There are two movies I recommend to aspiring filmmakers: Raiders Of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation, in which three kids from Mississippi worked for seven years to do a shot-for-shot remake of the Lucas/Spielberg classic; and Lost In La Mancha, a documentary about genius director Terry Gilliam trying and failing to make his version of Don Quixote. The former shows what you can accomplish with only determination and resourcefulness; the latter shows that your determination and resourcefulness may not be enough. I now have a third film to recommend: Jodorowsky's Dune.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean director whose 1970, El Topo, is an "acid western" that is called the first modern cult film. John Lennon happened to be in the cult and funded Jodorowsky's next film, The Holy Mountain, a psychedelic masterpiece that features, among other indescribable sequences, a cast of live frogs, toads, and lizards reenacting the conquistador conquest of the Aztecs.
- Alejandro Jodorowsky (left) and Jean “Moebius” Giraud (right)
I'm not making that up.
After The Holy Mountain became an unlikely hit in Europe, Jodorowsky's French producer, Michel Seydoux, promised to back his next film, telling him, "You can do anything you want." Depending on your point of view, that was either a big mistake or a stroke of genius, which could very well be the tagline for director Frank Pavich's documentary about what happened next.
Jodorowsky declared he would adapt Dune, Frank Herbert's landmark 1965 work that is the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. Alfred Hitchcock once said that mediocre books make the best movies, which, as David Lynch would probably tell you, means the sprawling epic of Dune is unfilmable. But that did not deter Jodorowsky, who, at age 84 when interviewed for the documentary, is a fountain of awesome quotes like, "What, I need to take permission to make the art?" because he had not read the 400-page Dune. When he finally got around to it, he declared it to be "the bible of science fiction" and that his movie would "change the world" by "mutating the mind of youth." He set about collecting a staff of the best artists he could find, declaring, "Every person who works on this picture will be a spiritual warrior!" His first recruit was French comic artist Moebius, who drew 3,000 storyboards detailing every second of a film that would begin its estimated 14-hour running time with a tracking shot that spanned the entire universe.
I'm not making that up, either.
To hear his collaborators tell it, Jodorowsky is a combination of director and charismatic cult leader. He got Pink Floyd to agree to do the soundtrack, and Orson Welles and Salvador Dalí signed on as actors. Dan O'Bannon, who would go on to co-write Alien, describes having a religious experience while Jodorowsky was pitching the film that convinced him to immediately sell all of his possessions and move to Paris. But once the project went to Hollywood to get a major studio to sign off on the $15 million budget (a paltry $66 million in today's money), everything fell apart. As one producer puts it in the documentary, "They did not do this picture because they were afraid of him. They were afraid of his mind."
After seeing Jodorowsky's Dune, you might not blame them for fearing the man whom O'Bannon calls "a very erudite lunatic." The doc nevertheless makes a convincing case for the influence of the unmade film, whose ideas trickled down into the modern sci-fi blockbuster as Jodorowsky's murderer's row of artists and special effects techs scattered throughout the industry.
For the young filmmaker, Jodorowsky's Dune is both an admonishment to let your imagination roam freely, and a lesson on the nature of success. For Jodorowsky does not consider the unfilmed project a failure: "Dune is in the world like a dream," he says. "Dreams can change the world also."
Jodorowsky's DuneOpens Friday, May 2nd Ridgeway Cinema Grill