Jorodowsky’s Dune : The Art of Making Art

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by Catie Robbins
In Jorodowsky’s Dune you get to meet Dali. For those of us who at one time went through a Dune phase, meaning we read Frank Herbert’s book and then hastened to Lynch’s film adaptation only to be met with what felt wildly similar to heartbreak, an even deeper pleasure is involved. While the end is clear from the start, that the dream to make a film version of the classic sci fi novel did not come true, somehow this nonfiction telling of it immerses us in Jorodowsky’s dream such that we benefit just from having been privy to his intimate creative process.

Frank Pavich’s documentary compiles pre-production imagery and interviews from all of the involved, asking each to harken back to a time before Star Wars to talk about the beginning of good sci-fi.Pre-production took place in Paris, where the crew lived and listened to daily pep-sermons from a director who considered himself a spiritual leader, because don’t forget we’re in the seventies. Clips from Jodorowsky’s first films help to further our understanding of the man and his highly idealistic process, which perhaps feels increasingly like the designing of a cult than of a film, as he enthusiastically takes on recruitment the choicest of talents.
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Only the most far-out of apostles are accepted by Jorodowsky. Jagger is in, Orson Welles is in, Dali is in as long as he gets a flaming giraffe. We are visually teased time and again with shots from the storyboard, illustrated by then premier French comic artist Moebius, with sketches of obscenely ambitious images and shots that, all of the involved seem to agree, would have made this the mostly vast science fiction film made to that day. In an almost direct quote by nearly every team member interviewed, it would have been Star Wars, only bigger. Novelties of technical prowess and never before seen special effects were designed, despite the fact that Jorodowksy turns down Douglas Trumbull, the guy who did special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), (and later Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Blade Runner (1982)) because the guy had an ego. Jorodowsky is easily charming and calculates his networking to a degree that would inspire any poor, anti-social, aspiring filmmaker, making this film an accessible how-to manual for chasing perfect communion in creative collaboration.

My argument will not be that Jodorowsky’s chosen ones for his special effects team was not great, (H.R. Giger and Dan O’Bannon went on to collaborate on Alien (1979)) but if Jorodowsky’s ego was not equal to or greater than Mr. Trumbull’s, then why did he also seemingly refuse to make any changes to his own vision? If the commitment to being an auteur has the disadvantage of slowing down production, then the commitment to being a spiritual leader just really fucks shit up. It will simply have to be said that Jorodowksy’s spiritual connection with his art blindsided him, blocked it from reaching full potential. When he goes into meetings in Hollywood, it is suggested that he make his film an hour and a half: the typical feature length. Jorodowsky today, age 85, recounts the offense, “Why…I could make a film of 12 hours, 24 hours if I want to…” He still doesn’t see it. He sees all his own creativity as spiritually meant to be; no concession. Like most spiritual leaders of the seventies and perhaps all time, the man is shown as a lovable, charming hypocrite. In explaining why he made his son take a million martial arts classes in preparation for the lead role, he said he would sacrifice his arm for art. In truth he wouldn’t sacrifice a thing.
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One of many thoughtful moments is spent with director Nicolas Winding Refn, who says “I’m the only person who’s actually seen Jorodowsky’s Dune.” Who’s going to argue with the director of Drive (2011), when he pleads that having Dune told to him scene by scene by Jorodowsky himself, in the man’s living room, with the extremely complete storyboard is not equal to or more deeply involving than seeing a film, and that for those hours the creation was brought into existence. In this and other ways, the unmade film lives.

The man’s inability to review his vision and failure to produce the film matter very little in the end. His process of creating art is an art unto itself. While Jodorowsky’s Dune remains beyond the scope of reality, Pavich’s Jorodowsky’s Dune is a welcome stand-in.


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