The new documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” which is now playing in Buffalo and around the country, is a must-see work, especially if you are completely in love with motion pictures.
Alejandro Jodorowsky was born on February 17, 1929 in Chile to Ukrainian parents. He spent much of his adult life in Paris and Mexico City. He was a published poet at age 16. He took his first steps into the entertainment scene in Santiago as a puppeteer and circus clown. He studied mime in Paris with the legendary silent French master, Marcel Marceau.
Jodorowsky has also been a street performer, theater actor, movie extra, stage manager, costume designer, props master, photographer, cartoonist, and philosophical writer about the arts. He was a friend of Spanish surrealist Fernando Arrabal. In the mid-1950s, He was hired to stage the return to music halls of France’s beloved Maurice Chevalier.
The first full-length movie Jodorowsky directed, “Fando And Lis,” was made in Mexico in the late-1960s and generated a huge scandal and was banned.
Jodorowsky achieved international renown for his extraordinary “El Topo” (1970), which is noted for many things, including its beauty, strangeness, and being the first true “midnight movie.” He followed this film with “The Holy Mountain” in 1973, which, if possible, is more bizarre (in a good way) and achieved an even greater cult status than the mesmerizing “El Topo.”
Jodorowsky had long wanted to make a movie version of Frank Herbert’s celebrated science fiction novel “Dune,” which he treasured. He never got the chance.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a fascinating encounter with a filmmaker who was so determined to bring his idea of “Dune” to life that even before he was assured of owning the rights, he was putting together his interpretation of the movie.
Once Jodorowsky had Herbert’s approval, he began pre-production in 1975. He prepared an oversize, thousand-page book of his vision of the novel. It’s filled with storyboards, special effects concepts, the screenplay, drawings, costume designs, and photographs. He eventually brought his idea to Hollywood’s major studios, who loved the presentation but were leery of working with so “off-beat” and “quirky” a director. Back in the 1970s, the technology to make Jodorowky’s version of “Dune” was in its infancy. Stanley Kubrick’s great “2001: A Space Odyssey” had scored well, but George Lucas’s “Star Wars” was not yet a reality.
Frank Pavich’s terrific documentary about Jodorowsky and his “Dune” tells us that at first the director wanted to engage Kubrick’s special effects master Douglas Trumbull. He also talked to the vitally important surrealist Swiss artist H. R. Giger for set ideas. He wanted to cast Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Salvador Dali, and Mick Jagger in key roles. Music would be by Pink Floyd or the French cult rock band Magma. It would be at the very least, a 14-hour film.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune” progresses in wonderfully engaging fashion. Alejandro enthusiastically talks about his passion for making the movie. He is a terrific storyteller, a delightful raconteur. You share his love of Herbert’s novel and are ready to see his version of it right then and there. The director’s son, actor Brontis Jodorowsky, who played the child in “El Topo,” is on-camera to discuss his father’s creativity and his unique way of making motion pictures. The bond they share is obvious and true.
As often happens in Hollywood, Jodorowsky’s version of “Dune” was never completed. In 1982, he lost the rights to the book to Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who, as he often did, turned a classic story into something tacky, clueless, ugly, and ultimately unwatchable. A reliable cheapskate, his dreadful 1976 remake of “King Kong” 1976 is clunky and laughable.
De Laurentiis’s “Dune” came across on-screen as a bad joke. That it was directed by the vital and interesting David Lynch made its failure even more appalling. The movie was released in 1984 and quickly disappeared. It’s a mess and commits the greatest cinematic sin of all, it’s boring.
In “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” Alejandro himself tells us that he was heartbroken when he heard that his dream was lost and that the movie was going to be made by another person. He was determined to never see it. However, his friends convinced him that he wouldn’t be able to move beyond his disappointment if he didn’t go to the theater with them and see Lynch’s “Dune.”
Jodorowsky went. To hear him reveal his reaction is one of the highlights of the documentary. He was initially depressed, but as the film progressed, a warm sense of hope began to dance around him. Soon he was wrapped in joy. Eventually, he was totally exhilarated. The movie was a fiasco. An utter failure. And Jodorowsky became the happiest man on earth.
Now 85, a beaming and enthusiastic Jodorowsky is still creating. He has published numerous graphic novels, some of which utilize thematic and artistic elements from “Dune.” As detailed in the movie, he understands the way of the world of how major studios operate and why they make the motion pictures they do. He holds no grudges, which is probably why he’s a happy and healthy man. He thinks his “Dune” can still be made, especially as an animated feature.
Jodorowsky is aware, as documentary director Pavich makes abundantly clear, that many of the aspects and images he had prepared for his “Dune” have been, what’s the best word? Borrowed, used, appropriated, or even stolen, by other directors. Don’t think so? The movie shows Alejandro’s drawings morphing into scenes from “Star Wars,” “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” the “Alien” movies, and other works.
There’s no doubt that the great Jodorowsky has gotten the last laugh.
Michael Calleri reviews movies for a variety of media outlets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.