I only saw the movie EL TOPO once, and it was a movie that at the time I did not fully appreciate or understand, it was screened at the BFI which was in Brighton, a cinema that is sadly no longer there although he screen is still in place showing MTV to customers of a well known fast food chain, who have their restaurant on the site of the cinema. EL TOPO has been referred to as the first Mid-Night movie, a movie that was never shown before midnight in cinemas, why, Well I think it is because it is such a complex movie that not everyone would appreciate the storyline or the images on screen. As I said I saw the movie just once and came away confused and somewhat dazed, was it a western, was it a religious movie or a fusion of the two, it certainly had the violence of the Spaghetti Western, and the camera angles and way in which it was filmed were very evocative of the Italian made western. EL TOPO is a figure dressed in black, who carries his naked son on his horse behind him, at times carrying an umbrella to shield him from the sun, (shades of A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN). EL TOPO played by the director of the movie, Alejandro Jodorowsky who also composed the score, has superhuman shooting ability and he is persuaded to put this to use avenging the slaughtered inhabitants of a village. He is persuaded by a woman to ride deep into the desert to confront and fight four mystical gunfighters, he leaves his son with a group of monks and rides off to face the gun men. EL TOPO kills all four of them but is then betrayed and wounded finally being dragged into a cave that is inhabited by a community of deformed people, these ask EL TOPO to help them too, they want to escape from the religious fanatics that inhabit the town, so they ask him to help them build a tunnel. Weird, yes, it is, thought provoking, I am still not sure, entertaining, well I don’t think I could say it was really, violent yes, sexual scenes yes, filled with religious references yes to that also, note the dead bodies with Bee hives inside them, as a reference to stories in the old testament.
The movie was given much credence and attained the cult status largely because of John Lennon who was a big fan of the movie and its director. But, because of certain disagreements between the director and the producer EL TOPO was withdrawn from circulation for some 30 years, and if you were lucky enough to see it after the first initial screenings, it was probably via a bootleg video tape. It was partly also due to its withdrawal that the movie attained the status it has. Something similar happened to DJANGO the Franco Nero spaghetti western, which was banned in the UK for many years, before being screened on BBC tv in the 1990’s. Like DJANGO, EL TOPO ‘S reputation preceded it. And it became notorious or infamous before many had even seen it. Thus, giving it an iconic or legendary status. Finally, the movie was given an official release on DVD in 2005 and then was screened in cinemas late in 2007.
The musical score by the director was in many ways just as bizarre as the movie, although there are certain similarities within the score to certain Italian western scores, the use of solo trumpet for example and the utilisation of choir. However there are some interesting cues within the score, that at times have to be given credit for being original and innovative, the composer creates a number of haunting melodies which are performed by conventional film music instrumentation and would not be out of place in any genre of film, there is even the token trumpet track, UNDER THE EARTH track number 2, is typically spaghetti sounding, with cantering timpani acting as a background to the central theme being performed on trumpet and accompanied further by French horn. The soundtrack also contains several quirky up beat tracks that sound very similar to either burlesque or circus music, something that was used in certain spaghetti westerns by the likes of composer Carlo Rustichelli, whether these were effective or popular is another matter. I have to say one track does bare an uncanny resemblance to the music of WALLACE AND GROMIT, but as this was written in 1970, I suppose WALLACE AND GROMIT sounds like EL TOPO. The composer also uses organ at certain points within the score, and his use of choir in cues such as DEATH IS BIRTH bares an uncanny resemblance to the style of both Morricone and Nicolai, Jodorowsky, combining the vocals with warm sounding strings and underlining proceedings with brass. The composer also makes effective use of woodwind and solo guitar. There is no doubt that this is an interesting soundtrack, and even at times breaks into jazz orientated cues, which maybe cold be a nod in the direction of composer Piero Piccioni who incorporated jazz influenced cues into his western scores. If you do not like or understand the movie, the soundtrack is still worth listening to and adding to one’s collection. Check it out on Spotify or I tunes, I am confident that you will be pleasantly surprised.