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The best movie never made

by Elijah Bukreev April 1, 2014
The best movie never made

Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of the famed director’s adaptation of the sci-fi novel

Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of those names you have to know if you want to be taken seriously as a film buff. El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre are some of the movies he’s made.

Dune is a movie he never made, but it was nonetheless just as influential. Every other filmmaker has a story to share about a particular pet project that never came to fruition, but Jodorowsky is different. There is reason to believe that his version of Dune would have literally changed the world. In fact, it has been a source of inspiration to a whole generation of filmmakers, on the strength of its concept and storyboard alone.

Starring Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, and featuring music by Pink Floyd, Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune was poised to change cinema forever. Photo courtesy of Sony Picture Classics.

‘Best movie never made’ is a much-coveted title and Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed by Frank Pavich, is a documentary about the prime candidate. You walk into it doubtful and hesitant, prepared to see a film essentially about failure. But it takes you by surprise — what you get is a fun, exciting look at the creative process.

As the movie begins, you already know the outcome — Dune, which was worked on in the mid-70s, never went past pre-production. Yet, the interviews with people who worked on the project are so apt at reconstructing the timeline of events and the ecstasy of creation that you’ll find yourself hoping for a different outcome than is possible.

Understandably, most of the film is centered around Jodorowsky. At 84, he is as alive and open-minded as ever. The Chilean surrealist started the cult cinema movement with El Topo in 1970, and indeed he sounds like a cult leader. Irrepressibly passionate, inspiring and talkative, he speaks of his failed Dune in often religious terms — his aim was not to make a movie, he says, but to “create a prophet,” aided by his team of “spiritual warriors.”

When he confides that he was ready to die for his film, you believe him.

It is thrilling to hear of his adventures in assembling an international crew, and then to meet those people, some of whom could be Jodorowsky characters in their own right. Take, for example, the interview with H.R. Giger, a Swiss painter who was going to work as a production designer on Dune. His guttural voice resonates loud in the dark, eerie room in which he is filmed, and suddenly you realize — he would have made an excellent villain.

Dune didn’t work out for lack of budget, but during pre-production, Giger met Dan O’Bannon, a special effects artist with whom he would go on to create a little franchise called Alien.

You would expect Jodorowsky to feel anger at the fact that his dream project had been trumped upon, his movie cancelled, and his hopes reduced to nothing. For a few scenes, he does, but he is so obviously above it. He understands that from a rotting body flowers shall grow, and he recognizes his work in many modern science-fiction epics with gratitude and pride.

Jodorowsky’s Dune also addresses the fact that a movie based on Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name did, eventually, get made. The David Lynch version was a commercial and critical disaster, to the point where Lynch still refuses to discuss it to this day. Jodorowsky describes going into that movie, and his reaction to seeing it is beautifully human.

This documentary is the closest we’ll ever come to seeing Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune. His film never was, and never will be. His ideas, which predated today’s blockbusters by decades, have since become too commonplace to spark an artistic revolution like the one he had envisioned.

Many of his prospective actors have since died — he wanted no less than Salvador Dali and Orson Welles in supporting roles. But Jodorowsky’s main goal was to inspire, to encourage young artists to realize their dreams — and Pavich’s documentary does just that.

Jodorowsky’s Dune opens April 4 at Cinema du Parc.

 

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