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Jodorowsky's Dune: The Doomed Dune

Geneva resident Frank Pavich’s highly entertaining and (appropriately) wildly imaginative documentary about the so-called “greatest movie never made” was my favorite AFI Fest film this year, and one of the festival’s “Special Screenings.”


Jodorowsky’s Dune ranks with Les Blank’s 1982 Burden of Dreams as one of the greatest nonfiction films (that ever did get made!) about the struggle to make movies. After the box office and critical success of Chile-born writer/director Alexandro Jodorowsky’s surrealistic 1970s’ El Topo and The Holy Mountain his French producer, Michel Seydoux, said the magic words all cineastes yearn to hear uttered: Choose your next project and I’ll produce it.

On the spur of the moment Jodorowsky replied “Dune” -- even though he hadn’t even so much as read Frank Herbert’s monumental sci fi classic. The impulsive Jodorowsky then embarked on an odyssey to make a prophetic, psychedelic, cinematic adaptation of Dune which was doomed from the start. Backed by Seydoux, through a series of strange coincidences, the overzealous artiste gathers a core of creative talents about him in Paris as he strives to realize his vision, which is captured in a highly detailed storyboard with 3,000 images. The pictures are rendered by illustrators and visual artists, including Chris Foss and Switzerland’s surreal master of macabre imagery, H.R. Giger, who is interviewed at Gruyeres. For his cast, the impetuous Jodorowsky recruits, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, fellow surrealist Salvador Dali to play an evil emperor and Orson Welles.

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Casting the latter proves to be prophetic, because like Welles, Jodorowsky’s singular cinematic vision soon runs up against the wall of Hollywood commercialism. Tinseltown’s peddler pigs refuse to greenlight the ambitious, ahead of its time project and Jodorowsky’s Dune becomes a quintessential tale of art versus commerce. During one moving moment “Jodo” (as he’s called) whips a fistful of dollars out of his pocket, pondering angrily why these dead pieces of paper have more power than imagination and creativity? Although his Dune was undone the documentary goes on to contend that its concept -- which was shopped widely around Hollywood in the form of the storyboard tome -- went on to influence landmark sci fi pix to come, including Star Wars and Alien.

As for your intrepid reviewer, he can’t wait to see the 84-year-old auteur’s first feature in almost a quarter century, Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality -- that is, if La-La-Land’s brainstorms ever get around to releasing it here.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

The new book co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell, “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”, published by Honolulu’s Mutual Publishing, drops Nov. 25.