Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE            B+          
USA  France  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Frank Pavich     Official site

Dune will be the coming of God.
— Alejandro Jodorowsky

Part of the monumental task of creating works of art is first conceiving original ideas, followed by the development of a plan of execution to bring these concepts to light so they can be viewed and evaluated by the public.  What this film documents is the case of a classic artistic derailment, where the colossal ideas are by all accounts staggering, brought to life by an always exuberant, ever optimistic Alejandro Jodorowsky at age 84 who simply loves recounting the joys of his creation in front of the cameras, describing his own wildly ambitious take on Frank Herbert’s 1965 operatic sci-fi novel Dune, the world’s best selling science fiction novel (which included five sequels, where Jodorowsky hadn’t read the book, but a friend had told him it was great), where in the mid 70’s he began shopping around his own ideas about bringing his vision to life, eagerly pursuing some of the greatest music and special effects artists of the era, some who had never worked before in the movie business, but brought their own unique sensibilities to this mystifying creation, where Jodorowsky’s exaggerated sense of euphoria surrounding his own project is delightfully charming.  In order to better understand just who we’re dealing with, a quick background check is in order, by Keith Phipps from All-Movie biography, Alejandro Jodorowsky movies, photos, movie ... - All Movi:

Born in 1929 in Chile to Russian-Jewish immigrants who owned a dry-goods store, Alejandro Jodorowsky seems an unlikely candidate to become one of the godfathers of the American midnight-movie scene. But essentially every turn in his career has been unlikely, a career that has found Jodorowsky taking on the roles of director, screenwriter, author, actor, cartoonist, editor, artist, composer, mime, guru, mystic, and tireless self-promoter. A famed raconteur, it's occasionally difficult to sort the facts of Jodorowsky's early life from the myth. Entering the theater at an early age, Jodorowsky eventually enrolled at the University of Santiago, where he developed an interest in puppetry and mime. After creating a theater company that, at its height, employed 60 people, Jodorowsky departed for Paris, breaking with his parents and, according to Jodorowsky, throwing his address book in the sea.

Once in Paris he began a lengthy collaboration with Marcel Marceau, collaborating on some of his most famous mimeograms. He also worked both in mainstream theater (directing Maurice Chevalier's comeback) and offbeat productions. For the next few years, Jodorowsky would alternate between working in Mexico City and in Paris, developing his interest in the avant-garde and staging the playwrights who would be major influences on his film career, including Samuel Beckett, Ionesco, and August Strindberg, and the surrealists. Of special importance would be Theater of Cruelty champion Antonin Artaud and Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal, with whom he launched the Panic Movement (from the god Pan) in conjunction with artist Roland Topor. By the mid-'60s, the Panic Movement began yielding full-fledged "ephemeras" or "happenings," theatrical events designed to be shocking. One four-hour ephemera starred a leather-clad Jodorowsky and featured the slaughter of geese, naked women covered in honey, a crucified chicken, the staged murder of a rabbi, a giant vagina, the throwing of live turtles into the audience, and canned apricots. This privileging of the provocative above all other qualities would prove to be a sign of things to come in Jodorowsky's early film career.

Whatever Jodorowsky’s artistic merits may be prior to this film, they are largely absent in this documentary, which instead is set strictly in the present in Jodorowsky’s Parisian apartment and allows the man himself to describe, in minute detail, how he envisions his infamous lost film, recreating character by character, scene by scene, adding the conceptual brilliance of several of those hired, including French artist and cartoonist Jean Giraud (Moebius) who created illustrated storyboards for the entire film, Swiss surrealist painter H. R. Giger, who created the basis for the set and character design, but also John Carpenter’s special effects man, Dan O'Bannon, and sci-fi book illustrator Chris Foss painted detailed designs of the otherworldly costumes, while also luring into his cast the likes of David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí, Amanda Lear, and Udo Kier, while also training his own 13-year old son Brontis in an intensive two-year training session with a world renowned martial arts instructor in order to prepare him for his role as an intergalactic warrior.  Every bit of Jodorowsky’s wit and charm was used to capture the attention of some of these world renowned megalomaniacs, but his precise recollection is often hilariously revealing, where one can only imagine how all of this would come together, while also enlisting the mind altering space rock of Pink Floyd and the French progressive rock band Magma, who invented their own (untranslated) interplanetary language Kobaïan for the lyrics from a fictional planet called Kobaïa for their ten concept albums.  What we begin to realize as all this materializes before our eyes is the gargantuan scope of this absurdly surrealist sci-fi project, all of which takes place in Jodorowsky’s head, taking creative liberties from the source material, and having already spent nearly all of his projected $15 million dollars in pre-production costs, where the ideas were consolidated into an enormous book the size of a phonebook with all their costumes, set, and production designs, not to mention planets and space ships, that literally serves as an instruction manual for shooting the film, shot by shot, where according to director Frank Pavich, “Everything is there, everything is in the storyboard book Jodo made — the artwork, every scene, every bit of dialogue, every camera move, everything.”

In truth, with visions of grandeur, Jodorowsky’s goal was nothing less than to change the world, using an interstellar space opera to expand the consciousness of youth the world over, reproducing onscreen the mind-altering effects of LSD without ever having to take the drug.  Best known for his experimental, avant-garde films, often filled with violently surreal images, his films might be described as transformative visions with a hint of the religious bordering on the mystical, where Jodorowsky is a revered cult figure, as until recently his work was largely unseen except by a core of midnight enthusiasts.  According to director Nicolas Winding Refn, “You could read about Jodorowsky through a few books and magazines, but his films were basically inaccessible.”  With the backing of a young French oil heir named Michel Seydoux, Jodorowsky immersed himself into this project, spending two years completing all the necessary prep work before sending his book of Dune to all the Hollywood producers, showing how serious they were by having the film ready for shooting, with shot by shot storyboards completed ahead of time in the event any studio heads had any questions, and while they admired his ideas, even his professionalism, they refused to authorize the final few millions needed to complete the film, as they simply didn’t trust the weird and bizarre antics of Jodorowsky himself, who was not adverse to the idea of a 14 or 20-hour film, who continually saw this film as one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind, marking the arrival of an “artistic, cinematic God,” while Hollywood only saw dollar signs slipping down the drain.  Hollywood simply didn’t understand that something this oversized was marketable, as Jodorowsky was going after oversized creative personas who were just as mad as he was, where their appearances in the film might have been jaw-dropping to audiences.   

This venture into the world of Hollywood capitalists offers significant insight, as Hollywood is a business that is afraid to try new ideas, that is much more comfortable with two or three scripts lying around that replicate the formula of other successful films. Jodorowsky wouldn’t budge at the thought of someone else shooting the film, as it is after all his vision and inspiration, and Hollywood refused additional backing, leaving Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune among the scrap heap of greatest movies never made (Beyond Jodorowsky's Dune: 10 greatest movies never made), along with Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Orson Welles’ Don Quixote, or Stanley Kubrick’s heavily researched Napoleon.  After the production of the film collapsed, with the disappointment still etched on Jodorowsky’s face, the rights to the film eventually expired, snatched up by mega producer Dino de Laurentis, who employed David Lynch to direct the film in 1984.  That film tanked at the box office and received scathingly negative reviews, as Lynch’s artistic concerns were largely ignored and his three-hour film was recut by the producer to a standard two-hour movie, described by Roger Ebert in his one-star review, Dune Movie Review & Film Summary (1984) | Roger Ebert, “This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.”  Perhaps ironically, this was the disaster that Hollywood originally refused to finance. 

Following Jodorowsky’s failed debacle, Dan O’Bannon entered a psychiatric hospital, eventually working on thirteen different scripts, the last one being Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), the large science fiction spectacle in outer space that Jodorowsky had envisioned, a film that also employed H.R. Giger to create the original Alien creature, also Moebius and concept artist Chris Foss.  Hollywood, being the unethical enterprise that it is, basically stole many of the ideas from Jodorowsky’s massive book on Dune and redistributed them in future pictures, which uncannily includes STAR WARS (1977), FLASH GORDON (1980), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC (1981), Blade Runner (1982), THE TERMINATOR (1984), CONTACT (1997), THE MATRIX (1999), and even Ridley Scott’s more recent Prometheus (2012), movies that made plenty of “other” people millions of dollars.  Not to be deterred, some forty years later, Jodorowsky’s unbridled enthusiasm for life remains intact, where his massive vision for this failed venture is enormously entertaining, as he relishes the idea of describing every nuance and detail of this film to a new generation, taking great pride in seeing his ideas live on, much like the original movie ending he envisioned where his ideas are literally reborn in the films (lives) of others, where perhaps he did change the world by altering the cinematic landscape of what’s possible.  Jodorowsky is a believer that art is larger than life, that it encompasses more than we can imagine, where this film literally encourages future generations to open their minds to new ideas and to embrace the challenge of possibilities.  If Jodorowsky’s living spirit is about anything, it’s about expanding one’s conscious mental awareness, where this film is literally a plea for the world to attempt the impossible.  As he points out in the film, “I have the ambition to live 300 years.  I will not live 300 years.  Maybe I will live one year more.  But I have the ambition.”

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