Documentary / Films

Jodorowsky’s Dune

The story told in Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fascinating one. It’s a cinematic ‘what if?’ – as Frank Pavich looks back at a movie which should have been. The documentary focuses on avant-garde movie-maker Jodorowsky – best known for his surrealist and symbolic pictures El Topo and The Holy Mountain, two movies which still make the top of ‘Weirdest Movies of all Time’ list – who back in 1973, set out to adapt to screen Frank Herbert’s ambitious science-fiction novel Dune. Needless to say, Jodorowsky’s vision for the movie was epic in scale and certainly out-there – directed by Jordoroswky, with artwork and designs by H. R Giger, Chris Foss and Jean Giraud, special effects by Dan O’Bannon and music by Pink Floyd, Jordoroswky was setting out to create an acid-trip on film, with visuals, music and story combining into a transcendental, spiritualistic experience. Even the cast was unreal, with Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger lined up for roles. The combination of these elements, and Jodorowsky’s vision for Dune, was a little bit too much for studios, and spiralling costs and general weirdness meant the project fell apart before principle filming began. Pavich’s documentary looks into the experience, using interviews with those that were there, to discuss not just what could have been, but the impact Dune had on Jodorowsky himself. jd4Pavich’s documentary is heavy on the talking-heads approach, and plays things for the most part fairly straight. There are some odd visual tricks which play into Jodorowsky’s psychedelic reputation – the most powerful of which are simply screenshots of Foss, Giraud and Giger’s insane and beautiful artwork; these images speak for themselves and have an over-worldly, counter-culture brilliance which perhaps could never be captured on film. The score throughout is heavy on 70s synth – something like a cross between A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now – which certainly fits into the stoner mould and goes very well with the material, used especially effectively when overlaid across crudely animated storyboards from Jodorowsky’s Dune itself. During these sequences – especially the opening tracking shot, an extension of Touch of Evil going through space itself – you really get the sense of what Jodorowsky’s vision would have been, and how stunning the movie would have been; something to rival Kubrick’s 2001 as the ultimate sci-fi experience. Other tricks are less effective; the trip out sequence with Jodorowsky’s face during a recounted meeting with O’Bannon is silly and looks cheap, though you could argue that’s the point, and Pavich is trying to highlight the absurdity of the moment. It does play into the movie’s drug-edge which is rarely discussed in detail in the documentary, but looking at the drawings here and Jodorowsky’s tone, you do get a sense of that mid-70s drug freedom, tying into the decade’s creative/anti-establishment vibe. It makes the documentary into a quasi-period piece, and the atmosphere generated in the flashbacks is undeniably compelling.jd2Jodorowsky himself is an enigma of a character and the movie spends a great deal of time with him. At times playing into the stereotypical artistic director, at other times funny and wise, and also egotistical and temperamental and charming, he’s certainly a character, and Pavich shows us his real passion and drive. The spiritual elements border on lunacy, but it’s hard not to be swept into Jodorowsky’s world, and the way he surrounds himself with the perfect cast and crew for his vision to take off is startling. The documentary does play up Jordoroswky, a man who in some respects mythologises his own existence – there are stories he tells which are almost too good to be true – but Pavich brings the man back with smaller, quieter moments, such as when the interview is interrupted by Jodorowsky’s cat. What’s perhaps most interesting about Jodorowsky is what he takes away from the experience; the collapse of his Dune isn’t a failure to him as a different kind of spiritual opening, and the experience was worthwhile. He does admit a sigh of relief at the failure of David Lynch’s Dune a few years later, which he takes solace in; if not even David Lynch could pull it off then maybe no one could.jd1With all of Jodorowsky’s lavish dreams up on screen, it’s easy to get caught up in the mythology of his Dune. The issue, which the film doesn’t really address, is that the film was never actually made, which means we have no idea if it would have even been any good. Pavich doesn’t touch upon Jodorowsky’s vision failing to translate to film, and instead twists his documentary to see things Jodorowsky’s way. The idea presented here for example, is that the studios were too small-minded to accept Jodorowsky’s vision, which is true, but we gloss over the more technical reasons why the movie was rejected; it was really weird, somewhere between three and fourteen hours long, and primarily, would have cost the price of a small country to make. The idea that studios think with dollar signs in their eyes isn’t especially new, but the documentary doesn’t quite touch upon the fact that no one stopped Jodorowsky along the way and told him it would never get off the ground. At the close of the documentary, Jodorowsky touches upon someone animating his Dune, a more interesting idea and one which might have gone down better in the 70s, Yellow Submarine style.jd5In a similar vein, it could be argued that the documentary overreaches when it comes to the film’s influence on cinema. Some of this is obvious nods and steals, from Star Wars to The Terminator, but other moments, the opening scroll of Contact, for example, feel quite reaching. Of course, the movie paved the way for Alien, as O’Bannon, Foss, and Giger all took their concepts to that movie and helped create one of cinema’s masterpieces, which then allowed for Blade Runner, and a chain reaction which shaped special effects and science-fiction cinema. There are ghosts of Dune in the industry and the documentary makes an interesting link between the ending of Jodorowsky’s narrative – in which the death of the main character changes the world – and the death of the picture. A very interesting point however is that had Dune come out when it did, it would have beat Star Wars to the punch and as Star Wars had such a profound influence on mainstream cinema it would have been something to see what would have happened had Dune got there first.jd3What does stand with Jodorowsky’s Dune is the sense of creativity it inspires. It’s a documentary which examines what can potentially be done with art, and whilst certainly, Jodorowsky’s movie was ahead of its time – too far ahead to ever work really – but it remains one the greatest ‘what if?’ moments in the history of cinema.






2 thoughts on “Jodorowsky’s Dune

  1. Pingback: Alien (1979) | Some Films and Stuff

  2. Pingback: Prometheus – What Went Wrong? | Some Films and Stuff

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