The Artsblock premiered last Saturday “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a documentary released in 2013. “Jodorowsky’s Dune” follows the avant-garde film director Alejandro Jodorowsky tell the account of his attempt at directing an adaptation of the science-fiction novel “Dune.” What I saw was an intense drama surge beneath the seemingly simple story of a director and his friends as they recall and reminisce on what could’ve been a cinemagraphic milestone, but instead was the greatest movie never made.
“Dune” is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert in 1965. The following year, it won the Hugo award, which is only granted to whichever work is perceived as the best science fiction or fantasy novel of a given year. “Dune” takes place 21,000 years in the future, where humanity has migrated to different planets in the universe. The plot of the novel is similar to Game of Thrones, where different aristocratic Houses vie for control over different populations and resources.
The film starts off with different shots of Jodorowsky’s office and Jodorowsky himself speaking. He gives the audience some much-needed background information regarding his credentials in the movie industry during the 1960s and 1970s, noting how many of his movies were either given poor reviews or outright banned in certain countries. A few of those movies include “Francis y Lis,” “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” all of which became underground cult classics. The crazy and surreal nature of his films reflected his hyper personality. Many times during his segments he would let his hands go wild with movement. He didn’t just speak his thoughts — he acted them.
There was an especially touching segment where he describes the disappointment of having his adaptation of Dune rejected by Hollywood. “They didn’t want to give us the money — what is money?” he cried out as he removed bills from his wallet. “I had a dream, I wanted to live it, and they took it away from me.” I saw something on Jodorowsky’s face after he spoke that stayed with me. It was similar to revered paintings like “The Scream” or “The Mona Lisa”: He cast his eyes down, and a defeated scowl formed upon his lips. It was a transcendent moment that spoke beyond Jodorowsky’s attempt at creating “Dune.” That single moment was the true heart of the documentary — not simply the failing of a movie due to money, but rather the universal feeling of dispiriting defeat. It’s like a scar — the wound may be subdued, but it never leaves your body.
The documentary details how crazy the film would’ve been given its cast. At one point Jodorowsky describes how he gets Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger to act in the film. Dali asked for $100,000 a minute, and the film’s producer only allowed that to happen because Dali’s role would’ve only been “about five minutes max, probably three,” in Jodorowsky’s own words. Welles only signed onto the movie because Jodorowsky convinced him that he would hire the chef of his favorite restaurant to prepare his everyday meals for him. Jodorowsky wanted a different band to play for each planet in the movie, but the film’s musical soundtrack eventually settled onto progressive rock groups Pink Floyd and Magma.
The end of the documentary does Jodorowsky’s attempted adaptation justice by revealing how far-reaching its influence has been. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon was hired to write the script for “Dune”; after the movie was terminated he eventually went on to write for the highly coveted “Alien.” Even with all of his pain, Jodorowsky was happy to point out how influential his movie was, stating “if ‘Dune’ had been made, then we might’ve never had ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Alien,’ ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Contact,’ ‘Prometheus,’ among many others. Those films might’ve not been as great as they are if my movie existed.” He was even happy over the commercial and critical bomb of his friend David Lynch’s adaptation of “Dune.” “When I saw it in the theaters, I was crying,” he said. “I was happy, because it wasn’t good!”
Ultimately, “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is like a dream, where one is entranced with the “good ol’ days” and “could-have” mentality. It’s good to see that Jodorowsky still holds onto his personal dream without any bitterness.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune” was approximately two hours long at the Artsblock. Next week at the Culver Center, the Artsblock will be playing “Paranormal Activity” on Thursday at 7 p.m. On Halloween, they will be playing “Paranormal Activity 3” at 3 p.m. and “Paranormal Activity: the Marked Ones” at 7 p.m. These horror movies are in correlation with Halloween, which will be this Friday.