Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Holy Mountain

[photo of Alejandro Jodorowsky]Alejandro Jodorowsky is a fascinating character: he’s a mime who studied under Marcel Marceau, an expert on the Tarot, a writer of comics (the wonderful L’Incal and Metabarons among them), and a psychotherapist/shaman — but he’ll always be known for his films, the most famous of which are El Topo and The Holy Mountain from the early seventies.

[screen capture from “The Holy Mountain”]El Topo is his most highly regarded film, depicting a guru-gunslinger in a highly symbolic spiritual quest. The idea of the quest is repeated in The Holy Mountain, but the scope of the film is much larger, with elaborate sets, a large cast, and jaw-dropping scenes like frogs reenacting the Spanish conquest of Mexico and religious symbols made into weapons. Its filming was no less bizarre: Jodorowsky made the cast train for months under a human-potential guru he’d hired, insisted that the female members of the cast sleep with him (“No men. Only the women,” he laughs), and he was nearly killed in Mexico after being suspected of performing a Black Mass. All very hippy-dippy Carlos Castaneda Sixties, but Jodorowsky’s commitment to change people through art is intense: “Now I think is a fantastic moment for all of us because now we are fighting for our world, our life. Now is the moment to be awake or to die.” For Jodorowsky, Hollywood is “a child’s industry – for me, a good picture changes your life.”

[painting of H.R. Giger's sandworm]After The Holy Mountain Jodorowsky attempted to film Frank Herbert’s Dune, which if completed would have floored cult-cinema junkies worldwide. Artists recruited included H.R. Giger and Moebius, both of whom would go on to work on Alien along with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Pink Floyd was to score the film, and the cast was an absurdist parade: David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Alain Delon, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dalí­ (who demanded $100,000 for an hour’s shoot). Nothing this strange — and colossally expensive, and 14 hours long — could live, and the film adaptation of Dune would have to wait for David Lynch to come along a decade later.

After the collapse of the Dune project three more films were made, none of which approached the madness and extravagance of his previous work. Plans were made for a sequel to El Topo starring Marilyn Manson (the two are close friends — Jodorowsky officiated Manson’s wedding), but nothing came of it, partially because the rights to both El Topo and The Holy Mountain were in the hands of Beatles manager Allen Klein who refused to release them. Existing DVDs (there have been legitimate relases in Italy and Japan) were of poor quality due to the lack of access to film elements.

Nothing was heard for decades but the news has arrived that both El Topo and The Holy Mountain are indeed being digitally remastered and released. Happy news, made happier by the thought that one day another Jodorowsky film will be made.

Featured here is the soundtrack to The Holy Mountain, credited to free jazz god Don Cherry and Archies keyboardist Ron Frangipane along with Jodorowsky. The quality could be better (it’s directly from the film so all the dialogue is present), but enjoy.

Update: thanks to Nick Scholl for sending the missing 17th track!

  1. Opening Titles
  2. Great Toad and Chameleon Battle
  3. Symbol of Christ/Two Halves/Love
  4. Ascending the Tower/The Magus
  5. The Tarot
  6. Venus (Vond)
  7. Mars (Esla)
  8. Jupiter (Clen)
  9. Saturn (Sal)
  10. Uranus (Berg)
  11. Neptune (Axon)
  12. Pluto (Lute)
  13. Holy Mountain Within
  14. Acts of Christ
  15. Across the Ocean
  16. Throw that Monster into the Water
  17. Pantheon Bar
  18. Climb to the Summit
  19. Face Your Fears/End Titles

Terry Riley’s Ultimate Disco Mix

[photo of Terry Riley]In 1967 Terry Riley was playing one of his “All Night Flight” concerts in Philadephia, featuring his soprano saxophone, keyboards, and tape delay devices, which went on for hours in the trance-inducing Minimalist fashion — as documented on the Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band “All Night Flight” Vol. 1 CD. (Later, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp would adopt similar methods for their “Frippertronics” concerts and LPs like No Pussyfooting and Evening Star.) After the show the proprietor of a local discotheque asked Riley to compose a piece to be played in his club, and Riley obliged — but with a version of Harvey Averne‘s “You’re No Good”, a single off Averne’s 1968 Atlantic LP Viva Soul.

[cover of Harvey Averne — Viva Soul]Riley took a Motown-inspired pop tune and transformed it into a twenty-minute exploded view, slicing the track into long and short bits and looping them, as Steve Reich had done a few years earlier with his “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” pieces. The Riley remix (“No Good” becoming “Nogood” to echo his Poppy Nogood character) is wonderfully perverse: beginning with a two-and-a-half-minute piercing sine wave drone, increasing in pitch to the point of unbearability before suddenly breaking into the Averne song, which becomes more and more fragmented and complex, towards the end adding Moog shrieks. Averne’s song refuses to die even under this treatment, determined to keep the good times rolling even as it’s being puréed.

“You’re Nogood” was rescued from undeserved obscurity by the Cortical Foundation, run by Gary Todd, which lovingly repressed a series of very well-received Riley CDs as well as work by Derek Bailey, Hermann Nitsch, and the Scratch Orchestra (whose “The Great Learning” has since been reissued by Deutsche Grammofon). In 2001 Todd was seriously injured, and there has been no further word of his health or the possibility of future releases on his label. We wish him all the best.

Masaru Satoh: Yojimbo

[Yojimbo Japanese poster]It took a long time for me to appreciate Masaru Satoh‘s soundtrack for Yojimbo. I’d seen the film, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1961, many times but never paid attention to the music — I was watching Toshiro Mifune be the badass, or thinking about Yojimbo remakes like A Fistful of Dollars or Last Man Standing.

What impressed me about the music was that I could see that Ennio Morricone had borrowed a little of Satoh’s power and playfulness when it came time for him to score Sergio Leone‘s Westerns — as Philip Brophy says, “electric guitar, bongoes and harpsichord jostle against brooding Gothic intonations … Just as Marco Polo imported noodles from the Chinese to make Italian pasta, Morricone fused this postwar Japanese eclecticism with an equally unique Italian tradition of excessive ornamentation.” The constant whistling of Mifune’s revenge-obsessed character in The Bad Sleep Well reminds me of Charles Bronson’s harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.

[photo of Masaru Satoh]Satoh scored many more Kurosawa classics, beginning with Throne of Blood in 1957, to Red Beard in 1965, coincidentally Toshiro Mifune’s last film with Kurosawa as well. Satoh also scored less-well-known but fantastic Kihachi Okamoto samurai films like Sword of Doom and Kill!, starring the incredibly underrated (in the West) Tatsuya Nakadai.

Another thing he was known for was his music for the Godzilla films — his Godzilla career began with the second Godzilla film (the first was memorably scored by Akira Ifukube, who would do the music for Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo in 1970) and ended in 1974 with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.