You once said: “I ask of film what North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs.” What did you mean?
I wanted to do pictures that are not only talking to the reason, but directly to the unconscious mind. The result on the public is an understanding not intellectual, but a mutation of the personality.
Surrealism was a big influence on you; were there other fields that you drew upon? Had you seen Sergio Leone’s films?
Yes, I have seen and admired all Sergio Leone’s pictures, all the Buñuel movies, all Tod Browning movies, the Nibelungen of Fritz Lang, the pornographic exploits of Traci Lords, the hypocrite sensuality of the Shirley Temple bitch and so many others: Marx Brothers, Mondo cane, Seven Samouraï, Bride Of Frankenstein… But I am a son of a bitch because I am the son of nobody. With ferocity, I eliminated all influence. I wanted to resemble nobody.
These three films have come to be associated with the counterculture in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Were you consciously trying to align yourself with that audience?
Not at all, it was a big surprise for me. I love to practice my art, without thinking about the gain. The “Bhagavad Gita” [the Sanskrit “Song Of God”] says: “Think about the work and not about the fruit of the work.”
El Topo began the so-called “midnight movie” phenomenon. Were you surprised when American audiences embraced the film?
Yes. I attribute this to the great consumption of marijuana.
What do you think they responded to?
They found a film which wasn’t the product of a purely commercial industry. They found a search of consciousness.
What did you think when John Lennon and Dennis Hopper took an interest in your work?
I thought that God was good with me. He sent me two marvellous allies.
What does El Topo represent to you? Is the character “El Topo” God?
If I were a spectator I could find a lot of meanings for El Topo, but I am his creator. The only meaning of El Topo, for me, is that it is a son I love. I cannot define it.
How much of the violence — like the rape of Mara in El Topo — was real?
Not too much. I didn’t rape Mara, but I penetrated her with her consent.
So, in Fando y Lis, does the old man really drink the blood he draws from Lis’s arm?
Yes. He was an old doctor and he was in love with the actress [Diana Mariscal]. I think he ejaculated when he drank her blood.
How was your mood as you prepared The Holy Mountain?
I wanted to do a sacred movie, able to illuminate the audiences. I was free and doing what I wanted without limits. I thought that movies were able to give the illumination to the artists and to the audience as LSD could probably make it. It was nothing about telling a story but to make an inner experience.
Didn’t you and your wife go a week without sleep in preparation?
Yes, with a Zen Master. This experience was like a pain in the ass.
Was The Holy Mountain a reaction to how you perceived the hippie culture?
Not only against the hippie culture, but against the whole world culture!
Looking back on these films after 30 years, how do you feel about them now?
Exactly the same. In the month I finished the picture, I cut the umbilical rope. What can happen to these movies does not touch me.
Do you think you could make these types of films today?
Yes, I can do it. If I find, like in the past, stupid producers who will think they are going to make money with me. If I don’t make these movies from the past it is because I have changed. My mind is in continual expansion.
Originally published in Empire