Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune

Too silly to live, yet too ridiculous to die, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version of Dune survives now as a series of storyboards animated only by his titanic force of will. In the mid-1970s, the director gathered an estimable group of co-conspirators like Moebius and H.R. Giger—“spiritual warriors,” as he likes to call them—in order to design what now seems like the lost bridge between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. But Hollywood was not keen on handing over millions of dollars to a surrealist oddball, which makes it all the more inexplicable that the first adaptation of Frank Herbert’s (overrated, dull) sci-fi epic should be directed by the guy who made Eraserhead. Understandably, Jodorowsky is relieved at this rival version’s cruddiness, and his gleeful schadenfreude is one of the comic charms of Jodorowsky’s Dune, Frank Pavich’s loving tribute to the lost film. With a great show of sympathy, Jodorowsky excuses David Lynch and blames the failure of Dune 1.0 on meddling producers, but there is a tinge of pride to this pity: Hollywood may have tamed Lynch, but it could not cage the great Jodo. It should come as no surprise that this man's peculiar metaphysics seemingly include the notion that everyone—but especially him—is god.

Certainly, Pavich and his faithful crew of talking heads are all too happy to indulge Jodorowsky’s genial megalomania. But a bullshit artist is an artist nonetheless, and the remarkably spry octogenarian has an enthusiasm that is hard to resist. Hearing him breathlessly describe his version of Dune is even sometimes more enjoyable than watching his films. The director, as an interlocutor of his work, possesses virtues often absent from his art: he’s giddy and jocular where films like Fando y Lis and El Topo feel weighted down with po-faced provocations and somber self-importance. Who wouldn’t sign up to a quixotic art-quest under the spell of this chattering whirlwind’s charisma? (Dan O’Bannon signs up for the project after doing drugs and becoming hypnotized by Jodorowsky’s face, apparently.) But while Pavich succumbs to the man’s charms, the audience would be advised to approach some of the stories with more skepticism. Some of the more dubious casting ideas suggest Jodorowsky is pulling our leg, or at the very least engaging in the cinematic equivalent of a fantasy football league (Orson Welles! Mick Jagger! Salvador Dali!). Still, such implausible conceits fit with the aura of impossibility that feeds the film’s enduring legend. Perhaps this is the purest expression of Jodorowsky’s surrealism—a film that exists only in dreams.

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