Tuesday, June 1, 2010

#4 of the Top Five Bizarro Films Countdown!


The Celluloid Highway's # 4 Bizarro Film: EL TOPO (Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mexico, 1970)

No list of weird cinema would be complete without the presence of experimental Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. The question for me was whether my choice for this Top 5 would be El Topo or The Holy Mountain (1973). El Topo won out mostly because of the way in which Jodorowsky fuses his weird existential vision of human nature within the iconography and form of the spaghetti western. This might be a bizarre film, but it is still a genre film, and Jodorowsky ably ticks all the boxes when it comes to the grandiose, highly stylised and operatic violence one associates with Italian westerns. The Holy Mountain right from the off is more difficult to grasp, but El Topo benefits from the signifiers of genre which act as a familiar conduit into what turns out to be a very unfamiliar narrative world. Jodorowsky’s personality is so dominant in this film it almost feels like a vanity piece - in addition to directing his credits also include writing, acting (he plays the lead character), music (the haunting main theme is superb), production design and costume design. He gets a great deal of visual mileage out of the sun bleached desolation of Mexican desert landscapes, into which he thrusts downright surreal imagery. After eliminating a ruthless gang of bandits (the leader of which is castrated) El Topo begins his quest to defeat a series of legendary masters who all represent a different facet of human understanding. The strangest of which is one who is surrounded by hundreds of rabbits, who die at the same time he does. Jodorowsky pulls out his first major plot twist by having his expert gunslinger gunned down half way through. But this ‘death’ only leads El Topo on to greater things. Clean shaven and bald El Topo awakes in a mountain cave where he is surrounded by deformed outcasts, and is immediately acclaimed as a messianic character by the assembled group of disabled people. Things take an even greater turn for the weird when El Topo visit’s the town from which the cripples have been banished. A perverted town in which the local peasantry are treated as slaves and murdered for the pleasure of the wealthy few, and in which the local religion involves games of Russian roulette. Somewhere within the surrealism and savagery (because this is an incredibly violent film) is a three pronged allegory. The treatment of the Mexican peasants is surely a reference to the civil unrest in the country, the religious overtones and symbolism offer a critique of the blindness of religious orthodoxy, and thirdly this is an allegory about acceptance and tolerance, and self sacrifice. Does it work? - not at all, this is an incoherent mess of movie that leaves anyone searching for a linear plot tearing their hair out. But is it fun? - oh yes it certainly is, but it is only fun if you enjoy the images for what they and don’t take the whole thing too seriously.




The Film Connoisseur's #4 Bizarro Film: Fantastic Planet (Rene Laloux, France/Czechoslovakia, 1973)

This animated film has a couple of interesting things going for it. Number one, it was a film that had many production woes because it was such a subversive film, because of this, the film ended its production in a different country than where its production began. The film actually took five years to complete! It speaks about a race of aliens on another planet who rebel against their masters and want to break free from their hold. The Omms are little creatures that look like miniature humans. The Draags are their would be masters. This movie touches upon many interesting themes like politics, religion, and personal freedom. Should men rule over other less educated less fortunate humans? Cant we all just learn to get along? Should the less fortunate revolt? Yes they should if you ask me! But aside from these heavy themes, the film also has something really great going for it. Its visual flare! On this movie you will see some really strange and bizarre imagery. The Draags for example are gigantic blue beings with these bulging red hypnotic eyes! They go into a trance where they change shape and form and become something else altogether! The planet they inhabit is filled with strange and interesting creatures, including one giant predator which actually sniffs its victims through its nose, devours them and spits them out! This movie is a masterpiece of old school animation and should be seen for that alone, but if you like heavy thematic elements with your animation, look no further than this awesome piece of French animation. It will prove to be a unique experience even without the use of hallucinogenic drugs. The film won the Grand Jury Prize that year at the Cannes Film Festival, and was later distributed in the U.S. by Roger Corman.

For part 5 of the Top Five Bizarro Films Countdown CLICK HERE! 


  
The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando y Lis / El Topo / The Holy Mountain)Fantastic Planet

13 comments:

Aaron said...

Cool topic for a top 5! Digging the list so far. Can't wait to see that the rest of the picks are. Good job, guys.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Thanks Aaron, the countdown will only get more bizarre as the days pass so dont forget to come back and check out the rest of it during the week.

Shaun Anderson said...

Interesting choice there Franco! - I have a copy of FANTASTIC PLANET on DVD, but I've only given it one watch. The animation is very strange and gives it an odd look - but the anti-communist sentiment of it comes across very strongly. Have you seen any of Laloux's other films? - GANDAHAR is available in the UK on DVD, but I havent got around to it yet.

J.D. said...

Ah, EL TOPO... what a supremely messed up film. There is a great quote that Jodorowsky gives pertaining to the criticism leveled against his film: "If you are limited then EL TOPO is limited. If you are great then EL TOPO is great." heh.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Shaun: I havent seen Gandahar, I loved Fantastic Planet to death, but I didnt go on looking for Laloux's other films. Was it also animated? I will do a search on his films, thanks for that recommendation.

Even though Fantastic Planet has an anti-communist message, I think its message can be applied to any oppresive form of government. I loved how the films main theme is that knowledge is what sets people free. I completely agree with that sentiment.

EL TOPO was defenetly a great choice for this countdown, I mean, honestly, Im usually good at picking up a films themes, and visual allegories, but damn, EL TOPO was pretty hard to decipher! Some themes I grasped, others were simply to out there to get.

Still, its an entertaining film simply because its so messed up. Visually speaking it entertains every step of the way.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@J.D.: That is a funny quote! I thought the movie was great, though I thought it might have been a bit too personal at times. There was some religion hating on the film, I remember that much. In the beginning of the film, with those priests in the monastery.

The Film Connoisseur said...

By the way Shaun, I picked up on that symbolism in EL TOPO, about the deformed blind people living in the cave. You mentioned them in your review for the movie.

I thought that these characters represented the poor, the less fortunate, and ultimately, the opressed. They are sent out to a cave to live in poverty and darkness.

I can identify with these themes entirely because in my country (Puerto Rico) this is exactly what is happening.

The rich are trying (and actually succeeding thanks to the government) to push the poor out of certain areas that they want for themselves.

They think they deserve the capital all to themselves. Sad but true. So they are moving entire communities out of their homes so they can build their expensive condos that only the rich can afford. And they are relocating the poor to the sticks, to hide and forget about them.

Its kind of sick actually and sad. But as EL TOPO demonstrates, this is nothing new and has been going on in the world for the longest time.

Jake Riley said...

Just watched Fantastic Planet in my film class ... I still don't know what to say about it ...

Carl (ILHM) said...

Wish I had some brilliant contribution here but I havent seen either film.. yet muwahahaha... From the sound of it, Jorodowsky managed to out bizarre himself once more!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Jake: I was blown away by it the first time I saw it as well, thats why I put it on this countdown! Let me know what you thought about it!

@Carl: Oh yeah, El Topo is weirder then Holy Mountain if thats at all possible, cause Holy Mountain is an incredibly weird movie, but at least with HOly Mountain you can "get" what its talking about, there were moments in El Topo that I was totally lost!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Jake: I was blown away by it the first time I saw it as well, thats why I put it on this countdown! Let me know what you thought about it!

@Carl: Oh yeah, El Topo is weirder then Holy Mountain if thats at all possible, cause Holy Mountain is an incredibly weird movie, but at least with HOly Mountain you can "get" what its talking about, there were moments in El Topo that I was totally lost!

Reina said...

El topo is awesome..I HAVE TO SEE LE PLANET SAUVAGE,ITS THAT URGENT! :)

Reina said...

El topo is awesome..I HAVE TO SEE LE PLANET SAUVAGE,ITS THAT URGENT! :)

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