For years, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain” was more a movie myth than a movie you could actually view. Unavailable in the States because of a rights disagreement between the producer Allen Klein and director/writer/star Jodorowsky, “The Holy Mountain” was best seen by way of hard-to-find, gotta-know-somebody VHS dupe off a Japanese laser disc of the movie, which blurred out all the private parts. The plot even, about a group of truly terrible people in power who are forced through enlightenment—imagine, say, the Bush Cabinet on a high-end vacation turned ego-destroying Buddhist retreat—seemed secondary to its reputation as the ultimate watch-it-while-high movie.
But when “The Holy Mountain” was finally made available in the United States in 2007 after Jodorowsky and Klein made up, the big surprise was in part how well it wasn’t just a lost pot movie. Its futurist-environmentalist-dark-hippie aesthetic felt current and almost immediately was pilfered for style points in music videos (Animal Collective, Santigold, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and photo shoots (Erykah Badu, Solange) and elsewhere (Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” was dedicated to Jodorowsky; Kanye West’s “Yeezus” tour was based on “The Holy Mountain”). And it renewed an interest in Jodorowsky that peaked last year with “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a documentary about a version of the Frank Herbert novel Jodorowsky never completed, probably because it would’ve been impossible, but also, it seems, because the effort to try and make this epic was far more important than the final product to the director.
“The Holy Mountain” is sort of an anti-stoner movie but that’s a good thing. Although it is full of striking visuals (including a recreation of the conquest of Mexico with lizards, a clunky ’50s sci-fi-style sex robot that gives birth to a smaller robot, and a creepy couple who put cocaine in their ears) and it’s got a frazzled, freak-folk and free-jazz soundtrack with contributions from Don Cherry, it’s shot in a sobering, gritty style. No matter how out there its imagery gets, “The Holy Mountain” always undercuts its stonedness. It’s closer to the attitude found in a Wes Anderson movie (Anderson cribbed many moves from “The Holy Mountain” for “The Life Aquatic”) in that all this quirk which looks cool is by the end revealed to be a defense mechanism against the complexities of real life and must be cut down if we’re going to mature intellectually and emotionally. The second half of the movie, which finds the rag-tag group of the super rich finally traveling to the mountain and losing their egos once and for all, strips away all of the “woah bro” shots and ambitious set design and focuses on nature and pleasing color combinations. Here Jodorowsky reveals the limits of escapism, whether it’s being high or making super-stylized cinema, and tells viewers to go outside and experience something real. It’s a weed movie that tells you to put down your weed, which is the preferable kind of stoner movie, really. You have to come to it, it doesn’t come to you.