After the success of his film’s El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky was given the green light to make whatever he wanted. Without hesitation he elected to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune. He had never read the book, and instead had only heard from a friend that it was good. His decision turned out to be one that he’d never regret, it would go on to haunt and influence the rest of his life and play a pivotal role in the future of science-fiction film.
An artist first and filmmaker second, Jodorowsky aimed to assemble a team of warriors who fought for artistic merit over money. Luckily, producer Michel Seydoux was not only one such warrior but also one who could scare up big money to bring the collective to fruition. The talent pool for the project was impressive, especially by today’s standards. It included such notable names as Dan O’Bannon, Jean (Moebius) Giraud, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine, H.R. Giger and Pink Floyd (that’s the short list). Jodorowky wanted to create a film that would open minds and expand audiences’ consciousness, to subject them to an eye opening experience unlike anything they had ever seen. Combining Herbet’s space opera with his own blend of amped-up psychedelic spirituality, everything was in place for Dune to be the mind-bending epic of his dreams. Then it slipped away.
Jodorowsky’s Dune comes nearly forty years after the failed production was officially buried. Director Frank Pavich, in what is best described as a labor of love, sought out many of the players involved with the pre-production to share in their experiences on one of the greatest films never made. Incorporating interviews, behind the scenes stills and a truckload of Moebius’ storyboards, Jodorowsky’s vision is reanimated and we’re offered a taste of just what the man had in store for us. The real treat here is listening to Jodorowsky recount his own experiences. From trash talking Pink Floyd while they ate burgers (and were working on “Dark Side of the Moon” no less!) to dealing with a particularly frustrating and obnoxious Dali, his stories are amazing, astounding, and often hilarious.
He was also willing to sacrifice himself to make the film and expected the same of everyone else. If they weren’t on board then they were left behind. His son Brontis (not yet a teenager) was to play Paul, the lead character, and endured seven hours of martial arts training a day for two years. Not so that he could act the part, but so that he would be the character of Paul Atreides. Jodorowsky laughs about it today, but admits he was crazy enough to sacrifice his son to bring about his dream. What is most impressive is that the group of artists all believed in the end result and reminisce about their experiences warmly. Like a cult led by their prophet Jodorowsky, they existed in a world of their own design, were allowed creative freedom, and were encouraged to explore their own boundaries. The challenges forced them to think and work outside their comfort zones, and in doing so it opened doors that led to many fruitful and exciting careers.
Though, for Jodorowsky it was an obviously heartbreaking detour. You can see it in his eyes, the anger and madness rising when he speaks about Hollywood and their bankrupt artistic vision. Their unwillingness to look beyond dollar signs or take chances on the unknown still bothers him to this day. He’s made six films in forty five years, choosing instead to work more prolifically in other mediums (if you haven’t checked out his comics do yourself a favor and get on it). What Pavitch offers is a rare glimpse into an auteur’s creative process. It’s a view of a mad genius at work, one where we feel the highs and lows resonate, can see what is on the horizon and want to see more. Jodorowsky’s intensity hides behind wild eyes and a disarming smile, but when he talks it is hard not to be caught up in his spell. It’s easy to see why others were so supportive of his project, it’s just a tragedy it never came to life. What it did manage to do though is inspire generations to come. From Star Wars to Alien to Blade Runner, without Jodorowsky who knows what science-fiction would look like today.
The Upside: Extremely entertaining, inspiring, and enlightening
The Downside: The fact that the film was never made
On the Side: Jodorowsky was worried David Lynch would knock Dune out of the park. He was overjoyed that Lynch’s version was terrible.