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Film Review: Jodorowsky’s Dune

jodorowskys_dune_xlgWhat if. It is a favorite question we all like to ask ourselves. Movie lovers have a lot of “what ifs” too. What if we could see Jerry Lewis’ “The Day the Clown Cried” (1972) or what if we could see Erich von Stroheim’s original “Greed” (1924) or Orson Welles’ original cut of “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942) or F.W. Murnau’s “4 Devils” (1928). To that list we can now add another. What if Alejandro Jodorowsky had adapted the science fiction novel Dune to the screen?

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” (2014) is a documentary directed by Frank Pavich which explores this concept. Jodorowsky sat down with Pavich to discuss all the preparation he had begun – storyboards, casting, costume designs, camera movements, production designs, all to have the project scraped due to finances.

Jodorowsky is a great subject to interview. He is wildly expressive and tells many anecdotes. Just interviewing Jodorowsky on his career would have made an interesting documentary. He is a man with a lot to say.

For those unaware of the name, Alejandro Jodorowsky is a cult favorite filmmaker born in Chile. Before making films he joined the circus and performed as a clown. He was also a puppeteer. He studied mime with Marcel Marceau and was involved with the surrealist movement. He directed avant-garde theatre. And all of this was brought with him when he started to make films.

He is best known for two movies; “El Topo” (1971) a spiritual spaghetti western and “The Holy Mountain” (1973) another film with spiritual themes. His last major work released in America was “Santa Sangre” (1990), the first film I ever saw by him. At its time of release, the late film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, said “this is a movie like none I have seen before, a wild kaleidoscope of images and outrages, a collision between Freud and Fellini.” He even placed it on his “top ten” list that year.

“Dune” is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert in 1965. It became a world-wide best seller and received much critical praise, even winning a Hugo award in 1966. Herbert would go on to write five more sequels. According to Wikipedia the plot is described as “set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of each planet, owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor, “Dune” tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the “spice” melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted — and dangerous — undertaking. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire face each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its “spice.”

Fans of the novel will be quick to point out there already exist a screen adaption of “Dune.” It was directed by David Lynch and starred Kyle MacLachlan. It was released in 1984. That version has been universally panned by movie critics, though, some fans of the book do defend it.

Pavich interviews Michel Seydoux, a producer who worked with Jodorowsky on preparing “Dune” as well as storyboard artist Chris Foss and H.R. Giger, who created production designs. Dan O’Bannon, a special effects artist passed away but his wife is interviewed. Each express disappointment the film was never made and tell funny stories of their first impression of Jodorowsky who is a bit eccentric.

People will argue if Jodorowsky would have made a great film or not. If he was the right director for such a film or if he had the right cast. Set to act in the movie was Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and David Carradine. But what one comes away with watching “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is the joy of the creative process, the power of imagination and an artist love of cinema. Even though Jodorowsky’s adaptation was never made, this documentary is still a celebration of cinema. It explores an artist’s desire to be heard. This is what makes this documentary so fascinating and enjoyable to watch.

There are those who may feel this documentary is slight. It has a limited appeal. They aren’t being fair. The movie is about more than just one movie or one man because of that, it is one of the year’s best films.

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