Friday, November 28, 2014
After making two successful, and internationally acclaimed, cult films, the Chilean-French film maker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, acquire rights to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. A visionary director with a pulp sensibility, Jodorowsky wrote a vast script and, then, storyboarded it -- a comic book artist with whom Jodorowsky had worked both before and after the abortive Dune project, Moebius, sketched the 3000 images comprising the outline for the film. Jetsetting about Europe and America, Jodorowsky began assembling his team of "warriors" -- that is, collaborators on the project. Much of Frank Pavich's 2013 documentary about Jodorowky's work on Dune has the classic form of a Hollywood Western or heist movie -- that is, the assembly of the team of idiosyncratic specialists required to implement the project. Jodorowsky recruits Pink Floyd and Magma, a French Goth band, for the soundtrack -- although the film doesn't mention this, he also hired Karlheinz Stockhausen to work on the picture. Mick Jagger asks to be cast. Jodorowsky agrees to pay Salvador Dali $100,000 a minute for a 3 to 5 minute appearance in the film, Dali demanding that a burning giraffe accompany him in his scenes. Tracking Orson Welles down in a Parisian restaurant, Jodorowsky promises that he will hire the chef of the establishment to feed Welles on the set of the film -- so Welles, as the story goes, enthusiastically enlists in the project. The film's special effects were to be designed by Dan O'Bannon and H. R. Giger. O'Bannon describes how Jodorowsky appeared to him as a kind of shaman, altering his shape with an LSD mandala haloing his handsome features and it's clear that Jodorowskiywas (and remains) remarkably charismatic. Although the enterprise had all the earmarks of the sort of profligate and quixotic ambition that dooms film projects, it's a testament to Jodorowsky's persuasive abilities that the movie was almost produced. (At the last minute, the Hollywood money-men quashed the project -- Jodorowsky had already spent 2.5 million dollars of his 9 million dollar budget and many of the film's elaborates special effects were simply impossible to implement with movie technology in the mid-seventies.) Pavich's documentary argues that although Jodorowsky's Dune was never made, the film's extravagant visual style, as evidenced by the storyboards that circulated in Hollywood for many years, was adopted, even plagiarized by subsequent films -- the movie cites sequences from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bladerunner, and Star Wars among others for this proposition. It's hard to evaluate the assertion that the fingerprints of Jodorowsky's Dune mark many later Hollywood sci-fi films --that's because most films in that genre were influenced by Star Wars and the cartoon-like features of the films in that series do, indeed, look similar to some of Jodorowsky's story-boards. But I'm not aware of any evidence that George Lucas' designers were aware of Jodorowsky's project and Lucas has always claimed that his influences were low-budget movie serials produced in the forties and fifties. The problem with attributing source with respect to Jodorowsky is that his style has always been derivative itself --El Topo, for instance, was modeled on the more outrageous examples of Italian spaghetti Westerns and the hyper-violent confrontations in that film were based on images extracted from movies made by Leone and others. Similarly, Jodorowsky has spent most of his career writing comic books, often with Moebius, and his visual style is clearly derived from American comics like Batman, Superman, and The Green Lantern. Accordingly, my suspicion is that the reason many science fiction films made after the collapse of Jodorowsky's Dune look like his storyboards is that both Jodorowky's picture and the later films by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were designed to look like frames from DC and Marvel comic books. It's an open question as to how good Jodorowsky's Dune would have been -- the material was probably impossible to produce; after all David Lynch failed spectacularly when he attempted to adapt the novel in the mid-eighties. Jodorowsky's version of the film had a visionary conclusion, a sort of mystical variant on the end of Spartacus in which the spirit of the murdered Paul Atreides transmigrates into all the other characters who announce that they have become one with Paul. The sand-planet Dune, then, becomes a sentient and lush green world and this world rambles through the rest of the universe infecting it with life. Although the ending of Jodorowsky's Dune was an example of the director's psychoshamanism, it seems that the rest of the movie was pulpy sword duels in outer space interspersed with torture and mutilation scenes. Like many films proposed but never made, Jodorowsky's Dune is probably more interesting as an idea than it would have been as a finished film -- an artwork's potential always exceeds its actual realization. Frank Pavich's documentary features Jodorowsky and, at 84, he remains astonishingly vibrant, youthful, and forceful. He has just completed a new film, his first picture in 23 years, and, says that "although I probably have only one year to live, I am creating as if I will live to 300." A sacred monster, Jodorowski is probably best appreciated from a great distance -- the documentary is inspiring but also horrifying in a way.