As a portrait of an artist, Frank Pavich’s film of the visionary auteur Alejandro Jodorosky’s efforts to create a 10 hour film adaptation of “Dune” is fascinating, entertaining and endearing. The 85-year old Jodorosky comes across as an enthusiastic guru, an almost cultish figure who crosses the world discovering fellow artists and dragging them into a mad campaign to create generation-changing works of art. The filmmaker behind “El Topo”, “The Holy Mountain” and “Santa Sangre”, Jodorosky was already a cause célèbre of cult film when, for reasons not really revealed, he managed to acquire the rights to Frank Herbert’s scifi epic “Dune”, at the time a huge bestseller, and determined, without actually having read the book itself, to recreate the story as a movie that would change the minds of young people forever.
As the title of the documentary should indicate, the mammoth effort to make the “Dune” became very much the concept of HIS Dune, not Frank Herbert’s Dune, but a film that was a monstrous creature of itself. Jodorosky meets and successfully recruits Mick Jagger, Dan “Alien” O’Bannon, H. R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd, the tale of each meeting more fantastic than the next. In one story he describes hunting down Orson Welles to his favourite Parisian restaurant and securing the actor by promising to bring on the chef from the restaurant every day he would be on the set. Jodorosky himself commits his young son to train six hours a day, seven days a week in martial arts for two years to prepare his son for the role of the protagonist Paul Maud’ib.
Similar documentaries about epic efforts to create films like “Burden of Dreams” (about the making of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcaraldo”) and “Hearts of Darkness” about Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” focused on the insanity and caperish stories behind productions that nearly spun out of control. However, “Jodorosky’s Dune” never veers from the wonder of creation (since it was never made) and the whimsical thought of what might have been, even as it still shares the same insanity as those other great productions that did make it to film. Jodorosky famously worked with comic genius Jean “Moebius” Giraud to storyboard the entire film and include it in a huge bible that he used to shop the project to the major studios. As an excellent touch, Frank Pavich animates some of the storyboard and the accompanying concept drawings from Chris Foss to enliven the movie, to show us what might have been.
Even though we know that his Dune was never made (and they have a very amusing anecdote showing Jodorosky’s reaction to watching the David Lynch / Raffaella de Laurentiis version), the film never comes across as sad that it didn’t come to be. Rather, it is a celebration of vision and an inspirational story for all creators.