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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain: A Fresh Perspective at PS1 in Queens

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain at PS1

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973)Alejandro Jodorowsky is a renaissance man with a philosophy of art serving as a means to personal and spiritual enlightenment. Since the 1940s the maestro has explored all facets of the arts including theatre, performance, music, a plethora of comic books, as well as being a noted authority on spiritualism, occultism, tarot and psychomagic. However, Jodorowsky is primarily known for his films, seven so far with two currently in production, that have explored mysticism and religion. Visually stunning, disturbing and at times shockingly violent, Jodorowsky’s extraordinary forays into cinema, on par with the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog and Stanley Kubrick, have elevated him to cult status among the counterculture. His work has influenced many artists, such as Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Samuel Fuller and David Lynch.

Jodorowsky’s  epic cult film The Holy Mountain (1973) is being given a unique retrospective at PS1 in Queens from May 22 – June 30, 2011, where it will be screened continuously during regular museum hours in the Third Floor Main Gallery, bringing this long neglected masterpiece to a wide audience. In addition, materials related to the film chosen in collaboration with Jodorowsky will be displayed in the galleries adjacent to the screening room.

The Holy Mountain is a surrealist, psychedelic epic depicting the journey of a thief with a shocking resemblance to Christ to a symbolic mountain that is rumored to unite Heaven and Earth. The story was greatly inspired by St. John of the Cross’s 16th-century writing The Ascent of Mount Carmel and René Daumal’s 1952 novel Mount Analogue. While at times unfathomably disturbing and shocking (some of its captivating imagery is quite horrific), The Holy Mountain explores capitalism, sexual politics, the commercialization of art, war, death, rebirth, Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy. It may also be the greatest cinematic mindfuck ever made.

Jodorowsky has had a troubled history with his films. His first feature Fando and Lis (1968) created a riot during its premiere at the Acapulco Film Festival, causing it to be banned in Mexico. El Topo followed in 1970 and achieved success as a midnight movie. A spiritual western highly regarded for its stunning visuals and symbolic carnage, it was praised by John Lennon, who convinced Allen Klein, the president of Apple Corps, to release it in the US, where it has obtained cult status.

Klein gave Jodorowsky $1 million to fund The Holy Mountain (additional funding came from Lennon and Yoko Ono), which was also a hit on the midnight circuit. Based on its success, Klein insisted that Jodorowsky direct a film version of Pauline Réage’s Story of O, which he declined. In response, Klein, who held the rights to El Topo and The Holy Mountain, made both films unavailable for over 30 years.

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973)During this time, screenings of the films were incredibly rare. In many instances, the only versions available were highly bootlegged copies. (On a personal note, the first time I saw The Holy Mountain was on a poorly recorded videotape which was not letterboxed or in the pan and scan format, with half the film’s soundtrack out of synchronization. I eventually found a third generation VHS copy of a Japanese laser disc, letterboxed with Japanese subtitles with all the nudity obstructed by digital blotches.) After years of litigation, both films were finally re-released to the public in 2007. After developing a bond with my crappy VHS copy over the years, a friend and I finally saw The Holy Mountain for the first time on a screen, where I commented at the start of the film: “Jesus Christ; I’m not ready for this shit!”

While much has been written on his films, in many ways they defy description. Jodorowsky’s films need to be experienced on several occasions to get the full scope of his psychic and metaphysical vision. The Holy Mountain, in particular, is overwhelming, damaging, inspirational and, at times, funny with each individual shot a fine example of cinematic poetry.

For more information on the retrospective, visit

–Dave Bower is Co-Publisher of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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