Turning back the calendar fifty years, it was an exciting time in society for pushing the boundaries of creativity. It’s hard sometimes to see a clear pathway to who influenced whom, particularly when many concepts are being channeled through a period of cultural extremes.
Two strong iconoclastic voices of that period were author Philip José Farmer and filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. And there are intriguing parallels in their creations from the late 60’s into the early 70’s. Farmer, with his books A Feast Unknown (1969) and the double book The Mad Goblin/Lord of the Trees (1970) was both subverting and elevating the genre of pulp adventure fiction. Jodorowsky, with his films El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) was doing very much the same thing with some long-established film tropes, particularly the Western.
The direct antecedents for those creative works are easy to trace. Farmer, in an era when paperback revivals of pulp characters were enjoying great success, deconstructed and repurposed elements from traditional pulp fiction — the canons of the Doc Savage and Tarzan characters — and injected an edge of taboo-threatening sexuality and unsanitized violence into their thematic structure. Jodorowsky, at a time when the traditional Western was experiencing new success through the phenomenon of Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns”, also brought a jolt to the genre with the inclusion of sexuality and unsanitized violence…and upped the stakes even further with elements of outlaw spirituality. Both were, by some critics, considered obscene. By other readers and viewers…boldly visionary.
The early chapters of Feast, with their bleak landscapes and unrelenting levels of conflict, greatly resemble the bleak landscapes and intensely violent encounters of Jodorowsky’s films. And both creators, Farmer and Jodorowsky, bring their characters to a “holy mountain”.
Farmer’s mountain is the Sanctuary of the Nine, where the secret rulers of the world, who possess arcane knowledge of eternal life, hold their most powerful rituals.
Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain also features nine mysterious mystics who are purported to possess secrets of eternal life.
There are no easy answers to be found within either Holy Mountain. The acid-trip revelations in Jodorowsky’s work can be mesmerizing and disturbing. Though less hallucinogenic, the same is true in Farmer’s hammering narratives. Experiencing these books and films (“reading” and “watching” are words that are far too tame to describe the experience of immersing oneself into the creations of both men) can, and most likely will, leave you changed.
The period was one of fearless, powerful, intense and transformative storytelling. A half century later, it continues to inspire.