Jodorowsky’s Surreal Film ‘The Holy Mountain’ with Electronic Improvisation by Joe Cantrell

Mountains claim a unique place in the realm of religious revelation. It was on Mount Sinai that Moses received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, and Jesus delivered his most important teachings in his Sermon on the Mount. In the mid-20th century, Thomas Merton’s best-selling spiritual autobiography The Seven Story Mountain turned the Trappist monk into a literary and political luminary.

Chilean filmmaker and actor Alejandro Jodorowsky’s acclaimed 1973 avant-garde surrealist film The Holy Mountain stakes his claim on the spiritual potency of mountain as metaphor. San Diego’s adventurous Project [BLANK] opened its 2023-2024 season Friday at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan with a screening of The Holy Mountain accompanied with live electronic improvisation by digital artist Joe Cantrell.

The Holy Mountain is crammed with an unrelenting profusion of religious rites, symbols, processions, and parables that range from credibly pious depiction to outrageously blasphemous caricature. If I were charting the spectrum of how motion pictures have depicted the spiritual quest, at one end I would place Ingmar Bergman’s austere, black-and-white 1957 The Seventh Seal at one end, but Jodorowsky’s teeming, technicolor 1973 The Holy Mountain would not be at the opposite end of that spectrum. No, it would be in another galaxy.

Working from a table filled with an array of connected devices that produced and modified a variety of digital sounds, Cantrell crafted a sonic accompaniment to The Holy Mountain that faithfully supported the activities on screen. Having viewed the film, Cantrell made a careful outline of what he intended for each scene and improvised according to this plan as he watched the movie unfold from his front-row seat along one edge of the room. Cantrell makes a point of recycling out-of-date electronic devices, and his electronic score had a nostalgic retro character. Most his sounds were drones of various colors and intensities, as well as slow ostinatos and subtle percussion effects. I would say Cantrell’s effective underscore fell midway between mere sound effects—e.g. doors closing, wheels whirring, and glass shattering—and a lush orchestral score by Gone With the Wind‘s Max Steiner.

Jodorowsky’s just under two-hour epic loses much of its drive as his band of seekers finally makes its way to the peak of the holy mountain, only to learn the ancient truth that the experiences of the journey itself provide the enlightenment they seek—rather than some esoteric revelation discovered on the misty mountain top.

Through the month of May, 2024, Project [BLANK] will offer experimental musical events at Bread & Salt on the third Friday of each month. Next month—October 20—Sam Lopez will bring his Experimental Guitar Show to Bread & Salt.


  1. Malou Rogers on September 17, 2023 at 9:11 am

    So interesting, intriguing and inspiring – wish I could have heard it. Will definitely look up the film

Leave a Comment