Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Holy Mountain

While I can't cite any specific studies, I do know it's widely acknowledged that the human mind always attempts to organize and structure our experiences, even when they seem completely obtuse and non-sensical. People are inherently wired to want to tell stories, or hear stories. When relating the series of events which led to a failed relationship, for instance, we generally do so in a linear, chronological way, each sub-story or event along the way leading to the next. This is why, I would argue, most of the highest grossing films of all time have such prototypical, strictly linear and traditionally structured narratives. Understand that narrative and story are not interchangeable terms, so while the Lord Of The Rings trilogy has an epic and relatively complex narrative, the actual story it's relating can be as happily reduced to archetypes as the Star Wars trilogy, itself famously influenced by George Lucas's study of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

However, entertainment, or art if you will, that seems to willfully buck any notions of accessible narrative, story, or meaning captures the imagination of everyone. Even if their reaction is to look at the surrealist and absurdist branch of movies, music, literature, and art and say “this is weird and pointless”, I think it still interests them on a subconscious level. By which I mean, they have a negative reaction to it, but it provokes such a strong reaction because their mind is attempting to piece things together or decode some meaning even while they consciously reject it. The common reaction to watching just the trailer for Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, judging by the YouTube comments seems to be “what the hell is this?” and/or “I bet they were on drugs” and/or “I want to watch this while on drugs.”

Yet there is more to this reaction, and more to the film itself, than just weird-for-the-sake-of-weird or, to paraphrase the Spacemen 3 album title, taking drugs to make movies to take drugs to. To the average viewer, most of David Lynch's films are impenetrable messes that tease some kind of logical, knowable story but obscure it via surreal narrative conceits. Even though I've watched Inland Empire a half dozen times and still can't quite say for sure I know what the plot is, I—and this is crucial—do believe there is some kind of simple story to uncover. It may sound like bragging, but if, as I try to, you spend enough time with willfully perverse or “difficult” entertainment (or, again, art, if you will), then you can more and more easily tell the difference between weird-for-the-sake-of-weird versus weird-but-with-something-to-say-that-couldn't-be-as-effectively-said-in-a-more-traditional-framework.

So, The Holy Mountain. This is an infamous cult film, and easily the most psychedelic movie I've ever seen. It is not psychedelic in the cliched 60s flower power sense, but in the sense of dreamlike, symbolic, spiritual, and philosophical motifs and story fragments. To put it another way, it's the difference between hallucinogenic drug use of the Sgt Pepper's/Summer Of Love sub-culture and the hallucinogenic drug use of Huxley's The Doors Of Perceptionand the avant-garde music/film/art scene of the late 50s/early 60s. So while you might go in expecting a seemingly random and arbitrary collection of hippies freaking out, doing drugs, and having sex, what you actually get is something like a scene wherein frogs and toads re-enact the Conquistadors coming to the New World and the systematic genocide that resulted. Or a scene where a group of people push piles of money into a fire in the middle of a table in some sort of weird, Buddhist-like acceptance ritual of leaving behind property and material goods. Or a scene where an old man with only the left half of a beard/mustache is breastfeeding a dude, but then the breasts turn into growling jaguars for some reason and...I don't know; I think it's supposed to be a dream sequence or some kind of projected distraction meant to keep the dude from ascending the titular mountain know what, forget it.

This is definitely a movie that is impossible to explain or summarize in all but the most vague and lucid of terminology. It exemplifies all that is possible in the film medium, because it would not remotely be the same thing if translated to a novel or album or videogame. It defies categorization or traditional scored reviews because it simply is. Even if you don't do any drugs before, during, or after watching The Holy Mountain, there will be sequences that have you saying “is this really happening?” at least every 10 minutes. You may consciously reject it and say it's pretentious, inscrutable bullshit, but somewhere in the deepest recesses of your mind, Alejandro Jodorowsky is speaking to a part of you that not only wants to listen, but wants to understand. And I don't know about you, but I am much more excited by things I want to understand than by things I can too easily understand, are in fact, mundane. With an open mind and/or ready access to some of nature's finest psychedelic smoke-ables and eat-ables, The Holy Mountain may already be waiting for you, beckoning for your first steps up its strange facade. Just don't get distracted by angry jaguar tits.

No comments: