Sunday, April 13, 2014

What might have been

In 1975 a man named Alejandro Jodorowsky was the first person who tried to bring Frank Herbert's Dune to the big screen. He tried to do this in the absolute bug-fucking craziest way possible and his film was never made; what was made, almost forty years later, was the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune that took a look into the madman's process and tracked down what still could be found of the production.

Now, I have said that Jodorowsky is crazy but I haven't explained that. Let's disregard his films (which are crazy and look completely rad) and focus on the film-that-wasn't.

For Paul, the main character, Jodorowsky cast his 12-year-old son and decided to turn the boy into Paul, a warrior-messiah, literally. He did this by hiring a martial arts instructor to train the child for eight hours a day, six days a week, for two years, in several kinds of martial arts and how to kill people with knives and swords. He also decided he would kill Paul at the end of the film because you can't respect a novel - that would be like respecting your wife; if you really did you'd never have kids (not exaggerating, that's pretty close to word-for-word what Jodorowsky says in an interview).

For the Emperor Jodorowsky cast Salvador Dali and agreed to pay him $500,000 per minute. For the Baron Harkonnen the talents of Orson Welles were called on to be exchanged for the services of an opulent French chef. Mick Jagger was supposed to play Feyd. David Carradine was to be Duke Leto. Pink Floyd and Magma were signed on for the soundtrack. Jodorowsky was also the first person to ask Chris Foss (Superman, Alien, Flash Gordon, A.I.) and H.R. Giger (motherfucking Alien, Aliens, Alien Resurrection, and Prometheus) to do art for a film (which means that he was pretty much responsible for completely remaking the way that we envision SciFi). So let's be clear: Jodorowsky was crazy, and his vision of Dune wouldn't be the same story that we know from Herbert, but it would have been insanely awesome.

Jodorowsky's Dune is an interesting film. The producers managed to track down a significant part of the creative team who were going to be involved in the 70s production and sat down to ask them what it was like, working on this white whale of a film. Jodorowsky is probably the most heavily featured respondent, flitting through three languages and a million emotions as he remembers the experience. It becomes clear almost immediately that the man isn't on the same wavelength as the rest of us, but that only serves to make him more magnificent and tragic.

The documentary is beautifully shot and organized, and does a magnificent job of bringing what it can of the original production to light, animated and illustrated based on The Dune Book - a collection of character, costume, location and ship designs, and a shot-by-shot storyboard by Jean Giraud, the legendary French comic artist who also worked under the name of Moebius. The documentary has a careful, delicate touch when handling its subject - clearly it was made by fans of Jodorowsky, Dune, and all the creatives whose careers careened out of control after working with Jodorowsky. A lot of attention is given to the way this unfinished film changed the landscape that we live in as well as its tremendous value.

Jodorowsky's Dune does a good job of introducing you to both of its subjects, the maker and his vision, and presenting them both in a wistful, appreciative light. It's surprisingly funny, full of compassion and wonder, and an interesting portrait of the man, his mind, and the time he gathered up a bunch of "spiritual warriors" to make a blisteringly nuts movie.

As a side note, the only reason I got to see this movie is because A) The Cinefamily's Silent Movie Theater was hosting it as a part of its festival/tour run (though there will be a Blu-Ray release at some point) and B) my awesome dad knows what a nutcase I am for all things Dune and invited me to come see it with him. Honestly I can't imagine a better way to see a movie than with Dad - the way I am about books is the way my dad is with movies only more so; he watches a terrifying number of movies and has an incredibly sharp recall of films that he saw decades ago so movies are always an experience with him - it's not just looking at what's on the screen, it's the discussion of merits and interest that follows that makes it so great to see movies with my dad. He also blogs about them in a faster and more effective manner than I blog about books.

Anyway, thanks for taking me to the movies, Dad.
Everyone else, Cheers.
     - Alli


  1. You are welcome, it is always my pleasure. This was a great post and I'm sharing it on Facebook now. I hope I don't get flagged for the title of your blog.

    1. Haha, cheers! Thanks!

      Yeah, I'm sure I'd have a bigger audience if I didn't swear like a sailor, but then I wouldn't have nearly as much fun.