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May 11, 2011

Movie Review: El Topo (1970, Blu-ray)

When John Ford was working his way to be one of the quintessential western cinema auteurs with his classic efforts, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache and Rio Grande, his very formula of the "western" became a blue print for other directors in Hollywood and abroad. Of course, we do have Sergio Leone (Fistful of Dollars) and Sam Peckinpah (Wild Bunch) who did their own thing with more authentic nastier takes on the old west. All three are no doubt legends and true fixtures in this wonderful genre but neither took the western to the surreal heights that Alejandro Jodorowsky did with El Topo. El Topo now sees a Blu-ray release from the folks at Anchor Bay following their fine Jodorowsky box set from a few years back.

Buy El Topo [Blu-ray]!

Alejandro Jodorowsky writes, directs and stars as the lead character El Topo (meaning "The Mole" in Spanish), a nomadic gunfighter clad in all black who roams the desert with his naked son. What he does on this journey is similar in some ways to Jodorowsky's later effort, Holy Mountain. Enlightenment is the goal here. The fastest way to enlightenment for El Topo is to kill several "masters". The mysticism and religious imagery that are almost expected in Jodorowsky's films are in abundance here. He even professes to everybody that he's God. I'd believe him, especially with that gun.

If you're looking for a film with a straight narrative, this isn't going to be your movie. The structure of the feature is almost episodic in its presentation. The surreal elements on display may be some of the most eye-popping I've ever witnessed in a feature. Jodorowsky's usage of graphic violence, nudity and specifically his fascination with dwarves and the deformed can be quite disturbing at times. The inclusion of people with these unique and at times grotesque physical features truly takes El Topo to a level of peculiarity that we'll be hard to erase from your memory.

Anchor Bay has ported over some of the extras from the Jodorowsky box set. Included with this release are - El Topo's original theatrical trailer, some original script excerpts from the film, El Topo photo gallery, an on camera interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky and an audio commentary with Jodorowsky that includes English subtitles. There's really nothing else new here as far as supplements but if you haven't yet seen or listened to them you’re in for some fun.

Jodorowsky puts together another outstanding commentary together by himself. He did the same for the Holy Mountain release and truly shows that moderators can be overrated. Even the most intricate of details are brought up. The costume for El Topo was inspired by Elvis' black outfits. Amazingly, when production started, Jodorowsky was aiming to make a "normal" film. Possibly a straight-forward western This however became incredibly complicated to accomplish by the filmmaker and as it is, the finished product is far from normal. The director also manages to bring up yet another story about a former Beatle (His other of George Harrison who nearly starred in Holy Mountain). Apparently John Lennon and squeeze, Yoko Ono, went out of their way in pushing El Topo. They even got the film to premiere in the Elgin Theater. Jodorowsky is as funny as he is informative - in essential combination if you're doing a solo audio commentary.

The overall audio and video presentation of Anchor Bay's Blu-ray is absolutely lovely. The gritty look of the western backdrop is still present but at the same time the exquisite colors pop even better than the previous box set release. The early scene of El Topo passing through blood-filled puddles with his son on horseback surrounding massacred villagers are as vibrant (and grotesque) as ever for this film. The soundtrack didn't contain any issues like hisses or pops. It’s audibly comparable to the re-mastered DVD.

El Topo is a top-notch high-definition release from Anchor Bay. This Blu-ray and their release of the superb, Holy Mountain are essential viewing for any fans of midnight movie lore.

(Each of the kick-ass screengrabs for El Topo come courtesy of

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