Monday, June 23, 2014


Alejandro Jodorowsky's voice is still filled with awe when he recalls his attempt to make Dune, a film of Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel. The property may have ended up going to David Lynch, but as far as Jodorowsky is concerned, Dune is still his baby.

One of the highlights of Jodorowsky's Dune, an emotional and inspiring documentary by Frank Pavich, is when Jodorowsky remembers going to   see Lynch's Dune. He describes himself being dragged into the theater "like an ill person," and fearing that Lynch's vision may have matched or surpassed his own. "Jodo" admits an admiration for Lynch, but his eyes widen as he remembers the awfulness on the screen.  Lynch's Dune, he recalls happily, was a mess. Jodorowsky's vision remained untouched and unmatched. Dune was his stillborn masterpiece, proof that his imagination was, in the end, more than Hollywood was willing or able to handle. 

Jodorowsky's Dune is not so much a tribute to a movie that was never made, but a tribute to a man whose passion knew no boundaries. He wanted Pink Floyd for the musical score, and talked Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali into taking roles. He assembled a team of "warriors" that included  H.R. Giger, Dan O'Bannon, and Chris Foss (whose illustration accompanies this article). As Jodorowsky reminisces about the fun he had pulling  his creative team together and rallying them like a football coach, the documentary rides along on the sheer electricity of Jodorowsky's personality. Once the story reaches LA, though, darkness falls.  It's almost painful to watch Jodorowsky's happy veneer crack as he recalls this part of the story.  His passion for creating, and his vision of what movies should be like, were at odds with an increasingly conservative Hollywood. I felt for him when he described his philosophy that artists should be as far out as possible. There's genuine sadness in his voice when he asks, "Why not?"

Jodorowsky's beautiful sketchbook for his Dune was passed around the studios, and undoubtedly had an impact on films  from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to Flash Gordon and The Matrix. O'Bannon and Giger, of course, would collaborate on the Alien series. Pavich does a remarkable job of using the sketches by Giger and Foss to show what the film might have been like, and had me convinced that Jodorowsky's ideas were pinched by everyone from Spielberg and Lucas on down.  

Jodorowsky has an infectious energy as he tells his story, and it's easy to see why people were willing to go along on this adventure with him, dropping everything to move to France where he was headquartered in a castle. Even when he talks about preparing his son for a role in the movie by putting him through a grueling two year training session with a martial arts master, he seems to be doing everything in the name of art, all for a movie he believed would "expand the mind of humanity." For Jodorowsky, the film was to be like LSD trip, and hit moviegoers like a visit from a prophet. He obviously had more on his mind than movie tie-ins at McDonald's. 

The question, however, is this: Would Jodorowsky's movie be as great as we imagine it  could have been? Or are we simply overexcited by its potential? It would have looked beautiful, that's for sure, but Jagger's presence never helped a film, and Welles, in the mid-1970s, had become a joke. Also, I've never read the novel, but according to the documentary, the screenplay by Jodorowsky was different from Herbert's story; it was more like a space opera version of the life of  Jesus.  I'm not sure how that would go over with audiences in  the mid-1970s.

Chances are, Jodorowsky's version of Dune would have been another of Jodorowsky's midnight mind blowers, full of incredible images, but slightly inscrutable. A lost classic? I'm not sure. I think it would've been a weird and beautiful film, and it hurts to know Hollywood treated Jodorowsky this way,  but I'm not certain his Dune would have been a game changer. 

Still, watching Jodorowsky's Dune reminded me of something Mickey Mantle once said, something about his having almost as much fun striking out as he did hitting a home run, for swinging the bat hard had its own distinct pleasure, whether he connected or not. Jodorowsky says something similar in this documentary, that it doesn't matter if our grandest visions fail as long as we try. Aiming high and missing, the movie suggests, is better than aiming low and succeeding. Jodorowsky's Dune aims high. And connects.

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