“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.