El Topo

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 movie is considered to be one of a handful that changed the way films were watched… and made. Signalling the shift into, and legitimisation of the hitherto critically rarely considered genre movie, El Topo simultaneously satirises and adds to its chosen area of operations. Which is the western, the spaghetti western to be more specific. Though Sergio Leone, or even Sergio Corbucci, never cranked out anything this sensationalist.

El Topo is the spaghetti western as travelling circus. It’s populated with cruel, cackling banditos, pinheads, armless and legless freaks, bare-breasted women, fly-covered corpses and even, at one point, spontaneously combusting rabbits. And all of the above are sewn into a plot that owes as much to mescal as surrealism, to which it owes a lot. And as surrealism is often the refuge of the artistic scoundrel – how can you reasonably set about critiquing a work that is said to spring from the unconscious? – El Topo is the sort of film that divides the critics. Its merits are many – though you can ignore the picaresque philosophical journey of El Topo (which translates as the Mole) from darkness towards light and still enjoy the film. And unlike many an experimental movie, it has the sort of production values that Leone or Fellini or Buñuel (all obvious influences) would be more than happy with.

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© Steve Morrissey 2007

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