use of symbology plays an important role in The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre and El Topo.
When I was a
young person I went to the university for two or three years, and I
learned a rational language, to think with the left side of the brain.
But in the right side of the brain you have intuition and imagination.
Words are not the truth; they indicate the way to go, but you need to go
alone, in silence. Symbols have a language that kill the words. They kill
the rational side of you, and you need to find the meaning of that symbol
with your creativity and intuition.
"Every ego is a deformity. We are mutated by prejudice or religions, politics, economics –– our egos create them; we are like them."
Why does the
Tarot feature so prominently in The
The Tarot is an
optical language, and it’s like a meter: It says, “What do you ask?”
Tarot is not speaking with words; it says you should think with dreams,
with intuition. The unconscious is not a language we speak like the
conscious; unconscience we speak with actors, with image, with sounds,
with colors. This is the language of Tarot, and the movies.
so much in your films –– spirituality, society, war, sexuality,
art –– with the purely visual and sonic; the explosion of
imagery is a demonstration of film’s possibilities. Any message contained
within can be a bit unclear.
But do you know,
I never “get” music, for example. In order really to know a song, you
need to listen to it a lot of times, it’s not enough one time. And with
patience, you start to listen
to the song, you know? So I think: Why show a picture you can see only
time? I will make pictures you cannot understand only one time. You will
understand the pictures you see a lot of times, like a song.
You have said
that you were drawn to things that you can’t understand. In your films there
is much to not understand, or to misunderstand.
The first thing
I didn’t understand was my life. It’s a mystery. And today I don’t understand
economy or politics. I don’t know why politics or economy are destroying
the world, I don’t understand. But I will understand after understanding.
you understand what is a dollar? It’s a mysterious thing. What is the
value of that paper? It’s a symbol. We need to discover what it is that moves our life. For me, movies are not to make
money. Never I did that. I make movies because I want to express myself,
to be honest, to make art –– but not business. I regret to say
that, but it’s what I’m thinking.
strip away normal meaning, like a cleansing in preparation for, what, the
Not the end of
the world we think the world is, because the world we are living, it’s
not the real world –– it’s under construction, made
by our limited mind. But the world does not have these limits that we are
giving to him. We are not living in reality; we are living in a kind of
dream, and this dream needs to be finished because we are coming to the
end of one way to think. It’s not possible to continue to live like that;
we need to go to a mutation now.
That idea is encapsulated in The
Holy Mountain, which says one has to have an open heart in order to
let in meaning.
I think the very
same thing now. Because when I made my pictures, I tell you I was not
trying to make or to have money, I was trying to face the shoes in the
first layer of my own truth. And when I was doing that, I was really only
facing the deep meaning of the deep soul of my self.
In your films
there is much monstrosity and cruelty, blood and violence, excreting,
vomiting, castration, amputation. Yet these films are funny, sensual and
quite tenderhearted in turn. The “electric love machine” scene in The Holy Mountain, or at the
“companions” factory which makes prosthetic butts, boobs and calves, are
just ludicrous; even The Alchemist’s process of turning shit into gold is
the blackest kind of humor.
[laughs] I was laughing at art, making it like a
show. But all the philosophy and humor go together, because if you don’t
laugh, you are terrified. In The Holy Mountain, when you go to the meeting of The Masters, there are two
colors, one black, one white –– the symbol of the yin and yang.
and the imagination fused, or are they completely separate?
No no no, it’s
the same. You know, after we finish this interview, two minutes later,
this interview will be as far away as the prehistoric epoch. It’s like a
absurdity is central in all of your films. With the violence and bloodletting
comes comedy or farce.
I discovered a
kind of Buddhism in Mexico, with a Japanese Zen monk, the most important
person I knew in my life. I was meditating with him and studying with him
for five years, very important years. That saved my life. When you find
something like Zen, and you make pictures, it’s true, it’s there, it’s by
Growing up in
South America, it must be hard to escape Catholicism.
Yes, because the
religion is now mixed with politics, to kind of a Star Wars conquest effect. I believe in mysticism,
with an interior goal, and you are your own temple and your own priest. I
don’t believe anymore in religions, because you see today there are
religious wars, prejudice, false morals, and the woman is despised. They
have a pope, not a papist. Religion is too old now, it’s from another
century, it’s not for today.
Mountain is in effect Part 2 of El Topo. What happened to you between the making of these
two films? I’m told you had a vitalLSD experience.
Only one time,
after El Topo. But I
was working and working, because I really wanted to discover myself. I
didn’t want to have fun.
And I discovered what is a human being, what’s underneath, what is inside
you, what is inside your unconscious. Well, I made some progress, I
First, you see, I needed to find a guru, a master. Because I
was not a guru, I was not a master; I was an artist. And then I found a
guru, his name was Oscar Ichazo [one of the creators of the Enneagram of
Personality]. I brought him to Mexico to teach me what is a guru, and to dehumanize me. He gave me
LSD, and I was initiated for eight hours. And this was an incredible
resource; directed by the guru, I discovered images of my mind there, I
discovered treasures inside me. That was a big revolution, I must say.
films, then, do you feel that you did not create new images, rather
brought out images that were already inside you?
Yes. It was like
this: Always I live surrounded by a big library, because my house is full
of books. And I have all the books I had from when I was a child right up
to today. This library is full of books about imagination, and religions
and mysticism and magic and Kabbalah, Sufism, Zen belief, symbology, all
those kind of things. And then, when I was immersed in these initiation
hours, I understood all these books for the first time.
What was your
intention with El Topo?
In a business
sense, I wanted to be understood in America. I was unrealistic, I might
say, completely fanatico,
but I wanted really to be free to work with a genre or form that could be
understood by the people. So then I have cowboys and Indians, things like
that, but in the inside I have Zen masters, [laughs] sushi masters.
spirituality –– belief systems –– are central themes in your films. In
fact, you deal with all
religions in El Topo,
The Holy Mountain and
Santa Sangre. Did
your background in a religious environment guide you, or influence a
repulsion for religious faith?
I was interested
in a way for the
person who faced faith, you know? The way when the mind is open. I don’t
believe that religion is to close the mind. I think religion is to open
your mind, in order to discover the treasure in yourself. In El Topo I was guided only by my own experiences,
and I was discovering myself. In The Holy Mountain, I went más lejos, much, much farther than in
Mountain takes as its theme the quest for immortality. Related to
that, you once said that the quest for peace will always end in
And when you
find love, real love, it’s like a catastrophe, like a tsunami. Like an
earthquake, because all your individuality, all what you believed you
are, it’s breaking. And you are completely another person. You never know
what you were. And it’s a catastrophe –– but a good catastrophe, not a
Mountain and El Topo offer a Buddhist message of
self-sacrifice and suffering toward a greater end.
religions you need to divide your self in the furthest step into your ego
with your artificial image of your self created by the family, the society
and the preacher, your nationality, your language, all that. You have an ego. But this is not you; it’s an image of you. And the second
part of you is the interior extension of your unconscience and your
supra-conscience, where you’re connected with the whole past and the
whole future, you are there like an ocean. That is what you discover, and
then what is destroyed is the ego –– not destroyed, but opened. It’s a
sacrifice of the ego.
I don’t have a negative vision of the world and for the
human being; to the contrary, I believe completely in the destiny of
humanity, and in our world. But what I don’t love is the ego vision and
the ego actions. For me, for example, all the movie industry of Hollywood
is pure ego. They are nothing. There is nothing that is spiritual there.
did make a “Hollywood” film eventually, The Rainbow Thief with Peter O’Toole
and Omar Sharif.
I did this
because I wanted to know how it is to make a professional picture, with
meaning, with money, and on The Rainbow Thief I had some millions. And I wanted to
know what it’s like to work with a star. But I hated Peter O’Toole, he
was impossible, I wanted to kill him. Because he was not an actor, he was a star, thinking he
was the center of the world. How can you make an artistical picture with
persons who think they are the center of the world? It was terrible. I
hate him still today.
interesting challenge, because you are someone who works to control the
ego, yet as a director you have to have a, well, robust ego to make the
kind of films you want to make.
I need to be a
monk. [laughs] When I
make a picture I eat only rice. I don’t make love. I sleep five hours a
day. I don’t see friends. Nothing. What I only do is the picture, because
if I don’t do that picture, I die. I need to do it.
featured cripples and dwarves prominently in your films, with humanity and love. You said
something very beautiful: You called deformed people the result of
There is a long
tradition in the history of painting where the dwarves are there; and big
women are not just the property of Fellini [laughs]. An artist always says what is
different. A real
artist, you know, not a TV artist. It’s a human painting –– Goya,
Rembrandt, Bosch, Breugel, they will say what is not normal in the way
they say it –– with the escape of mediocrity.
these persons who have a deformity for me are the symbol of the egos.
Every ego is a deformity. We are mutated by prejudice or religions,
politics, economics –– our egos create them; we are like them. So this
involves the meaning of symbols. Also, you realize my pictures are not
made with these stars who are so beautiful; they are made with monsters.
So if you see a dwarf it is a real dwarf; if you see an amputee it is a
real amputee, if you see a prostitute, she is a real prostitute.
portrayals of these “monsters” were very generous and good. In The Holy Mountain, for example, when
the man has to throw his deformed dwarf friend into the water to drown,
and it breaks his heart. Or the dwarf woman in El Topo that you carry around on your
When I knew this
woman she was not an actor, but making pictures she discovered herself. And she now has a
daughter who is a dwarf like her, and very beautiful, an artist, and she
is happy. Every film I used a person without arms or legs, and they were
so happy to do something, it was heaven for them to be shooting.
"The film industry is raping you. They are fucking us, and they are killing us.
If you go to a picture and you’re already an idiot, you see the picture and have a lot of fun, and you come out as idiotic as you were.
In El Topo and The Holy Mountain, how much was
planned, how much spontaneous?
In all of my
pictures, even Santa Sangre,
I write the script in order to make some kind of organization, you know?
But when I am shooting, there are things that happen. In The Holy
Mountain, we said we’ll
go to that place to find The Master; we walked many, many miles, and the
crew and actors would say, “Where is The Master?” I would say, “Behind
there.” And then they would say, “You are crazy.” No. I believe in
miracles. And then we went there, and every place I went to find The
Master, some person was waiting for us. And they were really masters.
When you see, in The Holy Mountain, the person making massage, it’s a real person who makes
massage. I don’t know who they were, but after we shoot they disappeared.
And I would say, “Why you are here?” And they say to me, “I came here to
help you.” “Why?” “Because you are giving an image of our Mexico that is
very good for the world.” That is what they say to me!
El Topo was reportedly a favorite film of John
Lennon and Yoko Ono. They recommended that Allen Klein pick up the rights
to it, and he did. And then for a long time you had a dispute with Klein
over the rights to the film.
I don’t dispute
with John Lennon or Yoko Ono, just Klein. El Topo was a big success, and then Klein was
suddenly famous. Then Klein wanted to make a business and said, “You will make The Story of
O, a very erotic
picture. I have the cover of Playboy, we have the money, you will be rich.” And then I say, I
will see…I escape! With my family I escape from New York, and he say to
me, “No, don’t run! If you run then I will never show your picture!”
understand that he wanted me to make a picture as a thinker, but I did
not want to make an erotic picture, it was not my way. And then for 30
years we were fighting.
We are living
in a time when artists give the people what the people demand, maybe not
so much what artists believe the people need. When I see your films, I’m
thinking you did only what you wanted to do.
At that time [laughs], industry was industry, and they fought
us. It was a war, a real war. In Mexico they wanted to kill me. But today
the young people are changing. I went to Turkey, Istanbul, Belgrade,
Chile, in Europe, and the theaters are full of young persons seeing The
Holy Mountain, El Topo
and Santa Sangre, and
I am astonished and happy. Because they need something different to the
The film industry is raping you. They are fucking us, and
they are killing us. If you go to a picture and you’re already an idiot,
you see the picture and have a lot of fun, and you come out as idiotic as
you were. Unchanged. Or the film will be using subliminal politics ––
very sad, but the young persons will make a difference, because now they
have the Internet, they can show their films there. Do you know where
they showed The Holy Mountain
in Los Angeles? NearRudolf Valentino’s grave in the cemetery. That is the best theater, in a cemetery [laughs].
Will you make
Sure, I will
make one other. For 20 years I put money in the bank to have the picture
made and produced by me. And you know what? I will make a picture to lose
money! Because all the industry is about money –– 500 million to make a
film, it’s fantastic! But the quantity of money does not define the
quality of something. It’s only business. We need to save movies from the
business, from the industry, and then I will waste no time, I will make a
very interesting picture –– but I will make it to lose money.
I have a
feeling you’re going to live a long, long time.
[laughing] I can try! Every day I am aware that I
have –– you know, my wife is 42 years less than me, I can make love, I am
happy, but I can die from one day to the other. The film I need to make
very quickly this year, and then I need to die. [He laughs.]