Jodorowsky's DuneReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/27/14 21:06:27
(Worth A Look)
In recent years, a small cottage industry has developed around chronicling the histories of enormously promising films that, for whatever reasons, were either left unfinished or which never even made it to the cameras in the first place. In books such as the current "The Greatest Movies You'll Never See" or websites devoted to obscure cinema, movie buffs can read about such ill-fated projects and wonder how screen history might have changed if Stanley Kubrick had made his much-anticipated biopic "Napoleon" after "2001: A Space Odyssey" instead of "A Clockwork Orange," Francis Ford Coppola had gotten his futuristic epic "Megalopolis" off the ground or if "Who Killed Bambi?," which brought together the talents of director Russ Meyer, screenwriter Roger Ebert and putative stars The Sex Pistols, hadn't fallen through after less than a day of shooting.Recently, there has even been a spate of documentaries about such unmade or undone films such as "Lost in La Mancha," depicting Terry Giiliam's doomed attempt to bring his "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" to the screen, and "L'Enfer de Henri Georges-Clouzot," which looked at the late French filmmaker's ultimately failed struggle to produce the groundbreaking thriller "L'Enfer." At this rate, it seems more likely that we will be seeing documentaries chronicling the troubled productions of Jerry Lewis's infamous "The Day The Clown Cried" or David O. Russell's "Nailed," a political comedy with Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal that fell into a financial quagmire before its last (and most important) scene could be shot, long before the actual films themselves.
The latest film along these lines to shine a light on an otherwise lost piece of movie history is "Jodorowsky's Dune," a documentary chronicling the astonishing history behind one of the maddest and most potentially mind-blowing misfires of them all--the staggeringly ambitious attempt to bring Frank Herbert's groundbreaking 1965 science-fiction novel "Dune" to the screen. I know what you are thinking and yes, "Dune" did eventually get made, first in a 1984 screen version that found acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch trying and largely failing to wrestle Herbert's sprawling saga into a coherent narrative and later in a blandly forgettable 2000 miniseries that had more time to tell the story but lacked the budget to provide the necessary elaborate visual effects. However, almost a decade before Lynch's version hit theaters, there was another attempt that brought together a virtual army of visionary artists in a mad attempt to bring it to life and while the project never quite managed to get before the cameras, it would nevertheless prove to be an enormous if unspoken influence on the genre for years to come--concepts originally developed for it would later turn up in such films as "Star Wars," "Alien" and "Contact"--and many of those who have encountered the pre-production artifacts that still remain are convinced that if it had been made, it might well have become one of the greatest movies ever made.
The man who was the unexpected center of this maelstrom of creative energy was Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chilean-born avant-garde playwright, performance artist and mime who became a household name, albeit in more interesting households, in 1970 when his hallucinatory second feature film, the bizarre and brutal psychedelic Western "El Topo," became one of the leading players on the then-blossoming midnight movie circuit with its tale of a gunslinger with more than a passing resemblance to Jesus. Although the film never quite broke through into the mainstream, he developed an immediate cult (with John Lennon being one of its early adopters) that was strengthened by the release of his even trippier 1973 follow-up, the genuinely baffling "The Holy Mountain." For his next project, the story goes, he decided to make bring "Dune" to the screen. Sure, he hadn't actually read the book before coming up with the idea but after bombing through the whole thing in one sitting, he decided that it was indeed right up his alley and not even the fact that there had already been a failed attempt at adapting it would deter him. His version of Herbert's vaguely messianic tale of a battle between two powerful families battling for control of a powerful narcotic-like substance known as The Spice would be more than just a movie--he wanted to create the cinematic equivalent of an actual religious prophet and wanted to create visuals so mind-bending that they would be virtually indistinguishable for actual LSD hallucinations.
To help bring this vision to the screen, Jodorowksy put together a production team of truly impressive proportions. Moebius, the celebrated French artist whose work was often featured in the landmark "Heavy Metal" comic book, was hired to do the storyboards while Chris Foss, a book cover designer, and Swiss artist H.R. Giger joined on to dream up the visuals for the various planets seen in the story. After an initial attempt to hire celebrated special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull fell through, Jodorowsky turned to Dan O'Bannon, whose collaboration with John Carpenter on the sci-fi comedy "Dark Star" demonstrated that he could work wonders despite a minuscule budget. As for the soundtrack, Pink Floyd, who had just released "The Dark Side of the Moon" and were in the process of recording the follow-up "Wish You Were Here," were commissioned to write and perform the score. The people in front of the camera were just as startling. For the central role of Paul, Jodorowsky intended on enlisting his son, Brontis, and contemplated playing Paul's father, Leto, before hiring David Carradine. Orson Welles was discussed to play the evil Baron Harkonenn, Mick Jagger was to be the deadly Feyd and, in the most audacious move in a project filled with them, famed surrealist Salvador Dali was asked to play the Emperor of the Universe. Although Dali would be needed for only seven days of shooting, he insisted on being paid a staggering $100,000 per hour in exchange for his services.
To help suggest what might have been, director Frank Pavich takes viewers on a visual tour of what was left behind after the film finally fell apart in the wake of a budget that had spiraled up to a then-astronomical $10 million and a screenplay that was estimated to run upwards of 14 hours. The key artifact is a massive book that was sent out to studios (and of which only two remain) containing Jodorowsky's screenplay and 3000 of Moebius's storyboards--the glimpses that we get are so tantalizing that one hopes and prays that it can get published someday because it would be worth its weight in gold. To fill in the blanks, there are interviews with surviving participants like Giger and Foss as well as observations from critics and filmmakers such as Richard Stanley, Nicolas Winding Refn and Devin Faraci. Most important, Jodorowsky opens up at length about his efforts and even though I have a sneaking suspicion that many of his tales should be taking with multiple grains of salt, hearing him talk about with such enthusiasm even after more than 40 years since its demise is an absolute blast.I have two minor quibbles with "Jodorowsky's Dune," both of which are, I suppose, pretty much unavoidable. The first is the way that it continues to toe the long-standing party line that the David Lynch version was this unmitigated all-time disaster even though the film, although undeniably flawed and compromised, has seen its reputation grow a little bit over the years from people willing to overlook its flaws as an adaptation in order to focus on its often-stunning visual style. The other is the way that all the participants here agree without hesitation that Jodorowsky's version would have been an absolute masterpiece because of all the talent involved--people were hoping the same about the Lynch version we know how that turned out. Nevertheless, "Jodorowsky's Dune" is a fascinating documentary that is a must-see for genre buffs and fans of offbeat cinema. For everyone else, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been as it shows that while Hollywood may never fully allow the inmates to run the asylum, at least in its present state, there was a time when it seemed as if they were actually okay with the idea of turning over those keys to the craziest of the bunch.
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