Jodorowsky’s Dune: Remembering a Career Debacle Without Bitterness

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Opens Fri., April 25 at Sundance. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.

I don’t believe for one second this documentary’s central claim: Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky’s planned ’70s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune is the Rosetta Stone of all subsequent sci-fi, from Star Wars to Alien to The Matrix. But the irrepressible director, now 85, is the first guy you’d want to invite to a dinner party, no matter how outrageous and unsustainable his tales. And this story is so audacious that you forget the sad subtext: The unrealized (though extravagantly well-documented) Dune basically ended Jodorowsky’s filmmaking career.

And we’d like to know more about the biography behind that career, briefly recapped by director Frank Pavich: avant-garde theater in Mexico during the ’60s; midnight-movie success in the ’70s with his head-trips El Topo and The Holy Mountain (both excerpted); and finally Jodorowsky’s ill-fated, French-financed 1975 attempt at Dune. (Disappointingly, there’s no attempt to track down interviews with the Tacoma-born Herbert on the project—later filmed by David Lynch—since he was alive at the time.) The renderings and storyboards in Jodorowsky’s 3,000-page illustrated script are amazing; and it’s no surprise to see how his talented colleagues, some interviewed here, would go on to Hollywood success—sadly leaving their old mentor behind. Pavich’s account is perhaps too insidery and film-geek-detailed, paying homage to this near-forgotten director, but it’s impossible to fault his generosity after such a long draught.

Having supported himself for decades with various tarot-card and comic-book enterprises, Jodorowsky has clearly honed and polished his anecdotes about supposed Dune enlistees, including Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, and Salvador Dalí. Are any of them true? Does it really matter? Not when the telling is so cheerfully entertaining. When he calls the consciousness-raising project “the most important picture in the history of humanity,” he’s half-serious, half-hyperbolic, aiming for full dinner-party effect.

If nothing else, you come away wishing that Steidl or Taschen would publish Jodorowsky’s Dune Bible (or put it on the Web, at least); and wanting Paul Allen’s EMP Museum to mount an exhibit on the failed project (plus more Dune-Herbert arcana, given the Northwest connection); and curious about Jodorowsky’s new feature, The Dance of Reality, which the Grand Illusion will screen (along with El Topo and The Holy Mountain) later this year. And you know what else? Dune would make a damn good HBO series right about now.

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