Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Jodorowski’s Dune

(USA, France, 2013)

This is probably the most famous movie that never got made. Second place is probably Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, about which another film about not-making was made: Lost in La Mancha. This one didn’t get as far along as Gilliam’s film did (and he is currently still trying to get it made) but there was a great deal of development.

That Jodorowsky is a crazy man is beyond dispute. This Chilean/Mexican guy has managed to get only a few films made. I have never seen his most famous one, El Topo, but I did see The Holy Mountain, and it is very weird. He’s definitely not for everybody. He seems amiable enough when interviewed here, but I suspect he’s pretty hard to work with, which is why most of what he’s done in the last decades is collaborating on comic books.

After he made Mountain, a producer asked him what he would like to do next, and he said Dune. He had not even read it! The rights were fairly cheap at the time, so he obtained them and got to work. This was 1976, remember, before Alien, before Blade Runner, before The Terminator, before Star Wars. So who does he hire to design the stuff for his movie? Why, the very people who would become famous later for working on those films and others: H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Chris Foss, Jean Giraud (AKA Mœbius). Also Salvador Dali (who wanted to be paid $100,000 per hour, so they wrote his part so it could be filmed in an hour!), Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, and Mick Jagger.

What they produced was meticulous storyboards and a lot of really incredible art, and a script that would run fourteen hours. So it all fell apart. Dan O’Bannon had been so wrapped up in it that he ended up broke and homeless, and he had a nervous breakdown. But when he got well he started work, along with Giger, on Alien.

I’m conflicted about this guy. Frankly, I was never a big fan of the book, and have never read any of the countless sequels. And Jodorowsky admits that he “raped” the book, raped Frank Herbert. In fact, he’s proud of it. He has Paul what’s-his-name die at the end. And yet, everything I’ve read says that Herbert got along with him. And when the movie was finally made by David Lynch, it was a disaster, and didn’t satisfy anyone. One thing you could have said about this movie if it had been made: It would have been interesting. Another thing: visually stunning, like nothing we had ever seen before … but soon would, in all those other films. He was ahead of his time, no question.

I know that as a novelist I should be horrified at the idea that someone would take a book and radically change it. Strangely, I’m not. Not if it works. Some directors are like that, Kubrick being a prime example. When he made Lolita it wasn’t a Nabokov movie, it was a Kubrick movie. Same with The Shining, which Stephen King hated. Robert Altman was another. His The Long Goodbye had nothing to do with Philip Marlowe except some of the plot. He took it and made a film that he considered a satire, and I love it, though I’m a big Raymond Chandler fan.

Well, no matter about that, we will all have our opinions. What I can say about this movie about the not-making of a movie is that it is fascinating. Most of the people involved are interviewed, and they all seem to like the crazy Spaniard. Jodorowsky struggles with the language and switches back to Spanish sometimes, and I couldn’t help getting to like him. He is a mystic, he has his vision, and he is passionate about it. He should probably stick to writing his own scripts instead of buying novels, I guess.