural context nicely. The musical score in El Topo is delightfully lighthearted. Though much of the material and imagery could be interpreted as being dark, the musical score consistently reminds audiences to enjoy the experience. Most of the music is energetic and lively, though there are also some restrained and slow moments which carry a gentle grace to them. The fact that Alejandro Jodorowsky accomplished all this on such a low budget gives him the status of some kind of Robert Rodriguez and David Lynch hybrid from an earlier generation, and his achievements with El Topo well exceed the limitations of the narrative grasp.
Yet the imagery in the film is not just reliant on the practical effects, the actors play a key part in this. Alejandra Jodorowsky is the leader of this by portraying El Topo with psychedelic grip over the twisted nature of his character and the entire surrounding universe with such perfection that he sinks into it. Perhaps the only one who fully understands the narrative grasp of the surreal universe he establishes. This allows him to wade through the themes organically regardless of where the narrative turns him next. He maintains a lot of physical intensity at every moment and carries the stature of a cowboy with confidence as a result. The man doesn't necesarrily say too much as dialogue is one of the least key aspects of the narrative, but when he does he manages to accomplish a level of profound wisdom through the subtle articulation of his words. Alejandro Jodorowsky grasps the elusive nature of the narrative and the gun-toting nature of the western mythology, amalgamating it all into a mystic leading character who keeps the intrigue steady.
The lack of a story means that there is little in terms of genuine character development offered in El Topo and the actors stand out more on the basis of what kind of imagery they contribute. Alejandro Jodorowsky is aware of this and encourages a versatile collection of cast members as the front for the human side of the film. This means he makes use of actors who are exceedingly short in size or missing certain limbs, working to convey the beauty of a different body image to viewers. The man makes art out of what is stereotypically considered abnormal, reminding viewers of beauty in body image of all kinds through putting them to work into the imagery with artistic physical movements.
Alejandro Jodorowsky's passionate dedication to El Topo's artistic visual style makes it an experience packed with powerful imagery while his work as the lead actor and composer keeps the atmosphere vibrant, even if the loose nature of the premise is as thin and convoluted as you could expect.
This film is one of the best of the 70's, and one of the best surrealistic experiences I ever had. It's very well directed, the photography is fabulous and the stories involving the misterious main character, are exactly like a Salvador Dali painting.