(directed by Frank Pavich, 2013)
(****+ out of 5)
> Oh, if only! This is a film about a film that never was. What an amazing testament to what might have been, if only investors were not terrified of the unpredictable genius behind the project.
. I remember being confused by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s violent neo-western EL TOPO in high school and gobsmacked by the utterly crazy THE HOLY MOUNTAIN when I projected it at the little Bijou theatre on the Cal Arts campus. They were undoubtedly two of the strangest and m0st audacious filmic experiments I’d ever experienced. I always wondered why this unique artist stopped making films in the early seventies. This document of his ambitious project killed by the bankers lack of imagination explains this clearly. Jodorowsky had assembled the most extraordinary team of fellow visionaries to turn Frank Herbert’s popular sci-fi novel into cinema- a group that included celebrated pop designer Mobius and Geiger, the dark graphic genius who designed the ALIEN franchise. The Chilean director did an enormous amount of pre-production work producing the most detailed shot-by-shot storyboard I’ve ever seen, in a colorful volume that was thicker than the New York City telephone book. Everything had fallen into place and was ready to go… except the financing. When potential investors saw the storyboard they were universally amazed and impressed.
. But this idiosyncratic director was an artist not a businessman. Jodorowsky did not make “commercial” films. The iconic artist was so ahead of his time in so many ways. (One fascinating segment highlights the many seminal films his DUNE would have presaged, from STAR WARS to BLADE RUNNER comparing side-by-side shots from these films, next to the DUNE storyboard.) The effects would have been unlike anything seen before, but he mapped every one out, figured out how to shoot them and engineered every one. His vision for DUNE was so grand and operatic, visionary and technically cutting-edge, potential investors had no faith they would ever recoup their investment. Pitiful that they were so attracted to the vision and so averse to the man who had it.
. And looking at the storyboard, we get the very real sense that Jodorowsky’s DUNE could have been a truly groundbreaking film. The vision was stunning, cohesive, grand and complete. The costume and production design were beyond stunning.
. Jodorowsky himself is an appealing character. An octogenarian now, he has an ageless quality that is very disarming. There is a youthful spark still percolating in his eyes. He casts himself more as a spiritual warrior than a filmmaker and expects no less from everyone surrounding him. His enthusiasm is breathlessly contagious and by the end of the film one gets the sense that given the right team and enough money, this ageless old man could still make this unparalleled epic.
. His plan was to cast his young son (who shared the screen with him- completely nude, as I recall, in EL TOPO), in the lead as Paul Atreides. But the boy would have to train- hard, the way his character does in the book. Jodorowsky declared that the son would have to be as obsessed and dedicated as the father- a whole lot to ask of a pre-teen boy. A trainer was hired and the boy actor was put on a regimen so arduous and intense it raised questions of potential child abuse. Jodorowsky was unconcerned. It seems he would gladly sacrifice his son in service to his cinematic vision. Just fascinating stuff.
. And something very good has already come of it. Reuniting with his old creative partner for this documentary, they rekindled their partnership leading to Jodorowsky’s first new film in over 30 years THE DANCE OF REALITY, a biographical documentary of the singular artist’s life. The first time around, Jodorowsky was able buy the rights to the bestselling book for a pittance. (Perhaps the rights holders realized what a longshot the hyper-ambitious project was and thought it a safe bet they could sell the rights again later. Which of course- they did.) Jodorowsky was very depressed when David Lynch beat him to DUNE, but perversely delighted when he found Lynch’s version to be a dud. (I didn’t.) It seems unlikely he will ever regain those rights or garner enough investment money to cover what would now likely be one of the most expensive films of all time, but I sure hope this startling documentary leads to a renaissance for this absolutely unique filmmaker with the little time he has left at 82.
This film just rocks on so many levels. Bravo!
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