Four critics were sitting in AMC’s Pacific Place Theater 7 when I walked in. It was instantly noticeable: a strange, syncopated rhythm of staticky beat-box. Kind of like the sound you hear when you rim the audio jack on a speaker system with your finger. The crackling and buzzing grew worse as we sat, until it was operating at about four beats per second. More critics walked into the cramped space, all to the same static, electronic concerto. Louder and louder it grew until even thoughts became inaudible. Then it stopped, and Jodorowsky’s Dune began.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is what results when lunacy is inbred with sadistic perversion. He’s an acid trip embodied. His ideas are just as wild. As you watch him throw his thoughts around, you can’t figure out if he disgusts you or thrills you. He’s reminiscent of the old homeless folk you run into on a public bus, the type that’s dying to tell you his crackpot theory: Jesus Christ is building a golden city in the sewer and George W. Bush killed Franz Ferdinand.
The French-Chilean director is teethy. A spritely 85 years old, his blindingly white grin is huge. His choppers spread from his mouth like a horse’s smile. His hair flops around as he gesticulates wildly, describing his imaginations and mental illusions. His “r’s” roll off his tongue with the weight of bowling barrels. But those bright pearly whites draw you in.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is about this man’s failed journey to create Dune, a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel of the same title. Early on, Jodorowsky tells us, “I never read Dune.” The film is more a face-to-face conversation than it ever is documentary. Jodorowsky and the crew he assembled to make Dune, as well as a clan of historians and filmmakers, sit in front of the camera to recount how Dune was never made. At one point, a cat wanders into the scene. He picks it up and just keeps going.
“What is the goal of life? It’s to create yourself a soul. For me, movies are an art, more than industry. And it’s the search of the human soul, as painting, as literature, as poetry.” Jodorowsky walks us through the history, about half the time in English, the rest in Spanish. He tells us he wanted to create a movie that causes an experience equivalent to that of an LSD trip. In Dune, he wanted to create a prophet.
He pulls a massive book—the size of two phonebooks—from his shelves: Dune is written in big white font on the cover, overlaying a drawing of a zebra-striped purple and yellow spaceship. Contained within this monumental bible are all the scenes, concept art, scripts, storyboards that were never brought to life. Drive’s director, Nicolas Winding Refn, explains how Jodorowsky once showed him the book. “I’m the only guy who ever saw Jodorowsky’s Dune… Let me tell you something. It is awesome.”
Jodorowsky’s goal is to rape our minds, he says, and slowly, he inseminates you. What starts out as a lunatic’s ranting soon becomes an exploration into the soul’s deepest crevasses. Brave director Richard Stanley tells us that Dune’s the greatest movie never made, and we have a hard time believing him. Then, we see Dune.
A design by H.R. Giger for Jodorowsky’s Dune that was incorporated in Alien.
Just as he somehow recruited famous artists Pink Floyd, H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Orson Welles, Salvador Dali (who requested $100,000 a minute), Chris Foss, Jean Giraud, and even forced his own son to do years of martial arts to star in the film, he sucks you into his cosmos. What begins as an impossible dream becomes an insatiable reverie. Jodorowsky becomes the drug, the hallucinogen that pulls you into his world-bending soulscape. He’s Alfonso Cuaron with Jules Verne’s imagination and Hitler’s ambition.
Somehow, he fits all the pieces together, and then everything falls apart. As written, Dune would have been 14 hours, it would have cost millions, and no one wanted to finance it. We weren’t ready. We weren’t equipped. We weren’t worthy.
Hollywood told Alejandro he couldn’t join in the fun. You can’t play with us, Hollywood said. Little did they know, he built the playground. The woodchips and tree scrap they were rolling around on? His design; his team of artists and writers and producers went on to work in the industry, infecting the film world with Alejandro. Movies like Alien, Blade Runner, The Matrix, any sci-fi or blockbuster film, they’ve all been influenced by Jodorowsky’s failed dream.
Jodorowsky—this insane old perverted Spaniard dripping with crazy—pulls the world as we know it apart and then forces it back together with his hands, like an accordionist rending the world with every note. Dune was some sort of calamity, a virtual reality, a rift in time, a temporal split of magnanimous proportions. Jodorowsky broke the universe into two when he set about making his film; we’re just living in the reality where we got Star Wars instead.
So the playground carries on, not with him but within him. Somehow, he became the prophet he set out to make. Shine us with your light Alejandro. How glorious it is!
When Jodorowsky’s Dune ended, it was as if my mind was set free. Not so much as a spiritual or metaphysical awakening, just an awakening to the mind and soul. I couldn’t stop thinking. Jodorowsky had convinced me just like everyone else who clung to this doomed project. His charm, his conviction and passion, somehow it opened my eyes to the world. I began to rethink everything. Maybe that static beat-box had a purpose. Maybe that was Alejandro’s way of communicating to us, of implanting that initial seed, of reaching through space and time. Maybe that was an alternate universe Jodorowsky trying to connect. “Hello? You can hear me?”
Jodorowsky raped my mind. And I loved it. Yeah. Or maybe that’s just the Stockholm Syndrome talking.
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