Directed by: Frank Pavich.
Featuring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn, Diane O'Bannon, Christian Vander, Jean-Pierre Vignau, Amanda Lear.
Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of those mad geniuses of cinema that the world needs more of. Like Werner Herzog or David Lynch, his films are not quite like anyone else’s. In the early 1970s, he had a huge cult hit with El Topo – a strange, violent Western where he casts himself in the title role – and utters the line “I am God!” That film was extremely strange – it takes more than one twist throughout its runtime, and ends up with a strange, underground cult. He followed that film up with The Holy Mountain in 1973, which if anything, made El Topo look normal. His emergence came at perhaps the only time in cinema history where you could make films like he did, and still find a rather sizable audience. After The Holy Mountain, he set his sights on adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune. He envisioned a film that would replicate the effects on LSD – and would alter the minds of the entire world that saw it. He assembled a strange cast – including David Carradine, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali – some great artists and together they created a huge book – essentially a detailed storyboard – which showed exactly what he wanted to do. All he needed was the money to make his epic vision come to life. He never got it.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary where Jodorowsky, and his surviving collaborators, essentially explain what they wanted to do – and ultimately why they didn’t succeed in getting the film made. The film is partisan in the extreme to Jodorowsky’s version of events – it doesn’t really challenge him on anything, although I suspect that I’m not the only audience member who has his doubts about just how truthful his version of events are – I suspect at the very least Jodorowsky is exaggerating some things (if you believe his version of events for example, you have to believe that he just happened to run into most of his collaborators at random – even after he had already decided he needed to track him down). There are a lot of grand claims made throughout Jodorowsky’s Dune – about how the unmade influenced everything from Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Contact to The Terminator to Alien – some of which seems to be genuine (several people who worked with Jodorowsky on Dune ended up working with Ridley Scott on Alien – and seem to have taken some of the visuals for his film to Scott’s), some of them are a little bit of a stretch (showing a story board of a Dune sword fight, compared to a still of a Star Wars light saber battle, which I’m sorry, looks like it could have come from anywhere). Strangely, the grandest claims come not from Jodorowsky himself, but from director Nicholas Winding Refn, a friend and fan, who claims that if Dune had gotten made before Star Wars, the whole blockbuster ethos may have been changed forever (not likely) and that he believes that the studios didn’t make the film because they were afraid of what it would do to their minds (again not likely – they were scared all right, but scared they would wind up with a costly bomb). The one voice of reason may come from an executive, who (reasonably) suggests that perhaps Jodorowsky and his collaborators should have had a better answer ready for the studios when they asked him to make the movie 90 minutes long other than Jodorowsky – who suggested that he was making a work of art, and it would go on for 12 or 20 hours if he needed it to. Realistically speaking, what studio would have financed this film?
Yet, these problems aside, I couldn’t help by admire Jodorowsky and his commitment to his art throughout this film. His Dune was a grand dream – an epic vision unlike anything that has ever been put on screen. Realistically speaking, he should have known it was never really going to get made, but if Jodorowsky lived realistically, than none of his films would exist. He’s a man who goes for broke, and is just crazy and just charismatic enough that he inspires the confidence in everyone around him to go on this crazy ride with him. What we see of the “film” – from the sketches, the art, the music and Jodorowsky’s description if nothing else makes me wish he had of made the film – no matter if it was 12 or 20 hours, it is something I know damn well I would have loved to see.
The film was directed by Frank Pavich, making his feature debut. Given that he has such a crazy subject matter, I wish he had found a more interesting way to tell the story. As it stands, it is a very typical talking heads documentary, interspersed with film clips and shots of the original storyboard. I wish he had taken a page out of Jodorowsky’s book and not played it so safe – make something more ambitious visually – something that would do more justice to Jodorowsky and his forever unseen film. It’s a minor quibble – the film is never less than fascinating but I think if he had taken more chances, it could have been so much more.
In the end, we’ll never know what Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been had it gotten it made. It could have been a hit like Star Wars, a few years before Lucas made his space epic, and spawned countless imitators. It could have been an epic bomb – not unlike Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate – that forever destroyed his career. It could have been a complete and utter failure that inspired the director to move in a different direction – like David Lynch’s Dune, made the following decade, ultimately proved to be. It’s easy to for everyone in the film to claim that Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been a masterpiece – easy because they don’t have the burden of actually having to back up that claim as the film will never exist. But I think they believe it. They believe in Jodorowsky’s vision for the project, and that he had the skill and the crazy genius to pull it off. No matter what it would have turned out to be, I’m sorry the world never got to see it – and has gotten to see so little from Jodorowsky on the screen over his career. The film world needs more crazy, brilliant dreamers like Jodorowsky.