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American Counterculture and The Holy Mountain

Page history last edited by Nykki Montano 14 years, 6 months ago

With its arresting presentation of the visual and the visceral, Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 film The Holy Mountain invites and rebukes interpretation.  It draws from a variety of cinematic and social sources, from Cinema Novo and industrialization, to St. John, Christianity, and the Occult.  One thing that the film responds to prominently is the social, political, and spiritual philosophies of the American Hippie movement, catalyzed in the late 1960's by a dynamically changing social climate.  By the time the film was produced in  1973, mainstream culture had co-opted many aspects of the hippie aesthetic, including fashion, music, etc. (wikipedia).  This commercial adoption of previously dissenting and rebellious signification becomes a distinctively American relationship that Jodorowsky's film consciously considers.  The film itself occupies a unique, countercultural space itself- as David Church notes, The Holy Mountain "is venerated by cult cinema enthusiasts while simultaneously dismissed by most other critics" (sensesofcinema).  From this vantage, the film is given a unique authority to both critique, as well as overtly embrace, the hippie aesthetic. 



In the clip below,  we are introduced to one of Jodorowsky's "most powerful people in the world", a weapons manufacturer.  In one of the film's more focused, material, and satirical moments, the weapons manufacturer demonstrates the wide variety of products her company produces, illuminating some humorous examples of counterculture and religiously-themed weaponry. This scene is an excellent example of Jodorowsky's use of exaggerated imagery to launch a critique of, in this case, the consumerization of previously rebellious instances of fashion and music.  Rock and roll has become an instrument of corporate violence, rather than of social progress, and religious iconography has been grafted into the handle of a revolver.  However, it should be noted that the relationship works both ways, as it seems that the film is questioning the validity of the aforementioned social-artistic and religious institutions, and their insistence on material importance (the essential nature of the crucifix to Christianity, the guitar to rock and roll, etc).  The film ends with Jodorowsky (in the guise of his Priest-character) dismissing the necessity of film altogether. His statement that "real life awaits" sets up a dichotomy between that which is, to Jodorowsky, validly experienced (arguably transcendentally so), and that which is mechanically experienced (film is presented as this example).  This seems to set up an important association with the material essence of film and its apparatus (film stock, theater, screen, etc.), and the symbolic objects that act as a stand in for religion, counterculture, and the like.  The film's message, while problematic, seems to rally around the notion that these things- or "real life"- should be experienced spiritually and personally.  While the scene is an exception to the film's otherwise challenging incoherence, it ultimately retains some of the work's characteristic ambiguity. The Holy Mountain claims with a strange finality that cinema cannot be 'real life', a crucifix cannot be spirituality, and a guitar cannot be social revolution.


Comments (2)

Sean Desilets said

at 11:16 pm on Nov 11, 2009

* Fixed the title, but that means links may be broken (I got the ones on the front page)
* I actually don't quite understand the last couple of sentences in the entry
* Maybe some really simple paragraph explaining what elements of the film are unproblematically connected to hippie culture.

Ian Stephens said

at 11:58 am on Nov 11, 2009

Sean, is there any way to change the title? This seems completely arbitrary, but I didn't capitalize the "the", and it seems like an unfortunate artifact of carelessness.

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