November 18, 2017

Posted April 12, 2014 by D. K. Holm

Look at those cute hippies, with their tantric sex and light refracting cubes and their clothes in rainbow colors, communing with nature and thinking deep thoughts about the squares and the oppressive Man trying to sausage-link humanity into uniform consumers. A proud if flighty breed, the hippies produced a few great artists and thinkers, but none so ethereal and difficult as Alejandro Jodorowsky – the Chilean born Mexican filmmaker who invented the midnight movie experience with his existential spaghetti western El Topo and who synthesized all his new age thinking in the later Nave of the Absurb drama The Holy Mountain.


A page from the massive storyboard for the unmade Dune

A page from the massive storyboard for the unmade Dune

Mr. Jodorowsky’s dream project was an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, conceived in the mid-1970s, and which featured art and concepts by Dan O’Bannon, sci-fi cover artist Chris Foss, and Swiss artist Giger, with a cast that was meant to include David Carradine, Orson Welles, and Dali. Of course, the movie was never made, but – unlike the unfinished films by Welles – it wasn’t for want of trying. One of the most fascinating elements of this inspirational documentary is the evidence of the storyboard book version of Jodorowsky’s conception, a multi-page behemoth of a book that tracks the whole film in bilingual text and Mobieus-drawn images. One leaves the theater hoping that Taschen can get the rights to publishing the volume for fanatics – otherwise there are only two known copies of the book in existence. The tome was manufactured by Jodorowsky’s producer and served as the calling card for the film to Hollywood studios, where the artifact may have found its way into the hands of George Lucas and others who may have been inspired, that is “lifted” some of the images for their own films, as compare-and-contrast moments in Jodorowsky’s Dune suggest.

This is a fun documentary because the ideas behind it are so crazy, the participants are so dedicated, and Jodorowsky himself is so excitable, emotional, and surprisingly “normal” given the willful strangeness of his films. Among the highlights are the moment when Jodorowsky finally takes the dead-man-walking stroll to the theater were David Lynch’s version of the novel is playing years later, and is relieved to discover that the result is bullworth. There is also a powerful, emotional moment that is apt to make the true film buff grow teary eyed. In the film, Jodorowsky changed the novel’s ending so that the planet Dune “comes alive” and leaves the galaxy, after the main character Paul “dies,” only to be reborn in the other characters, who, Spartacus-like, announce, “I am Paul.” Commenting on the lasting influence of the unmade film on the history of cinema, Jodorowsky’s son Brontis, who was to play Paul, notes that given how bits of Dune have popped up in everything from Alien to Star Wars to Masters of the Universe, he notes that it is like this films are saying, “I am Dune.”

There are some unfinished films, such as Gilliam’s Don Quixote project, and von Sternberg’s I, Claudius and several others that exist only in the documentary record of their short life and public death. Jodorowsky’s Dune distinguishes itself by finding true inspiration in the shattered fragments of what was left.