Today I watched El Topo, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1970. The film is credited with starting the Midnight Movies phenomenon, after it was distributed across the US by the manager of the Beatles. I can see why people probably really liked the movie in the 70s, with all the strange symbols and journeys. Why do I like it, though? How can you watch a movie and not know why you love it? How frustrating! "What should I say?" I keep complaining. "It's El Topo, that's what you should say," Anthony told me. "But that's not really a post!" I whined. "Maybe you should just keep this one short," he said. At least I'm not the only one speechless about the film!
The movie is about El Topo, a gunfighter clad in all black, as he travels through a strange and mystical dreamscape. He takes his young son with him on this journey at first. They soon come across a town where bandits have murdered all the inhabitants, and El Topo avenges their deaths. He leaves his son with some weird monks, and takes Mara, a woman, with him. At her urging, he sets out to defeat four great gun masters, so that he can become the greatest gunfighter in the land. It's clearly a spiritual journey for him, and a lot of strange sorts of things happen.
So, it sounds like a movie I should be able to say something about. Like, what do things mean? How do I feel about the images? Ebert, in his essay, thinks of one of his own "Laws", writing, " "If you have to ask what something symbolizes, it doesn't." Or it stands for itself." (Great Movies III, 143). I sort of agree with this. If I took some time and sat down and poured over the film, I probably could come up with some interesting explanation of what the different symbols mean. Or I could do what feels right for this movie, which is to just acknowledge the symbols that are obvious, and not worry so much about the ones that are not.
Why do I love this movie, then? I just like how it feels. I feel like I'm asleep when I watch it, like I'm dreaming. It seems like it all makes some sort of weird sense when you're watching it, like the best and strangest dreams. I don't really question a lot of the film when I watch it because it just works so well. I like the story, too. I like the way El Topo is coerced into his weird quest, and the spirituality behind it. I don't know, I just love it! Maybe that makes me really stupid, to not be able to explain myself, but I can't help it.
I feel like this is the worst post ever, but it's just a hard movie to write about. Ebert complains about reviews of the film, writing, "Reviews of "El Topo" tend to be infuriating because their authors, myself included, fail to make coherent sense of the film and are reduced to laundry lists of its ingredients," (Great Movies III, 145). I don't want to do that. I think the movie is an experience, a feeling, something that you can't really articulate very well, you know?
I love this movie, but I honestly would probably not watch this with anyone I know, or recommend it. It's frustrating on a lot of levels, and you have to just be ready to embrace complete and total weird. I guess I personally don't know a lot of people who like this style of film - heavy on visuals, with no real conclusion or take away message. I know a lot of people who find this style pretentious, as well, like something that arty farty people make and arty farty people flock to and pretend to understand to feel smug and annoying. I don't know. I feel like that stuff is "just like your opinion, man," and doesn't really need to be so personal or negative. I like this movie because I can let go and step into someone else' imagination. I think that's a really cool feeling, and that's really it. I can't think of anything this outlandishly cool, and to feel like I'm seeing someone else's crazy, strange dreams and visions is just awesome. If that's not for you, great! It doesn't make anyone stupid or smarmy to like or not like a film - we all have our own different personal thoughts, yes? Let's all hug.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on El Topo
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