Monday, May 5, 2014

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2013) - A Review
This documentary is a monument to that which never was - a sprawling film version of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune, that was to have been directed by the passionate and insanely creative Alejandro Jodorowsky. And he, of course, is the writer/director who blew a great many people's minds in the 1970s with his films El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) - both of which were commercial and cult successes.
Dune was going to be his follow-up to those, and Jodorowsky (who hadn't even read the book, mind you) envisioned creating an epic film with a spiritual core and message. As he explains in this documentary, he was aiming to literally change the world, and to give audience members the equivalent of an LSD trip, but without the drugs.

To create this world-changing epic, Jodorowsky personally gathered around him a pretty amazing cast and crew - causing worlds to collide if nothing else. For work behind the camera, he enlisted H.R. Giger (the Swiss artist who designed the alien in 1979's Alien), and young American Dan O'Bannon (who would later write Alien and write and direct 1985's Return of the Living Dead), and the famous French artist Jean Giraud (AKA Moebius), among others. In addition, the bands Pink Floyd and Magma were set to do music for the film.
His cast included David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Udo Kier, Salvador Dali, and Dali's then companion, the model/actress Amanda Lear. Jodorowsky also cast his son Brontis in the film - a move that required the boy to take two years of martial arts lessons to prepare for his role.
With his cast and crew of "warriors" in place, and with the production designed and laid out in a book (with all the shots sketched out in thousands of illustrations), Jodorowsky and his French producer Michel Seydoux set out to find the money to actually make the film...
...And couldn't find a studio willing to back them. Despite the fact that everyone seems to have been impressed with the idea and the people involved, and despite the fact that Jodorowsky's previous films had been hits, it seems that having him attached to the film as director made people nervous. This film was going to be a huge undertaking, and they weren't sure this crazy Chilean would be able to get it done. Jodorowsky seems not to have helped his case by telling the studio people, who wanted a 90 minute finished film, that he might make a film "twelve hours long, twenty hours long." Oops.
Thus, what might have been great, was instead...lost. A few years later, Star Wars (1977) came along and opened the door for big, hit space epics. And, of course, a decade after the studios turned down Jodorowsky for being too out-there, Universal Studios finally made a film of Dune (1984) - and picked the very out-there David Lynch to write and direct it. The film was a commercial and critical disaster. Oops again.
So now we have the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, which gives a taste of what might have been. From all available evidence, it almost certainly would have been better than Lynch's attempt, and given Jodorowsky's (then) hip, underground cred, his fabulous international cast and crew, and the film market in the 1970s...It might have been a hit. Would it have changed the world? Who knows? But it's a shame we didn't get the chance to find out.

If you love films, or are interested in the business of making films, then this documentary should hold a great deal to interest you. If you just love a great story, or tales of lost loves, then this film should have even more appeal for you. Even now, years later, and in his mid-80s, Jodorowsky is obviously still passionate about this idea, the one that got away. As someone who admires much of his work, I was very excited when I heard about this documentary, and it did not disappoint.
Hopefully this documentary will also serve as something of an appetizer for Jodorowsky's new film, The Dance of Reality (2013), which is his first film in over two decades. Until that one hits town, I will savor the delight provided by this film, and revisit his 1989 masterpiece, Santa Sangre, which remains one of my favorite films of all time. 

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