For me, movies are an art.
More than an industry.
As essential to the human soul as painting,
as literature, as poetry..
Movies are that for me…
— Alejandro Jodorowsky
With that bit of dialog we begin the fascinating look into the inception and the making of a film that even without having succeeded at being made, nevertheless completely changed the course of filmmaking history.
Jodorowsky’s DUNE is a documentary about men with unrealistic ideals, who went to great lengths in an attempt to achieve them. The ripples of their failure continue to be seen in the successes of the smallest and the biggest of budgeted films.
Jodorowsky was known to me primarily through his comicbook writing; a medium where really he is without peer. I had seen his films, most popular among them Holy Mountain and El Topo, but don’t ask me anything about them. I didn’t know then and still don’t know what I saw. Who could watch them sober of psych-drugs and understand them.
His comics on the other hand; equally strange though they are actually make a whole lot more sense to my dry-livered sensibilities. Reading the comics work done after the ruin of his DUNE project gives better context to his earlier film work. I realize now that his ideas simply outperformed his budget to realize them on the big screen. DUNE would have been, could have been the film work that finally realized his vast and boundless imagination. Sadly it was not to be.
Watching the documentary now it’s even more plain to see that the project as is would probably never be made, even today. In many ways it’s subject matter and imagery are still too controversial for most audiences not to mention every hollywood studio. Somehow I don’t see hollywood signing onto a 200 million dollar movie that depicts a graphic journey of a drop of blood-semen through a vaginal canal. The sexuality is rampant and the violence is even more explicit. No, really, the best chance it had of being made (as is) was during the 70s when it was concieved — a time when open drug use was still common.
The film predates Star Wars (1977) and the original Alien (1979), but was more epic in scope and imagination than all of them combined. The movie even goes so far as to suggest that some of the visuals of the films that followed might have benefited directly from the ideas conceived during the prep for DUNE. Lightsaber fights in Star Wars, alien ship designs in Alien, character costuming in Flash Gordon, and many other shows, all influenced visually by the pre-work on Jodorowsky’s project. It would have been something to behold. It could be a very different world today if the film had completed production, and an even more different landscape had it not existed at all.
The documentary goes into some fun details on what was planned for this version of DUNE. The music for example was to be composed largely by Pink Floyd with the bad guys in the film being backed up by music from a metal band named MAGMA that was popular during the time. I couldn’t help imagining this film to be a non-musical version of Phantom of the Paradise. The soundtrack would have been epic.
The cast for the film isn’t fully explored, but the principal figures had been signed and included a young Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and Salvador Dali of all people. The story behind Dali’s courtship for the project alone is worth the price of admission. He reportedly sent the filmmakers on a global scavenger hunt of sorts where they had to meet him in several different countries and continents and answer strange riddles. It gets even stranger from there.
I should mention that much of what’s talked about in the documentary is already available online at duneinfo.com. I knew all the stories and more even before watching a single minute of this film. Even so, it was worth tracking the film down. Editing is everything and the story is quite compelling as told by the doco film crew. When you watch the longer DuneInfo video interviews you get the distinct impression that Jodorowsky in particular has never gotten over the failure of the project. It’s a negative vibe that you come away with. The documentary on the other hand leaves the viewer on a high note with Jodorowsky sounding more hopeful as he reflects on the good that came out of the film. He reflects on the influence his almost-film had on the industry landscape and the doors that opened up for him (comicbooks) after things fell apart. He was able to tell his stories across the many comicbooks that he wrote afterwards. The Incal, White Llama, Meta-Barons, and others. Bits and pieces of what he and Moebius and others had built together for DUNE he was able to expand on with his graphic novel work.
It’s unfortunate, but the closest we may ever get to seeing the film is in this documentary and as sad as that is, Jodorowsky has this to say…
Myself, I have the ambition to live 300 years.
[laughing] I will not live 300 years.
Maybe I will live one year more..
But I have the ambition.
Why you will not have ambition?
Have the greatest ambition possible.
You want to be immortal. Fight to be immortal.
You want to make the most fantastic art of movie.
If you fail, is not important.
We need to try.
— Alejandro Jodorowsky