Monday, March 2, 2015

Jodorowsky's Dune

As much as I admire and enjoy listening to film directors, I sometimes recoil in embarrassment when I see them interviewed.  At times, it's as bad as suffering through Lance Armstrong's squirmy justifications during his interrogations.  Even if directors try to keep their often enormous egos at bay, some fugitive brio sneaks out and makes them appear like spoiled toddlers.  Humility is an unusual trait for these (would-be) auteurs and while I have many quibbles with, as an example, the films of Ron Howard, I appreciate his lack of grandeur.  He always seems modest and grateful for his success.

Though maybe the brash quality is a by product of innate talent.  Those with enviable vision.  Likely a generous dollop of madness.   The most legendary directors have reputations of explosive, manipulative, and mercurial personalities on the set and when they're asked to describe their body of work or latest opus, the short fuse gives way, perhaps quite naturally, to immodesty.  I appreciate their enthusiasm, marvel at their creativity. But damned if I don't want to force my hand over their mouths at times.

As in the 2014 documentary JODOROWSKY'S DUNE, French-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky (cult favorite EL TOPO) proclaims "It's very, it's like Proust, I compare it to great literature."  He's referring to his adaptation of Frank's Herbert's celebrated science fiction novel Dune.  A huge undertaking, the script was reported to be the size of a telephone directory.  A possibly resulting fourteen hour epic. The proposed budget: 9.5 mil.  This was the mid 1970s. 

The studios balked.  Despite his assemblage of a creative dream team that included H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Dan O'Bannon, and even Salvador Dali, Jodorowsky's insanely ambitious project never happened.   The rights would fall to Dino De Laurentiis in the early '80s.  David Lynch would direct the abortive film in 1984.

Onscreen, the director excitedly retells the sad story.  There are many amusing bits. How he promised Orson Welles dinner in his favorite restaurant every night if he agreed to appear in his film.  How Dali consented to interviews in several countries, but with each meeting place as part of a curious game.  Special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull was interviewed but rejected for his corporate attitude, his lack of free spiritedness.

Jodorowsky storyboarded his vision with astounding detail.  Director Frank Pavich brings these illustrations to life in ways that almost feel like lost reels from this doomed project.  You may well become as frustrated as Jodorowsky himself after you are treated to the gigantic artbook he thumbs through.  JODOROWSKY'S DUNE really does in some ways resemble a tragedy, of a lost piece of potential art that might have been a real game changer.

But he's a never-say-die type: "I am 84, but I want to live to 300.  You may fail, but you have to try!".  Colleagues sing his praises, including one who states that Jodorowsky's failed movie was like a comet that missed Earth, but its seedlings are seen in many films.  After watching this documentary, you're apt to agree, especially films like STAR WARS and BLADE RUNNER.

And then the ego comes front and center.  How faithful was the director's script to the source material? "I was raping Herbert, but with love!" He was unwilling to make a film with a running length he felt was too short, "I'll make it twelve, twenty hours if I have to!"  When Jodorowsky got around to seeing Lynch's film, his depression turned to glee: "It was awful!"  I agree, but show a little class, Alejandro.

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