Hey guys, I want to apologize for the way I’ve been neglecting this blog these past couple weeks. I didn’t realize just how bad it’d gotten until I got the mail on Saturday and discovered another Netflix DVD waiting in the box. I now owe you two films in addition to the one I’m writing and posting about today. A lot of it has been personal drama, complicated junk that I won’t bore you with here. More relevantly, I’ve been struggling to find the right way to talk about the latest movie.
My usual viewing process for the blog goes something like this. On Sunday or Monday, depending on the week, I turn down all but the most necessary lights in the apartment and watch the film straight through. First viewings are for first impressions, no more. A couple days later, I watch the film again, this time with a notebook in hand and with the remote at the ready. I’m more likely to pause, rewind, fast forward, looking for key moments for analysis. If I’m finding myself really stuck on the essay, I’ll watch a third time to really nail things down. With this most recent movie, I did a single viewing, and pretty much had to force myself to do that.
El Topo (1970) sucks. The story vacillates between incoherent and vapid. The cinematography lacks any real style or beauty [there are a couple neat shots of sand dune during the first act, but, let’s be honest, that’s no reason to sit through the subsequent dreck]. The acting is wooden at best, and at worst stylized to a point beyond credulity. We don’t feel for these characters, even the most helpless and tormented, because they move and behave in such unrealistic ways [in some cases including their manner of walking or eating food] that we cannot believe in them.
In works by David Lynch, Louis Buñuel, even something really abstract like Maya Deren’s Meshes Of the Afternoon, the surreal elements work because they are grounded — by action, by language, by concrete visuals — in a world which feels real to the viewer. Something about this world is just slightly off-kilter. It makes us uneasy, or startles us, or stirs our unconscious and makes us wonder as in a dream. El Topo eschews this entire approach, while seeming to expect the same kind of reaction from its audience.
Director Alejandro Jodorowsky may have had some overarching theme or philosophical statement in mind when he made the picture. However, any sense of purpose is diluted by the endless parade of bizarre imagery, much of which seems designed only to test the limits of our tolerance for sexual fetishes [do we really need to see a gang of elderly women pinning down and licking a protesting black slave, or an outlaw drawing a naked woman on a rock with acorns, then dry-humping it?]. Then again, that may have been more in-line with his intentions anyhow. In an interview included in the DVD special features, Jodorowsky says that the best part of making El Topo was that, afterward, “I could fuck anybody I wanted.”
’Nuff said, eh? Pass this one by. Quickly.
If you haven’t already, watch Manchester By the Sea. My wife brought it back from her parents’ house last weekend, and it was a much needed breath of fresh air after El Topo. I won’t contrast its merits against the deficits of the other movie, since that would be like comparing apples and festering dog turds. Manchester is a heart-wrenching, real, human tale, shot beautifully and marvelously acted. Casey Affleck’s portrayal of the protagonist is a study in understatement well worth the Oscar win. I haven’t had the chance to really study the film as I’d like to, but I plan to see it again soon. I can’t recommend it enough.
Welp, that was a week and a half. Let’s move on, shall we?
On Deck: A daydreaming bureaucrat in a world of modernity gone mad…