Jodorowsky's Dune (2013, directed by Frank Pavich)
Certain films become legends despite the fact that they never get made, or never get seen by audiences as they were intended. Ganz's Napoleon. Welles' Magnificent Ambersons. Welles' Don Quixote. Welles' (insert unfinished Welles project here). Lewis' The Day The Clown Cried. And, of course, Jodorowsky's Dune, a film that would have been a hallucinatory epic the likes of which humanity had never seen, and probably at this point never will see.
Pavich's doc does a fantastic job of setting the stage for Jodorowsky's attempt to change the direction of cinema. Coming off the relative box office successes of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky was given carte blanche to do anything he wanted by his producers. He picked an adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, despite the fact that a) he hadn't read it (someone had just told it was cool), and b) it was considered unfilmable, especially given the state of the industry in 1975. In service to his vision of a new kind of science fiction, and provide “an LSD trip without needing to take LSD”, Jodorowsky set out to recruit a cadre of artist and 'holy warriors' to assist him in the look and design of the film: Moebius, Dan O'Bannon (after a meeting with Douglas Trumbull goes poorly), H.R. Giger and Chris Foss. His desired cast includes a ludicrous array of stars including Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali, and different rock bands, among them Pink Floyd, were enlisted to compose music for each of the different main planets in the story. His script even anticipated future developments in Herbert's Dune series, as it ended with the greening of Arrakis.
Of course, the movie never got out of pre-production. How could it? In the mid-1970s the idea of a huge science fiction epic costing millions wasn't exactly anathema, as 2001 made a lot of money, but this would be the polar opposite of Kubrick's cold, clinical sci-fi. And it'd be a couple of years yet before some George Lucas kid paved the way for the modern blockbuster. What makes Jodorowsky's Dune such a treat to watch is that it doesn't focus on the project's failure, but rather its successes. Ideas and images produced by that alchemical collision of talent and creativity became a part of the collective subconscious of the entire cinematic science fiction community. Without Jodorowsky to assemble his company of holy warriors, O'Bannon and Giger never get together for Alien, and designs the sinister Swiss genius originally created for Dune would never have shown up in Prometheus. Similar lineages can be traces back to Dune from a hundred different directions. Like the country and culture of Uqbar in Borges' “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, Jodorowsky and his conspirators created a fiction so compelling and powerful that it slowly leaked out into reality and influenced an entire genre despite the fact that it never actually existed.
Even aside from its telling of an important, overlooked chapter in film history, Jodorowsky's Dune is worth watching just for the chance to spend some time with one of cinema's most charming madmen. Jodorowsky is as full of the joy of life as always, and seeing him reminisce about the project makes you want to grab a camera, run out and shoot the craziest thing you can think of.
Pure, unfiltered creativity is contagious, and dangerous, and it suffuses every frame of the doc. You've been warned.
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