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El Topo

By Lee Gardner | Posted 11/14/2007

Longhaired, bearded, swaddled in black, and heavily armed, El Topo ("the mole") could be just another spaghetti western anti-hero plodding through the desert on a horse--but for the parasol and the naked 7-year-old boy sharing his saddle. From the arresting opening scene, writer/director/star Alejandro Jodorowsky goes on to create one of the most bizarre and memorable feature films ever made. Traveling through a blood-spattered West that would be familiar to Breughel, Bosch, or anyone who's read Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, El Topo revenges a slaughtered village, then takes on a quest to defeat four mystical gunfighters; his success leads to his downfall, which leads to his rebirth as a spiritual ascetic who leads a deformed subterranean race out of darkness and into the waiting jaws of civilization, in the form of a debauched desert town. Saying that El Topo makes no sense ignores the intricate web of parallels, connections, allegories, and religious/spiritual resonances that Jodorowsky sets up and sets in motion to address, among other things, power and piety and their abuses. And if generations of midnight-movie viewers have missed the 1970 film's crazy-like-a-fox craftsmanship because of its endless pageant of stonerific visuals, well, that's their loss.

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