JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is a thoroughly entertaining and eye-opening documentary recounting the 1975 failed attempt of famed Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo and The Holy Mountain) in creating an epic film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s revered science fiction novel DUNE. Although it sounds ultimately like a bit of an anticlimactic film, it’s full of hope, humour and inspiration, and Director Frank Pavich delves so deeply into the cogs and framework of the never-made Dune that you leave the cinema feeling as though you’ve been privy to a secret glimpse of it.
Jodorowsky himself stars, retelling the incredible story of his dream to bring Dune to the screen, and perhaps most interestingly his assembly of the most unbelievably bizarre cast and crew you’ve ever seen, including Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd and David Carradine. He travelled the world seeking out the best and most notorious in every field, stopping at nothing to get them to join his film (he offered to pay Salvador Dali $100,000 per minute of screen time which Dali accepted merely for the grandiose sound of it, and he hunted Welles down at his favourite restaurant in Paris and stated that Welles would eat this very same cuisine every day on set should he decide to act in this film). He used the same level of vigour and charm to put together an incredible production team, including famed French artist Moebius, who together created a frame-by-frame graphic novel of sorts depicting how the film would look. This visual script had the story straying so far from Herbert’s original novel that Jodorowsky had to put his name in front of the title to distinguish between the two, thus it became Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Director Frank Pavich reassembles what he can of the former production crew for this documentary, which sees brilliant interviews with H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux and Chris Foss, all of whom speak fondly of their former director as a kind of mad uncle with whom they shared some irreplaceable memories. These interviews in combination with Jodorowsky’s own certainly offer a clear explanation as to why the film could never actually be made at that time. After watching, it becomes apparent that Jodorowsky, an undeniably brilliant enigma full of passion and inspiration, is a man whose ambitions exceeded his abilities, his budget, as well as the understanding of those to whom he pitched the film. The final script of Jodorowsky’s Dune had the epic running at a whopping 14 hours, something that its director saw no problem with. Jodorowsky makes a point to stress that he doesn’t believe creativity should ever be constrained by rules or timeframes, which in terms of creating art is an admirable viewpoint, however in this medium the film simply became economically unviable, and the production was shut down mere days after beginning. The rights to the story were sold and David Lynch released his own rendition some ten years later.
Despite his slight madness, Jodorowsky still demands admiration and respect for his infallible passion which is still apparent in him today. Most importantly, this documentary highlights the effect that this film had on everyone involved as well as cinema as a whole, despite never coming into fruition. The visual script Jodorowsky and team created made the rounds in Hollywood, and pretty stark similarities in films that followed have surfaced, signifying just how brilliant and cutting-edge this film would have been had it succeeded in production, that even the script had such a powerful effect on other filmmakers. For now, we are lucky enough to have this documentary, a well-rounded and completely engaging tribute to what might have been the most epic science fiction film ever made, Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Director Frank Pavich answered some questions about his film after the screening. Firstly, he explained what initially prompted him to create this documentary, saying, “Once you hear a little bit about the story, if you’re familiar with Jodorowsky and if you’re familiar with his movies and how unique and special they are, then by doing a little bit of research, you came across this story. The guy, the crazy director who made El Topo and Holy Mountain, was also gonna make Dune ten years before David Lynch, and his cast was gonna include his own son, who was the little kid in El Topo, and Dave Carradine and Mick Jagger and Orson Welles and Salvador Dali, and Pink Floyd (were) gonna do the music. You wanna learn more, you wanna see more. So we kept doing more and more research on the internet and finding little stories in books, and then one day you reach the end of the road, and there’s no more information out there, there’s no more Internet sites, there’s no more books about it. So the only way to learn more is to contact Jodorowsky himself, and to sit down with him and say, ‘Tell me! Tell me the whole story. I want to see the book, I wanna see the images, and I wanna hear the stories.’ And that’s really where the idea came from.”
When asked if he’d considered including Quentin Tarantino in the film (he’s known to be a huge fan of Jodorowski’s Santa Sangre) or David Lynch (the director who ended up actually finishing his own version of Dune), Pavich responded, “We thought about contacting David Lynch, but we were kind of torn. We know that David Lynch and Jodorowsky know each other, because David Lynch was going to produce a Jodorowsky movie five or six years ago, which never ended up happening. But to invite him to be in the film, it felt a little strange because we’re not exactly complimentary to his Dune film, so we felt a little weird if we invited him. And then with Tarantino, I mean as much as I’m a fan of Tarantino and I’m sure many other people are, I think Tarantino’s personality is so strong that it’s almost like it becomes the Quentin Tarantino Show. He’s so specific that maybe he would jump off the screen, and it might offset the balance I think. And then lastly, I’m not a big fan of documentaries that have too many people, you know there’s a 90 minute documentary and there’s 90 different people interviewed. If each person comes on for one or two sentences after a while I lose interest, I can’t follow if I don’t know the people’s personalities. The only way to know their personalities is by keeping the number of people small in the film, so we kept it to the core team and then a couple of outside voices.
“We chose Refn and Richard Stanley. Refn is obviously very well connected to Jodorowsky, Jororowsky has called him his ‘filmmaking spiritual godson’ and considers him to be the greatest film director alive working today, so we know that they know each other, so we included him. And then we included Richard Stanley because his story is so similar to Jodorowsky’s. Jodorowsky made a couple of small independent films and then tried to make the big money adaptation of a book, and so did Richard Stanley. He made his small films in South Africa, and then he tried to make his big Hollywood adaptation which was The Island of Doctor Moreau, the one with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. He spent years creating it, and they started shooting, and two days into shooting it, the studio came and fired him, and replaced him with another director, which was devastating for him. So he could speak, even if he doesn’t say it specifically, he’s speaking from that same perspective. And then interestingly, he went a little further because he was fired, and then he went into the woods, and he put on an animal costume and became an extra in his own film without telling anyone, just so he could spy on John Frankenheimer, to see how he was destroying his film. So when the guy has a story like that, we had to include him.”
Pavich then spoke about Jodorowsky’s reaction to seeing the finished documentary. “The first time Jodorowsky saw it was at the Cannes Film Festival. During the making of our documentary, he was very hands off, he really let me make my own film, he wasn’t bothering me, he wasn’t looking at me saying, ‘What’s going on? Show me the animation!’ He really let me make the film, which is one of the many things that I’m forever grateful to him for. So the first time he saw the film was at the world premiere which was at the Cannes Film Festival. I was sitting down and his wife was next to me and he was sitting in the third seat, and he’s watching the film and I’m kind of looking out the corner of my eye to see, wondering what he’s thinking. And at the end of the film, I could see he and his wife were wiping tears away, which was weird because it felt good! Here’s this 84 year old man crying, and I felt good about it, which is maybe not the best thing to say about myself, but I felt great! So when it was over and the credits were over, I leaned forward and I said, ‘So… what’d you think?’ And he just turned to me and he said, ‘It was perfect.’ And that’s really all I could ask for.”
When asked if he encountered any difficulties obtaining rights to the art and clips shown in the film, Pavich explained, “You know to be honest the rights were not difficult because all of the artists that we approached, you know Giger and Chris Foss, to this day they still love Jodorowsky so much, and they feel that they owe him to a certain extent. He brought them into this new world for them, of making movies, which gave them new careers and really got them further out into the world, and so to this day they still feel… almost indebted to him. And they also really love him. The first person that I approached was Jodorowsky of course, because it’s Jodorowsky’s Dune, it’s his story, and so I approached him first, and when he agreed that we could make this film, I contacted Chris Foss and H.R. Giger and Michel Seydoux and all these people, and right away they said, ‘Yes of course! Come on over and let’s do an interview.’ To have an opportunity to talk about their old friend, their old guru, as some of them considered him, they really felt happy and they were completely involved 100%.”
The film interviews those who were most involved with the development of Jodorowsky’s Dune, and Pavich discussed the missing members of this core team. “The only people that we couldn’t get in the documentary were the people that are no longer with us, they’ve already passed away. While we were filming, Moebius was sick, and then he passed away so we couldn’t sit down with him, and then Dan O’Bannon had already passed away. So those were the only people that we really wanted, in a dream world it would’ve been great to have them in the film, but I feel confident that even though they’re not interviewed specifically for the film, that they still exist in the film, they’re still represented. Moebius’ artwork is throughout the film, and we managed to locate that hilarious interview with Dan O’Bannon to kind of bring that to life, and by speaking to his wife too, who could tell us a little bit about who he was. So even though they’re not in the documentary, we still feel that they are.”