Guest review by Terri McSorley
“I wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without the hallucinations. I did not want LSD to be taken; I wanted to fabricate the drug’s effects. This film was going to change the public’s perceptions.”
This is a quote from the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed by Frank Pavich. Director and writer Alejandro Jodorowsky has a small but extraordinary film resume which includes Fando y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. The quote could apply to any of these four films. I am a great admirer of this quartet of one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Jodorowsky’s unmade version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune” went as far as a film could possibly go pre-camera; the proof lies in a monster-sized tome of ideas and sketches that looks to be a few thousand pages thick. Jodorowsky worked with Jean “Moebius” Giraud to create storyboards for every scene of the film. The sketches from this tome were used throughout the documentary. The interviewees include Michel Seydoux (the unfinished film’s producer), Jean-Pierre Gibon (co-producer), Nicolas Winding Refn (director—Bronson, Only God Forgives), Richard Stanley (director–Hardware, Dust Devil), Devin Faraci (film critic), Chris Foss (artist), H.R. Giger (artist), Amanda Lear (Salvador Dali‘s muse), Diane O’Bannon (wife of the late Dan O’Bannon, who was going to supervise Dune‘s special effects), Christian Vander (musician—Magma), Gary Kurtz (producer—Star Wars trilogy, The Dark Crystal), Brontis Jodorowsky (Alejandro’s son, who acted in El Topo and Santa Sangre), and the centerpiece of the documentary: Alejandro Jodorowsky.
We are given a brief background on Alejandro’s career: his work in the theater and his first three feature length films. El Topo was so successful that he was given a million dollars to make The Holy Mountain. The Holy Mountain‘s success prompted a union with producer Michel Seydoux. Seydoux asked the director, if he could make any film, what would it be? Jodorowsky answered, “Dune.” Jodorowsky had not actually read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and only knew of it because a friend had told him how fantastic it was. The director’s screenplay made many changes to Herbert’s story, including a significant alteration to the finale. This was definitely Jodorowsky’s Dune.
“I was raping Frank Herbert, raping like this. But with Love.”
With the script written, Jodorowsky needed to find the people who would help make it happen; “spiritual warriors,” in his own words. The talent that was going to be involved included many of my own favorite artists, actors and musicians. Dan O’Bannon was to supervise the special effects, artist Chris Foss would have designed the project’s spaceships, and H.R. Giger would have realized the Gothic planet Harkonnen. Pink Floyd would have created music for planet Leto, while Magma would have done the same for the Harkonnen. Jodorowsky’s cast was to be as follows: David Carradine as Duke Leto, Brontis Jodorowsky as Paul Atreides, Salvador Dali as the Mad Emperor, Amanda Lear as Princess Irulan, Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha, and Udo Kier as Peter Le Mentat, with Orson Welles playing Baron Harkonnen. The acting talent agreed to the project without seeing a script (or, at least a script was never mentioned). Jodorowsky’s son Brontis was cast in the role of Paul Atreides, one of Dune’s most important characters. Brontis trained in karate, judo, aikido and Atemi-Jitsu six hours a day, seven days a week for two years for his role. He was only twelve years old at the time!
“My ambition for Dune was tremendous.”
With all the details in place there was only one thing left to do: go find the money. They estimated the budget at $15 million, which was a lot of scratch in the mid-1970s. The Dune tome was given to all the major film studios. All accepted a meeting with Seydoux and Jodorowsky, and cited the project as fantastic, but not one agreed to actually take Dune on. A story and script too weird for mainstream? Too large a budget? Too long? A general mistrust of Jodorowsky? It all added up to the end of Jodorowsky’s dream.
Despite a certain amount of bitterness towards the forced abandonment of his project, I was left with the impression it was almost a necessary evil. Would Jodorowsky have met Jean “Moebius” Giraud without Dune? Jodorowsky and Moebius would go on to work together on several graphic novels, including my personal favorite, “Madwoman of the Sacred Heart.” Many ideas and illustrations from Dune influenced the Jodorowsky/Moebius collaboration, “The Incal.” More Dune influence can be found in Jodorowsky’s “The Metabarons” illustrated by Juan Gimenez. I recently read “The Metabarons Ultimate Collection,” and it left no doubt in my mind that in Jodorowsky’s hands Dune would have been spectacular. Without this project, would H.R. Giger and Dan O’Bannon have worked together on Alien? Giger had never worked on a film before Dune. I cannot even imagine Alien without Giger’s brilliant creature designs! The documentary suggests Star Wars, The Terminator, Flash Gordon and others used ideas from Dune‘s storyboards. The Dune tome made the rounds of the studios, and there is little doubt that the storyboards influenced other films. More visual references on these points by the documentarians would have been appropriate, though. I don’t think anyone could possibly question that Jodorowsky’s never-completed Dune left its mark. Let us not forget that Hollywood did in fact make Dune in 1984; a colossal failure that could have ended David Lynch‘s career. At the age of 84 Jodorowsky is still creating, and thanks to this documentary he reconnected with Michel Seydoux to make La Danza de la Realidad (The Dance of Reality), which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Being a huge fan of both Jodorowsky’s film work and his graphic novels, the dream of Dune sends shivers down my spine. There isn’t a single aspect of this project that did not excite me. Jodorowsky shares several entertaining stories about how he attained this dream cast throughout the documentary. Jodorowsky is a charming and passionate man; Dune clearly meant the world to him. It is equal parts joyful and heartbreaking hearing him speak of this immense and awesome project. These points alone made the documentary well worth watching. Jodororwsky’s Dune was not a perfect documentary, however. I did not find all the interviewees to be particularly relevant, and I would have preferred commentary by only those directly involved with Dune. Considering the massive doorstop of a document Pavich had to work with, it would have been nice to have seen more of those delicious Moebius drawings. My complaints really are minor whining, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of this documentary. I actually watched it twice in the last few weeks. It was a very nice detail that the filmmakers animated some of Dune‘s illustrations, and the music used was decent. Alejandro Jodorowsky was certainly the highlight, and his presence really illuminates this visual diary. Jodorowsky’s Dune is without a doubt the most spectacular movie that never got made.