Posts Tagged ‘Frank Pavich’

One of the amendments I have made to my lifestyle this year, along with the No News Policy and various other things, is to stop watching new trailers over the internet, on the grounds that these things are much better enjoyed in the natural home of film, i.e. an actual cinema. This has worked out quite well for me, all things considered, but less so for the guy on the next desk to me at work. We are of a very similar sensibility in many ways, but he is much less web-averse than me and got very annoyed about not being able to discuss the teaser trailer for the forthcoming Disney Star Wars movie with me for a couple of months.

I was expecting a similar sort of delay with regard to the ‘proper’ trailer but, as it turned out, this has practically been rushed into cinemas, especially those looking to use ticket sales from a massive blockbuster to support an otherwise fairly arty schedule. So it was that I ended up seeing the trailer for The Force Wakes Up twice in the same afternoon (one of my DIY movie double-bills at the Phoenix in Jericho). And, well, I was very impressed, much more than I’d expected to be. But…

Well, one of the films I’d gone to see was Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which if nothing else leaves you with a pretty good idea of what a properly ground-breaking SF-fantasy film should and could look like, as well as leaving you with few illusions as to what happens to visionary film-makers trying to work within the Hollywood system.


The Jodorowsky of the title is Alejandro Jodorowsky, a cult director of avante-garde metaphysical movies, creator of such singular works as El Topo and The Holy Mountain. The Dune of the title is the legendary science-fiction novel written by Frank Herbert, generally accepted to be one of the towering achievements of the genre. The film tells the story of the two years and more that Jodorowsky spent planning his adaptation of the book – as someone observes in the documentary, no-one has ever put quite as much energy and effort into planning a movie which never ultimately got made.

Everyone interviewed for the movie is firmly of the opinion that the world missed out on another towering achievement when this version of Dune was scrapped, even if some of them express doubt that some aspects of Jodorowsky’s vision could be realised even with modern special effects technology. But just a brief listing of some of the personnel assembled by Jodorowsky makes it possible to understand why they hold this belief: an eclectic set of actors including Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and David Carradine, concept artists like Moebius, Chris Foss, and HR Giger, and music from Pink Floyd. It is a tantalising prospect, isn’t it?

Jodorowsky comes across as, to quote one of his collaborators, a very erudite lunatic, apparently taking enormous pleasure in relating the many extraordinary anecdotes surrounding the Dune production process. The man’s passion and energy are winning, even when he describes his intention to make a film which would ’cause a mutation in the minds of young people’. Why did he not employ top Hollywood special effects guy Douglas Trumbull on Dune? Because he was apparently not a ‘spiritual warrior’, which was the most important criterion for potential collaborators.

Various elements of the film are brought to life via animation, using the extremely detailed storyboards produced by Jodorowsky’s team, and it’s enough to give you a flavour of exactly what a startling production this Dune would have been, even if the full richness of the designs never quite come to life. One is left to fully imagine just how extraordinary this film would have looked – it might well have realised Jodorowsky’s ambition to make a film which artificially reproduced the effects of LSD for the viewer.

(As you may have surmised, this film is very much about Jodorowsky rather than Dune itself: we learn very little about the origins of the novel or even very much of the story, which in any case seems to have been radically reinterpreted by the director. ‘I was raping Frank Herbert,’ chortles Jodorowsky at one point. ‘But with love!’ Certainly not many people on the team seem to have actually read the book.)

Of course, we will never know, because – and having seen this documentary, the fact is still somewhat heartbreaking – Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made, despite the plans and script and budget being favourably received by a number of American studios. The documentary’s suggestion is that it was simply the studio’s fear of Jodorowsky as a sort of metaphysical maverick that stopped them from funding this project, but it still opens a crack to an intriguing parallel world where Dune preceded the original Star Wars to the screen.

I was curious to see what this film had to say about the David Lynch-directed version of Dune which eventually reached cinemas, to no very great effect, in 1984. Its existence is acknowledged, and in one of the documentary’s most winning moments, Jodorowsky fondly recalls how his mood lightened while watching it. ‘Step by step I become very happy, because the picture is awful!’ – an opinion no sensible critic could really take exception to.

The documentary doesn’t just limit itself to the Lynch Dune, either, proposing that it was Jodorowsky’s vision as much as George Lucas’ which powered the great boom in late 70s SF and fantasy films – elements from the storyboards do seem to uncannily anticipate the imagery of films from Star Wars, to Flash Gordon, to The Terminator, to Prometheus. Exhibit A for this theory is surely the fact that all of Jodorowsky’s key collaborators (Foss, Giger, special effects man Dan O’Bannon, and so on) were taken on to work on a little film called Star Beast, which eventually reached the screen in 1979 under the snappier title of Alien.

If you are at all interested in the development of SF as an element of cinema, or Alejandro Jodorowsky as a director, then this film probably counts as unmissable. As a piece of documentary it is not especially innovative, but with a story this unique and interesting it doesn’t really need to be. In the final analysis this is very much a niche film – but it’s a niche well worth visiting.


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