Sunday, May 25, 2014

What I'm watching now: Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)

(A short absence, was in Japan again! As well as various real life dramas. Continuing without further ado...)

Sometimes there are works of art that are important not for their existence but their lack of existence; the unrealized, the destroyed and the unfinished. Art is ultimately something that struggles with the ephemeral nature of all things, so we are captivated more by that even more ephemeral art object; the great unfinished work.
Jodorowsky's adaptation of Dune is perhaps the most influential unfinished work of the later twentieth century cinema. It is a great unknown and has a legend that has echoed and overshadowed all subsequent attempts to adapt Herbert's Novel. In many ways it was the result of a near perfect storm that perhaps did not last long enough for the film to see completion. Jodo's great work will never be realized, an even if it was in some alternate reality and transported to our realm in a form we could watch, I am unsure any work could live up to the legend of Jodorosky's Dune.

The film lives in possibly the only way it can, in the form of a documentary produced in 2013 by film maker Frank Pavich that seeks to document the story of perhaps the greatest film never made. The film is ultimately a very nostalgic look at the pre production of the film, a process that took three years , cost $2million of the film's projected $9.5million dollar budget and never shot a foot of film. In some ways it is a little too nostalgic, not mentioning a number of key issues the project faced, but from the wonderful interviews with Jodorowsky it seems almost impossible to speak to the man and not be captured by his wide eyed, almost cult leader like, charisma and enthusiasm.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean film maker who came to great prevalence in the early 1970s for his two surrealist/existentialist films "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain". Jodo was the toast of avant-garde film-making in France and was offered financing for any project he desired, and as the clip above illustrates he wanted to do "Dune". At this stage Film was making its uneasy progression through the 1970s, scarred by Vietnam and the end of the Summer of Love. This was a time where Genre filmaking stood in the shadow of Kubrick's 2001 and had not yet discovered "Star Wars". Drug culture was settling into the mainstream which had yet to grow tired of the psychedelic hope that the 1960s had created. Jodo promised not just an Art film, not just a Science Fiction film, but like Kubrick a film that would change Cinema forever.

"Jodorowsky's Dune" is possibly the closest one will ever be able to come, practically, to seeing the film itself. Jodo and Jean Giraud (The comic artist known better as Moebius) spent the start of pre production creating a shot by shot storyboard and script that occupies a great tome that Jodorowsky gleefully displays during the documentary film. The documentary recreates several scenes from those story boards using Moebius's sketches in animated form with Jodo narrating, these sequences alone make the documentary worth the ticket price. The rest is gold as well, tales of courting Orson Wells and Salvidor Dali for the project, of flying Dan Obannon to Paris from the US and bringing the (sadly now late) Swiss artist HR Geiger to world prominence. We are also given insight into Jodorowsky's vision for film making though both him and the eyes of his Son (who featured in El Topo alongside his father and would have featured as Paul in Dune).

Now the 9.5million dollar (or $40million if you are Dino De Laurentiis) question that nerds on the internet and in fanzines of old would as is simple; would this have been the definitive version of the unfilmable novel we love so? The short answer as illustrated by this documentary would be; no it would not have been. If the question was "would this have been an amazing film based on the novel Dune?" then the answer would be it may have been. Like Kubrick's "The Shining", Jodo's "Dune" was very aware of its status as an adaptation. Jodorowsky even discusses this himself using a very inelegant metaphor, in short to love the novel and create the best film he could he would have to ravish it, to pillage and burn it so that his vision would rise like a phoenix. If you are a fan of the novels who disliked Lynch for having Paul make it rain at the end, well Jodo's ending left that in the dust. In fact so much of his proposed film wildly deviates from the original work, character names, place names, the Spice and some motivations alone remain. (Like Paul's conception being via a drop of blood because Leto was castrated, or the Emperor being so afraid of death that he has many robotic duplicates, or the total removal of the poison tooth scene, the ending and more...)

The future influence of Dune cannot be understated and the documentary does a great jobs of showing the other films that Jodo's failed film created via it's death. (Alien, Star Wars, Promethius a examples used that use ideas or designs from Jodo's film. In fact this documentary makes me more convinced that Avatar is a Dune Adaptation by stealth.) This documentary is a timeless recording of that most ephemeral artistic concept, the incomplete masterpiece, and one all fans of Genre film-making need to see.