Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013); Directed by Frank Pavich

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“Could be fantastic, no?” Alejandro Jodorowsky says at one point, after describing the opening sequence of the Dune he planned on directing.

Could be fantastic, yes.

What is even more fantastic is the documentary about Jodorowsky’s valiant and tireless attempt to bring Dune to the screen, recruiting Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and others to play key roles, and recruiting people whose art he liked, some who had never worked in film before. You know, minor talents like Dan O’Bannon (whose work he had seen and liked in Dark Star), and H.R. Giger, and Chris Foss, and Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius). Jodorowsky would see a comic book, or the cover of a science fiction novel, and think: “That person! I must go find that person to work on Dune with me!”

He saw anyone on his team as a “warrior” in a spiritual battle. His dream of Dune was grandiose. It would change human consciousness.

We all know that the Chilean director of crazy-weird and popular cult films like El Topo did not end up directing Dune. David Lynch did. Maybe Jodorowsky’s would have been better, maybe it would have been a huge disaster. The film makes the claim that Jodorowsky’s vision, encapsulated in a gigantic book of artwork and story-boards, circulated around the studios when he was looking for money, had an influence that was far-reaching, even though Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made. And his team of hardy bandits who created all that artwork of course went on to be legendary themselves, but it was Jodorowsky who first gave them the confidence to be big, bold, they can do this, he had total confidence in their genius.

I don’t think the point here is that Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been better than David Lynch’s, and a lot of the comments sections of reviews of the film are filled with defensive David Lynch Dune fans, and I understand that.

Why Jordorowsky’s “Dune” is so damn powerful is that it shows an artist working at his fullest capacity without even knowing whether or not his film would be green-lit. Those small details didn’t matter. He created the entire film in his mind. Many of his collaborators never even read the book. They just listened to it told from Jodorowsky and then created from there. And so the vision is powerful, otherworldly. psychedelic, and ambitious. Jodorowsky’s son posits that the fact that Dune never happened was a “permanent injury” from which his father never recovered, and there is certainly a case to be made for that.

But the film is not the story of a permanent injury. It is the story of a work in progress, it is the story of an artist who had a dream in his head, and he did whatever it took to make that dream a reality.

The end result is irrelevant, and that is something that our market-driven culture has a very difficult time grasping (and, I think, results in some of the people interviewed making large claims about Jodorowsky’s Dune that may very well not be quite accurate. But who knows.) Jodorowsky is so damn positive (he is still alive, a spry 84 years old), that even now you feel he could start shooting tomorrow if someone gave him the money. His dream lives within him.

And so it’s one of the best documentaries made about an artist, because whether or not you are successful is not the point. Ultimately. What matters is the attempt. What matters is the striving. What matters is that you keep the dream alive in your head. THAT is the battle, and that is where the amateurs get sunk. They stop defending their own dream, whatever it is. They stop believing in the dream. The cynicism of the outside world, the “No”s of the outside world, are internalized. And then you’re dead.

There were moments when the film brought me to tears.

Not for the loss of Jodorowsky’s Dune. I don’t really care about that.

The tears came from being in the presence of a man who was able to create and sustain such a sheer and positive belief in his own dream. Whether or not it saw the light of day in a movie theatre was not exactly irrelevant but it didn’t matter in the moment of creation. And THAT is what good art is all about.

One of my favorite films of the year.

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28 Responses to Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013); Directed by Frank Pavich

  1. mutecypher says:

    A friend of mine told me about this a few weeks ago. We had seen David Lynch’s (or was it Alan Smithee’s) version on opening night so long ago. There were guys dressed up in Harkonnen and Fremen costumes walking around before the movie began – early cosplay culture. I had put it in my Netflix queue, since it’s not available for streaming. It’s supposed to arrive today.

    Small world.

    I’m looking forward to it even more.

    Have you seen any Jodorowsky films? Santa Sangre? What would you recommend to get to know movies he has actually made?

    • sheila says:

      El Topo is great and Holy Mountain is absolutely insane – and makes me think that yeah, he could have made Dune into an acid-trippy type of thing, no problem.

      I’ll be eager to hear your reaction.

      I saw Dune in the theatre too, mainly because I was in love with Sting and wanted to see him in that crazy outfit where he is barely clothed. I did not care about the rest of the story. Ha.

  2. mutecypher says:

    I recall looking forward to Sting – though not for the same reasons. I thought it was a mark of wanting to be a “serious actor” to take the foppish villain part and not the hero part (don’t know if he was ever in the running for Paul). I really liked him in Quadrophenia and later in Stormy Monday.

    My buddy and I were disappointed in the movie. I haven’t seen any of the subsequent versions. I think it would have been a much better movie if all of the actors had taken the John Wayne advice and found ways to minimize their dialogue. To paraphrase Emperor Joseph from Amadeus “too many words.”

    Dune really is a science fiction classic. And the first couple of follow-ons in the series were very good. Then later books, not so much.

    • sheila says:

      I am mainly grateful that it exists because it got Dean Stockwell working again and helped make Paris Texas happen which turned his whole career around (again). He was wonderful in it, I thought. Honestly, I don’t remember much about it.

      The book is great.

  3. mutecypher says:

    I have good memories of Dean Stockwell from Dune, I didn’t realize it restarted his career and led to Paris Texas. That was a wonderful movie.

    • sheila says:

      Yeah, he hadn’t had a good job in 15 years. Hell of a dry streak. He had moved to Taos and got his real estate license. Then he was doing some horrible B movie in Mexico and David Lynch was filming Dune nearby – and that role was cast with someone else – John Hurt maybe? can’t remember – and Hurt ended up dropping out. Stockwell had stopped by the set to say Hello, and David Lynch tells a great story of seeing Stockwell and being like, “I thought you were dead!” A clear sign of how dead Stockwell’s career was at that point. He had been the top child actor in Hollywood and Lynch had loved his work. So then when Hurt (or whoever it was) dropped out, Stockwell happened to be in Lynch’s mind because of that recent encounter and he offered him the role. It turned everything around for Stockwell. Pretty awesome.

  4. mutecypher says:

    Wow. I knew from your writing about him that he had a long dry spell and was selling real estate at one point. I didn’t remember that his dry spell was 15 years – and I didn’t recall that it was Dune that brought him back.

    I thought it was a candy-colored clown we called the Sandman.

    Just re-read your Dean Stockwell/Blue Velvet post. Holy freaking cow!

    • sheila says:

      Amazing, right??

      He based his characterization on Carol Burnett which I think is beautifully bizarre. He’s so damn good.

      Paris, Texas was the kind of art house hit that made him seem cool again and relevant and then Blue Velvet, David Lynch again, put him over the edge.

      • sheila says:

        Oh that’s right I referenced the Carol Burnett thing in that post.

        That entire characterization was his and his alone. Insane.

  5. KC says:

    Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if we were all as alive as Jodorowsky? His positive energy has always inspired me.

    • sheila says:

      Totally. His energy is infectious. His enthusiasm. You can see why these people were all like, “Sure, I’ll move to Paris and work on this big crazy project. Sure.”

      Very inspiring.

  6. Shealia says:

    yes, i agree. His positive energy has always inspired me.

  7. mutecypher says:

    I was going to watch this Monday night but Mischievous Tequila whispered in my ear. “Let’s shoot mutants in the Moscow subway,” she said, “It will be fun.” We did, it was… though my aim to deteriorated after a while.

    What a beautiful, ambitious dream Jodorowsky had. Dali as the Emperor. Dali’s muse (love that) Amanda Lear as Irulan. I loved his answer to Dali’s question, “Do you find in your life a clock in the sun?” “I never find a clock, but I lost a lot.” There’s your sound of one hand clapping, Salvador! There’s your three chin of flax.

    And Dali introducing Jodorowshy to Giger, wow.

    David Carradine gobbling down his jar of vitamins! And that special marijuana he shared with Dan O”Bannon – “Like This!” Sell everything you own and come to Paris.

    Doug Trumbull, not a warrior. I got a kick out of J stopping in the middle of that story to pick up his squeaky, beautiful siamese cat. It almost seemed like a way to convey his disregard for Trumbull – except the guy doesn’t seem to have a malicious bone in his body.

    Turning his son into Paul.

    Raping Frank Herbert “with love.”

    His talk about “The system make of us slaves” is exactly William Blake’s “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” I don’t know if AJ ever saw angels in trees, but he’s living the rest of Blake’s life.

    I have to get those graphic novels he made with Moebius – those look wonderful. I need to see this guy’s art.

    • sheila says:

      Raping Frank Herbert “with love” – so so funny.

      When he took the money out of his pocket, saying “this is bullshit” … I got goosebumps. Suddenly you saw his moral fervor, his rage at the system. It was amazing. But in general, yes, he was so so positive – what a delight.

      That “clocks in the sand” bit was so awesome.

      Bringing Giger in was amazing. The artwork Giger did!!

      Carradine and the vitamins. hahahahahahaha

      Amanda Lear was awesome. I wish they had gotten an interview with Jagger. And him promising Orson Welles that he would have the film catered by Welles’ favorite chef and THAT was why Welles said Yes. Classic.

      So glad you saw it!

  8. sheila says:

    And the painting of the camouflage ship. Like a fish. Just incredible.

  9. mutecypher says:

    Yes, and Foss talking about how he’d go in on the weekends to finish his paintings – in a sort of “I never did that sort of thing” tone. “Clocks in the sand” makes more Dali-sense, but on replaying it still sounds so much like he’s saying “sun.” I’m sure you’re right.

    And I loved that his sons had to remind him that he was a warrior so that he would go see David Lynch’s version.

    Udo Kerr is one odd/gorgeous guy.

    Gary Kurtz’s comments about the worries of the studios and how Jodorowsky should have considered his pitch had a lot of sense in them. I wasn’t happy hearing an adult talk about responsible things right at that point, but J would not have endeared himself to anyone looking to finance a movie that might be 12 hours long.

    It was affirming to see that so much of the work that was done carried on into other movies and works.

    • Paula says:

      //J would not have endeared himself to anyone looking to finance a movie that might be 12 hours long// Guess it took 30 years and Peter Jackson before that would happen. What would Jodorowsky’s LOTR have looked like? I need to give serious thought to this.

  10. Paula says:

    Stumbling upon this in your list of movies and reading your review makes me so happy. Do you know how many conversations I have had that started, “Have you seen Jodorowsky’s Dune?! No? Well, let me tell you about it…” Trying to explain this movie is like describing a really weird vivid dream. I never do it justice and people just look at me like I have lost my mind.

    //What matters is the attempt. What matters is the striving. What matters is that you keep the dream alive in your head// Artists like Jodorowsky are fascinating to me in that they can give all their soul to their work, and that their work is not an end result, a product to be put on display but it is in every moment of creating a dream. On the creativity scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a CPA and 10 being Picasso, J takes it to 11 (did I just quote Spinal Tap here? so weird). So far off the spectrum and shining so brightly it is hard to look at them.

    Hearing the progression of his vision and how far it would go off the original Dune story that I loved made me ecstatic and nauseous. “He can’t do that, can he?” I whispered to my husband as we watched, feeling like a little kid whose older sibling just stole their parent’s car to go off drinking for the night.

    //Raping Frank Herbert “with love.”// hahahahaha, I almost died at this.

    //his team of hardy bandits who created all that artwork of course went on to be legendary themselves// All of these artists went on to projects that had a deep influence on me personally. To hear that they worked together on this blew my mind.

    Ten years from now, I will still be asking people “Have you seen Jodorowsky’s Dune?!”

    • sheila says:

      Paula – Ha!! This is great – I love talking about this movie and love to hear people’s thoughts on it.

      // All of these artists went on to projects that had a deep influence on me personally. //

      There’s a new documentary coming out about the work and vision of H. R. Giger – it’s called Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World – I’m really looking forward to it.

      I think one of Jodorowsky’s biggest gifts is his belief in the talent of others – sheer total belief which helped them realize their own greatness – and also just the fact that he could recognize such talent, that he sought it out. It’s just incredible – that team he put together for this film that never happened. But look at where they all ended up! Extraordinary!

  11. mutecypher says:

    Sheila –

    I’m about half way through “Just Kids” and I’m at the part where Dali comes through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, sees Patti holding a stuffed black crow she just bought, and he tells her “You are like a crow, a gothic crow.”

    Too much concinnity.

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