When Holly and I were in Seattle, we got the chance to go see the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. I didn’t know much about it, but it was about Dune, so I was there. I knew it was about an earlier attempt to make a Dune film, before the David Lynch version in the 80s. That was more than enough to go on.
So I did not know the director Jodorowsky, but he is an interesting dude. Not actually easy to describe. The movie describes him as, for instance, the man who created the midnight showing of the cult classic. And they go on to attribute a whole lot more to him, and to the film he tried to make in the early 1970s. Frank Herbert’s Dune.
The way I think it makes sense for me to move through this is to talk about Jodorowsky and the team he pulled together, about his Dune and the impact that it had on moviemaking, and then talk about the source material – Dune – of which I am such a fan. I suppose there will be spoilers for the documentary, but not many more than the trailer. I really recommend this documentary and if you get a chance to see it – and you love Dune and/or science fiction, do yourself a favor and check it out!
The documentary opens by presenting us Jodorowsky, who he was and what he had done before. His film El Topo started the cult classic midnight showing, and got him the chance to make whatever movie he wanted. And so he made The Holy Mountain, which was far more ridiculous than the first.
I say ridiculous – the man had vision. Clearly. And to listen to him talk! He talks about trying to recreate the effect of a drug like LSD without taking drugs. Kind of admirable and not all at once. It keeps the rest of us safe and not on drugs, at least.
But his vision is larger than that. They move on in the documentary to talking about Jodorowsky’s next blank check to make a movie. When asked what to do, he answers Dune. Apparently at that point, he hadn’t even read it. But he knew it had captured imaginations. He knew it had power, and he knew it was art.
Then he could see the art in the work of others, as he began to build his cast, and build his artistic team. The stuff about the cast was interesting – people like Salvador Dali and Orson Welles. However, since they never got to be in the film, their impact was fascinating, but limited. The person most impacted was Jodorowsky’s son – who spent two years studying martial arts and studying to play the part of Paul Atreides. His son, who was also the little naked boy in El Topo.
No, the lasting impact, the part that mattered, was the work they were able to do for the movie – the team of artists Jodorowsky pulled together. The team that made what exists of his Dune.
Amidst the cast that Jodorowsky started pulling together, there was the team of artists he pulled together. People who hadn’t worked on films before – people who had made science fiction book covers, had done other things. But not movies. People he uprooted from their homes, and moved to Paris to work on the film.
He called them Spiritual Warriors.
One of these was Jean “Moebius” Giraud, someone we saw highlighted at the EMP Museum in the science fiction exhibit.
Another was highlighted this week in the news, sadly. H.R. Giger, who died this past week. He was the man behind the creature design in Alien, and they showed some of this work off. Creepy and brilliant stuff.
A moment for him.
The best part of the documentary, as they show off the full storyboard they created for the film, is what happened because of it. As they show the work of these talented artists, who had never done films before – maybe never thought of doing films before – and brought them to that world.
So obviously, and not to steal the documentary’s thunder, but the film was never made. The studios wouldn’t back it, wouldn’t complete the financing. But the artistic work had been done, the vision was there. And it had been distributed to all of the studios.
And so his team, these artistic geniuses, these spiritual warriors – went on to make other movies. Went on to work together on Alien. Without Alien, some of the later great science fiction films may not have happened – like Blade Runner. And without Blade Runner, what about The Matrix? Decades of film history spiral out of the sorts of things these men made. This is the impact of this film.
However, canceled as it was in 1975, there’s one other thing it probably helped influence – Star Wars.
Part of the point they draw in the film – and one of the main reasons why they make the point that Jodorowsky’s Dune could have been so influential – is because it could have come out before Star Wars. It could have become the visual and film precursor of the science fiction – and many other films – to follow. In the way that Star Wars was.
And the Dune fan in me loves this idea. The thought of Dune as the science fiction film of note! And what about the sequels even? Well, maybe not an option. The ending Jodorowsky wrote involved Paul becoming part of the collective unconscious of Arakis and then the world. Still, as I’ve argued before, Star Wars is more of a fantasy – so having fantasy elements take over the future of science fiction has to have had a huge impact.
Jodorowsky wasn’t completely loyal to the source material. Or maybe very loyal at all. At least not to the words of it. However, I picked up that he felt the spirit of it. Even using a term like Spiritual Warriors not only seems right for making a film of this level and with this vision… but seems right in terms of Dune. It’s what they were in the book.
Or how about having his son study with people, training his mind, training his body? That sounds just like the childhood of Paul Atreides.
He tells the story of how he decided to tell the story of the conception of Paul. Of how the Duke Leto was castrated by the Harkonnen, and could not have child. Of how Jessica takes his blood, and uses it to conceive. Is this even remotely like the book? Not really. Well, a bit. The Duke wanted a son, despite the Bene Gesserit wanting it to be a daughter. Paul is a spiritual being, a messiah, and a spiritual sort of birth like this makes sense. It fits the spirit of the story – if being a somewhat unnecessary and not from the book at all. But it helps introduce ideas like the Bene Gesserit and the importance of Paul being born a boy, and against all plans. It sounds like you can see this sequence in Jodorowsky’s comic The Incal.
I think Jodorowsky understood Dune. I think his Dune could have been great. Would have changed the world.
And it still can. That’s the part that we liked at the end – Jodorowsky presents the fact that he is okay with someone, someday, taking the script and storyboard and making the movie. The vision was huge for 1975, but possible for today. However, from the clips they showed us? The best idea isn’t a movie.
The best idea is an anime. That’s what it looked like to us: an anime. It could be brilliant. That’s what we would like to see done with it. I hope to see that movie some day.