Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jodorowsky's "Dune"


As mentioned in the last entry, I finally got the chance to watch the documentary Jodorowsky's "Dune". And I wasn't sorry I did. It's right up there with "Lost in La Mancha" and "Burden of Dreams" as a tale of epic filmmaking struggle. It's also, of course, a document of monumental failure to make a film-- but as we'll see, it engendered a lot of great stuff that did in fact come to pass.

I wasn't familiar with Jodorowsky's work before viewing this film, but I've gotten a little more up to speed since, partly by means of Hoberman & Rosenbaum's wonderful book Midnight Movies. Jodorowsky's "Holy Mountain" perhaps isn't for everyone, but it does feature some great set design, innovative camera work and visual effects, a sharp sense of satire, a psychedelic score by Jodorowsky himself in collaboration with Don Cherry, and some presentational strategies that evoke the director's background in mime and experimental theater. View trailer

Like its predecessor "El Topo", "Holy Mountain" generated a lot of buzz and secured a much larger budget for the auteur's next project. He decided to mount a cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci fi novel "Dune". What follows is a tale every bit as fantastic as Herbert's. I won't even try to cover all the bases here-- one's own viewing and research will prove far more rewarding. But I'm fascinated by this project's potent, if accidental, legacy.

The director secured talent that included-- I kid you not-- Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali, as well as Pink Floyd to compose the score. Turned off by a meeting with special effects maestro Douglas Trumbull, Jodorowsky caught a screening of "Dark Star" and decided to bring Dan O'Bannon, author of that film's visuals, on board. The team also included artists H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean Giraud (aka MÅ“bius).

This design team produced piles of memorable work; in many cases (all perhaps, though I'm not sure), this art was their first work in film.

The project fell apart due to budget concerns and lack of studio interest, but anyone familiar with the design staff of subsequent major sci fi franchises will recognize many of the above names as prime movers thereof. O'Bannon went on to write the screenplay for what became the first "Alien" film, thus bringing about one of my favorite film franchises ever. This research gave me an excuse to sit down and watch the special features of my beloved Alien Quadrillogy DVD set again, and indeed there's O'Bannon, talking about how he first met many of the folks who went on to create "Alien"'s classic look.

To be fair, the "Dune" series has been a huge inspiration all on its own. But it appears that with his particular effort, Jodorowsky inadvertently exerted huge influence on the look of sci fi for years to come, as his project's visual concepts reverberated through "Star Wars", "Alien", "Blade Runner" and beyond. It's my (potentially flawed) understanding that this strain of Giger's iamgery, originally generated for "Dune", finally made its way into Ridley Scott's "Prometheus", released in 2012:

Speaking of Ridley Scott, I discovered something reading "Midnight Movies" that I hadn't learned from any of these other sources: that Scott actually took a crack at adapting "Dune" just after "Alien", post-Jodorowsky and pre-Lynch. Yet another failed attempt: the novel seems to resist all attempts to film it. What's happened in the meantime, though-- this documentary included-- has been pretty darn sweet.

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