Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: Jodorowsky's Dune

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
"Jodorowsky's Dune" tells the story of one of the greatest movies never made - or, at least, never filmed. For those not familiar with the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chilean filmmaker who, along with David Lynch and several others, gave birth to the midnight cult movie with his completely insane and brilliant 1970 film "El Topo." I'd also highly recommend his "Santa Sangre" and, for those willing to go completely off the deep end, "The Holy Mountain."

In the mid 1970s, Jodorowsky was told by a producer with whom he worked that he would be able to get funding for any movie he wanted to make following the cult success of "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain," which he made with money donated by John Lennon.

Jodorowsky decided he did not just want to make a film, but a life changing spiritual experience that would alter the course of humanity. I'm not being snide here - the director himself said his ambitions and, very likely, his experience with mind altering drugs helped to convince him that Frank Herbert's "Dune" was just the project to do such a thing. Those unfamiliar with Herbert's epic sci-fi tome, "Dune" follows an interplanetary feud over a precious spice. The novel was written in the 1960s, so take that as you will.

So, for several years, the filmmaker put together a dream team of collaborators and crafted a shot-by-shot book of the film in its entirety that blew the minds of all in Hollywood who got their hands on it. And yet, the picture was too ambitious, too strange and too expensive. The storyboards created for the film suggest that it could have been lightyears ahead of its time and that, by comparison, "Star Wars" or "Alien," which would come just a few years later, would have technologically been no match for it.

Much of the documentary, which is directed by Frank Pavich, is in a talking-head format with Jodorowsky, now 84 years old, and some of the talent involved in the crafting of the never-made 1975 film. These scenes are interspersed with animated shots of the storyboards in action and clips from other Jodorowsky films. The documentary remains riveting first and foremost because it seems clear that Jodorowsky's "Dune" would have been a remarkable picture. Also, it helps that the director is such a character - funny, passionate and quirky in all the best ways. "We were raping Frank Herbert," he says of his fated production, "but with love."

Jodorowsky's team included Dan O'Bannon, who did the visual effects for John Carpenter's "Dark Star" and would go on to work on "Alien," as well as surrealist H.R. Giger and acclaimed artist Jean Giraud for set and character design. The cast of the film was to include Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, while the music was to be handled by Pink Floyd and Magma.

Much like last year's entrancing "Room 237," which offered various conspiracy theories to explain the true meaning behind Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," "Jodorowsky's Dune" is a documentary about cinematic myth-making. In this case, however, the mythical film was never actually made - at least, not Jodorowsky's. Lynch went on to direct the film, resulting in the only true flop of his career, although even his film had more than a few memorable visuals (f.e., those worms). It's a shame that Jodorowsky's vision never made it to the screen - but, at least, we now have Pavich's fascinating documentary.

No comments:

Post a Comment