What the fuck, Jodorowsky? I mean, I love your films, but you might be legitimately insane. I have written about the man on here before, primarily concerning SANTA SANGRE, which is easily his most horror-centric work. But, all things considered, everything the man has done contains something horrific on screen. EL TOPO has imagery that may even have the most jaded horror veteran question what it is that they are watching especially if they get all uncomfortable by the (very common) sight of a fully nude child (surrounded by copious blood-letting, at that). EL TOPO, like everything else the man has done, is not for everyone. It is not for most people, even. To call this inaccessible would not be a false statement, which is rather surprising considering its rather fervent midnight movie following. Then again, when this was being shown at midnight a large portion of the nation’s youth were taking LSD or some other substance of choice.
At its core, EL TOPO is a western. But calling EL TOPO a western is like labeling PINK FLAMINGOS as a romantic comedy. Sure, they share genre conventions similar to that of other films but they entirely transgress them and then smother them in bodily fluids, 70s trash aesthetics and lace the dialogue with language that would not feel out of place in both a porno theater and an academic conference. This is exploitation for the Beatniks and refined cinema for the trench-coat clad 42nd Street dwellers. One could claim that this is null and void as we are no longer in the 70s, but that would be naive. EL TOPO is as much a product of the 1970s as it is an entry into genre cinema as a whole, and to discuss it without considering the decade that spawned such a film would be to ignore the very reasons it is able to exist today.
This is not meant to be anything resembling an academic study on why this film exists, however. So let’s get to the point. EL TOPO is a strange film. It is even stranger than SANTA SANGRE. If you’re still with me after that, than perhaps you are the audience for this. To claim that the film has a “plot” would be selling the experience short as it really is not about much of anything at all. The film primarily concerns a gunslinger and his naked son who happen upon a massacre and a woman (though not necessarily a romantic interest). This spurs the “challenge”. This being that El Topo (the gunslinger) must prove that he is the best at what he does. Outside of that, you’ll get what you bring into it. This is very much a spiritual film and most likely means something entirely different to Jodorowsky than any viewer will get out of it. That said, you’ve probably never seen anything like it. I don’t feel that any of his other works truly match what he does here as far as capturing existentialism on camera is concerned. Completely bizarre, but fascinating and, perhaps, rewarding if you go into it with the proper expectations.
Oh, and just to make it clear, this is not some tame cowboy movie. There is more blood on screen than in a Peckinpah western and all sorts of physical deformities are present. Plus, there is the naked kid. Along with all other assorted bodily fluids, sacrilegious imagery and other downright strange things that I can’t really begin to describe. In other words, this is not the western that you sit down and watch with your father after watching the TRUE GRIT remake. This is something wholly different.
Anchor Bay’s blu-ray of the film looks as good as could be expected. EL TOPO was made with a very low budget and the film looks like it. There is a surprising amount of detail evident though and the colors are rather striking. I’m certainly impressed with what Anchor Bay have done here and, considering he supervised the transfer, I’m assuming that Jodorowsky stands by it as well.
The special features include the same audio commentary that was on the previous DVD version of the film, which is a GREAT listen for fans of Jodorowsky. He discusses the production of the film at great length and does not pause very often. Keep in mind that the track is in Spanish and sub-titled. A rather brief interview with Jodorowsky is also included but feels like it was made more for publicity reasons than anything else.
EL TOPO is not an easy film to recommend. For fans of seriously strange 70s cinema it is an easy sell but anyone going in expecting a conventional western will be deterred in the opening moments. It is far from politically correct, pulls no punches and does all of this with complete disregard for its potential viewers. I wouldn’t have it any other way.