1970 - unrated - 125 Mins.
|Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
|Producer: Juan López Moctezuma, Moshe Rosemberg and Roberto Viskin
|Written By: Alejandro Jodorowsky
|Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Robert John, Jos
|Review by: Bill King
"El Topo" is one of those films that every serious filmgoer watches sooner or later. Its status has grown from obscure underground film to legendary cult status. When it was released in the early 1970s, it was mainly relegated to art houses, until John Lennon saw it and admired it so much he convinced his manager to buy the rights to the film and give it a wide distribution. He did, but now the film is barely available on video, stuck in one of those cinematic tugs-of-war where the rights of a film are in dispute.
The Red Sea?
I say "barely available," because "El Topo" has been released on video, but not in markets where the film can prosper. The version I watched was an imported copy with Japanese subtitles. For all the mystery shrouding the film, however, I must admit that it isn't very good. I can't say I'm disappointed that it has been seen by so few since its debut. When I began to watch the movie, I was looking forward to it because of its cult status, but about halfway through, that feeling gave way to boredom.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is the writer and director. He is a man who has a bold imagination and the ability to dream up hallucinatory images. His most accessible film, "Santa Sangre" (1990), contained many surreal images of startling quality. "El Topo" is of the same mold, but it is badly constructed, as if Jodorowsky lost control of his thoughts and threw everything he could think of onscreen with no consideration for how it all might fit together.
Jodorowsky stars as El Topo (The Mole), an outcast riding through the desert on horseback, with only his naked son to accompany him. El Topo is the fastest gunslinger around, and when he goes up against a group of bandits that slaughtered a town, he proves it. El Topo wants to know who is responsible for the massacre, and after getting a lead, he tracks down the leader and dispatches him with little haste. The townspeople are overjoyed, and a woman (Mara Lorenzio) comes forward and tells him he must defeat the four masters of the desert. For what reason, I have no idea.
The story takes place over a long period of time, beginning with El Topo's quest against the four masters and ending with him freeing a group of deformed people living in a cave. At one point, after he is left for dead, he wakes up years later, to find his young son a grown man. This may sound pretty clear, but this exposition is actually difficult to follow. The story progression is very poor, random scenes pop up out of nowhere and character motivations are often left unclear. Unspecified amounts of time pass with abrupt scene transitions. The movie becomes more frustrating as it progresses, because the editing allows for unrelated scenes to follow each other. Imagine Jodorowsky trying to force together two incompatible pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
I don't object to the strangeness of the tale, but simply the lack of any kind of narrative to clue the viewer in on what's going on. I've admired plenty of odd films, from "Being John Malkovich" to "Eraserhead," and anyone who has seen those two will confirm their unconventional story structure. "El Topo" is simply a collection of bizarre scenes haphazardly strung together by a flimsy story.