Frank Pavich, 2013, France-USA
Frank Pavich’s documentary ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ makes a good argument for the greatest science fiction film that never happened and its lasting influence. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s vision of ‘Dune’ was a film featuring the work of the likes of H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali and Dan O’Bannon. All in one place. A mixture of those names alone is enough to be inspirational. It seems an impossible and improbable venture but Jodorowsky shows how he could have made it happen so that all these influential people could have worked on the same project, describing how he proposed these ideas to these artists and brokered agreements. A lot of this involved going around telling people that he intending to make a film that will change humanity (uh-huh). It’s a surprise that David Bowie wasn’t somehow involved. And of course, this was the creator of counter-culture hits ‘El Topo’ and ‘The Holy Mountain’ and based upon those films and the famous ‘Dune’ proposal book one can see why people believed he could do it. Of course, these people did not include the film companies that got cold feet about Jodorowsky directing and effectively pulled the plug. But those people went on to take various ideas and intentions fostered by working on ‘Dune’ and – as the film argues – shaped genre cinema. It is hard to imagine genre cinema without the vocabulary of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ alone, but there is also the slacker mentality of ‘Dark Star’ for example.
People imagine a world where Jodorwosky’s ‘Dune’ usurps ‘Star Wars’ as the defining genre text of the era, but I think that underestimates how the simplicity of Lucas’ Good/Evil born again Force would be far more digestible to the multi-masses than Jodorowsky’s psychedelica (I imagine Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’ influence would have been more akin to Kubrick’s ‘2001: a space odyssey’). But it does look as if the film would have been amazing and its epic vocabulary surely informs today’s genre blockbusters, especially in the digital-effects era.
Frank Pavich relies simply on talking head interviews to tell this story, embellished by some animation to bring alive some passages of the endearing Jodorowsky’s vision. Pavich keeps it all light and breezy and doesn’t get deep into anything – for example, why the studios thought Jodorowsky was untrustworthy (aside from the cash reasons, which makes Jodorowsky furious) or perhaps the dubious aspect of having his young son at the time undergo serious training for a potential role. Nothing is really questioned: I, for one, probably would have thought the ending a turn off, verging as it does on religious allegory. Nevertheless it really seems he could and might have got these amazing artists all on the same project. This remains a fascinating tale of what if in cinematic and genre history and if the idea of it remains influential, perhaps the actual thing might have been too.