Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Jodorowsky's Dune

Jodorowsky's Dune is an odd documentary; instead of chronicling the making of a feature film, it charts the strange life and stillborn death of Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to film Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel. 

The early portions of the film where interviewees speak on the formation of Jodorowsky's dream-team of collaborators and co-conspirators (a formidable list including Moebius, Chris Foss, H. R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Dan O'Bannon, Orson Welles, and David Carradine) plays out like Hannibal assembling a psychedelic and cinematic A-Team. Indeed, the process of finding the right people for the job feels like a trope straight out of Jodorowsky's work: he insists that he chose the people he wanted to work with based on their suitability to be "spiritual warriors" dedicated to the mind-expanding power of his vision for Dune. Even the stories Jodorowsky tells of saying the right metaphysical or philosophical thing at the exact right moment to hook his collaborators into working on the project has more than a bit of trickster mythology clinging to their edges.

It all comes crashing down when it turns out that no movie studio wants to put up the money for Jodorowsky to film his (let's go with) ambitious version of Herbert's novel. I am almost always on the side of artists in matters that pit creativity versus economics, but in this case Jodorowsky is a little disingenuous in his outrage with the way movies do or don't get made. Jodorowsky was proposing filming Dune as a fourteen-to-twenty hour film; it is something less than shocking that no major studio was willing to foot the bill for a project of that size that about a hundred people would watch. Of course, that is if the project didn't derail itself before completion, which frankly seems a likely outcome given the volatile personalities and overreaching intentions involved. 

Similarly, Nicholas Wendig Refn is completely full of shit when he claims that the reason Jodorowsky's Dune didn't get financed was because Hollywood was scared of the ideas the film might impart or inspire. Hollywood is afraid of only one thing: not making money.

You do feel for Jodorowsky when he talks about how he felt when he heard that David Lynch had successfully directed a version of Dune that was due for theatrical release. You can also easily excuse any spite on his part when he reports feeling relieved at discovering that Lynch's movie was a tremendous artistic blunder. Therein lies the silver lining; even if Jodorowsky had been able to bring his vision to the big screen, there is every chance that it would have been as titanic a misstep as Lynch's film. Jodorowsky didn't fail--he dodged a bullet.

The dissolution of a project, even of a dream project, is not always an artistic tragedy. That a Dune shot by Jodorowsky never materialized was a hidden blessing; although he didn't get to put his own personal stamp on Arrakis, he was able to later return to the ideas he had for the Dune film and craft them into a series of stunning comic books. The Incal, Metabarons, Technopriests, et al, are the inheritors of the inspirations Jodorowsky accumulated for Dune, but in execution that are better for not being fettered to a film adaptation of another artist's work. The comics are purer expressions because they are individualist expressions rather than adaptive ones. They still contain the strands of Jodorowsky's Dune-inspired mania, but they are works that reinterpret and reinvent with a freer hand and freer spirit. I certainly wouldn't trade them for another shoddy silver screen run at Dune.