So I’ve only recently started getting into Westerns. Which means the idea of a Midnight Movie Western? Yes please! What’s that Music Box? A Foreign Western? Okay. No biggie. Spaghetti, American… heck even Asian, I’ll take it. Quasi-Western? Uh, still Western-ish though, right? Controversial Avante-guard alternative to the Hollywood Mainstream? Ah, what do you know?! You’re just an Art-house Theater…
The Story: Uh, wow. Turns out Art-house Theaters might not be lying when they call a movie ‘controversial’ ,’Avante-guard’, and ‘alternates to the Hollywood Mainstream’. Let’s see… Main character El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky) starts off as a normal-ish gunslinger and then fights four other gunslingers for love then… well let me stop there. That’s about half the movie and it doesn’t do the craziness justice. Also, El Topo’s 7 year old son is naked for the movie.
I’m not completely familiar with Avante-guard underground movies, but I’ve been known to dig a few (LOVE Chafed Elbows and Breathless). But through the filter of the Western Genre? And with both Christian Mythology and Eastern Philosophy? It doesn’t seem to work. The movie bounces around too much showing us weird images and little dialogue.
Its only after your brain shuts down from trying to over-think everything and restarts on a more emotional level does the movie start to make any sense. Like most Underground movies, the imagery isn’t always subtle. But its not meant to be taken literally. I’d be lying if I said this movie hit me on a gut level to the point where I’d put it in my regular rotation. Yet upon leaving the theater I knew I wasn’t going to see anything quite like it again.
One of the better parts of the movie I wish more people would take away from it is every character has a quirk. The four gunmen he sets off to fight are all unique. Everyone is unique (unless specifically designed not to be). Even some of the bit henchmen stand out amongst themselves until shot down by El Topo’s quick hand.
For every confusing image or in-your-face-metaphor, there is a scene of absolute violence. Writer-Director-Star Jodorowsky really plays up on the violence and utter brutality of the Western Genre. While the movie doesn’t have many conventional Gun Play moments, every gunshot from every victim just gushes with blood. The squibb work is some of the finest I’ve ever seen. Amazing some movies now can’t match it.
The movie knows its conventions well and plays off them while at the same time hoping to deliver and spiritual journey of one man as he goes from ambiguous gunman to lustful/ill-advised villain to affable/Zen-Master hero.
Why You Must See It At Midnight: It may be sub-titled but the dialogue is sparse. Jodorowsky lets the images speak for themselves. Unfortunately the movie aims to be pretty head-y while operating best at an emotional level, which may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, there is enough violence and wackiness to fill any Midnight Movie Goers hunger for the absurd.