Our topic for today: Jodorowksy's Dune. Director Frank Pavich's documentary of the mad Chilean-French visionary and his mad attempt to make a Dune movie that didn't suck. And visionary he was, people.
Visionary. Dig it.
"Visionary." The term is applied loosely these days. You got your visionary pastry chefs, visionary CEOs, visionary traffic engineers. Hell, everyone's a visionary. But Alejandro Jodorowsky is the real article. Referring here to the director of El Topo and Holy Mountain. The man sees visions. And makes others do the same.
Back in the 1970s, Jodorowsky envisioned a film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. He enlisted an army of the most creative people he could find to make it happen. Dan O'Bannon, the scriptwriter of John Carpenter's Dark Star; H.R. Geiger, that Swiss artist famed for dark, dangerous, weirdly sexual bio-mechanoid entities; French artist Jean Giraud (aka Moebius), one of the heavy hitters of Metal Hurlant; Chris Foss, the prolific Brit sci-fi illustrator who illustrated The Joy of Sex in his spare time — the list goes on. Spiritual warriors, he called them. They labored for years on the concept of this thing. Along the way, Jodorowsky put his son (who'd be portraying Paul Atreides) through two years of intense martial arts training. And, through stealth, seduction, sweet talk, bribery, bullshit and sheer force of will, got Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and others to all say yes to various acting roles.
Ultimately, Jodorowsky and his team of artists produced this gigantic book — essentially, storyboards on steroids, accompanied by color photographs of Moebius, Geiger and Foss's concept art. (This not only laid out the story and camera angles; it precisely explained how they'd create each shot and effect.) They were $5 million shy of the $15 million it'd take to produce this baby. Jodorowsky and friends shopped it around Hollywood. The various bean-counters loved the concept and the meticulous detail of its visualization. They didn't love the director. Just too damn weird. One of those visionaries, you know? Thumbs down.
Thus, Jodorowsky's Dune died. David Lynch's Dune was born. George Lucas' Star Wars set the template for the Hollywood future. Meh. Let's move on.
Evidently, various Hollywood types passed around Jodo's bigass book and stole, sorry, appropriated his ideas and concept art. These later showed up in A-list sci-fi films like Alien, Blade Runner — and a host of MST3K-worthy sci-fi shlock that will forever remain unnamed. Jodorowsky's creative team became the go-to talent to visualize his borrowed dreams.
Jodorowksy did other stuff — and didn't make a movie again until 2013. (The Dance of Reality, based on his autobiography, now in pre-production.) At the time of this documentary, he's 84. But he still has an incredible, youthful way about him. He gestures with his hands, his eyes light up, his mind darts from one thing to another. A true visionary if I ever saw one. Yeah, a little crazy. But to be an artist like that you need a little madness.
Pavich's documentary does the man justice — and does justice to his aborted dream.
To quote director Nicolas Winding Refn ...
"I was with my wife at Jodorowsky's house having dinner. And, very late into the evening, he goes — do I want to see Dune? And I was like, I didn't know you made it. He goes, yeah he did it. And he pulls out, you know, the famous Dune book. There only exists two copies left in the universe.And I then sat with him in front of me for a very long time and just went through book, and he would explain his thoughts and his ideas. You know, when I heard about the team that he'd assembled to make this movie, sitting there at night at 2 a.m. in his house, seeing the book, looking at the images, and hearing Jodorowsky telling me what was going to happen in every scene. So, in a way, I'm the only guy who got to see Jodorowsky's Dune. I'm the only spectator. And I'm gonna tell you something. It's awesome."