Palatable: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
Directed by Frank Pavich
Produced by Frank Pavich, Travis Stevens, Stephen Scarlata, Damon Cook, Alex Ricciardi, Michel Seydoux, Donald Rosenfeld
Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Chris Foss, Jean-Paul Gibon, Devin Faraci, Amanda Lear, H.R. Giger, Gary Kurtz, Diane O’Bannon, Nicolas Winding Refn, Jean-Pierre Vignau, Christian Vander, Drew McWeeny
When you’ve declined Douglas Trumbull’s expertise for his vainglory and lack of spiritual depth, upbraided Pink Floyd for gobbling hamburgers while you were expounding on your cinematic conceptions, assigned Salvador Dalí an imperious role for which he’s to be paid $100K per hour and insisted that your sprawling adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic treating of rival interstellar cultures warring for a sui generis resource must span twelve to twenty hours, don’t expect to realize it. Not one frame of Jodorowsky’s bizarre pet project — purposed as a hallucinatory alternative to LSD and a prophetic meditation on the ultimate potential of incorporeal transcendence — was shot, but one of two handsome, humongous, hardbound volumes containing the totality of its script, storyboards and conceptual artwork printed to pitch it to American studio executives remains one of the surrealist filmmaker’s prized chattels, wherein the ossature of his vision in toto is preserved and explored in this compelling documentary. Conspectuses of Jodo’s ascension to early repute in avant-garde theater, the adventitious conception and production of Fando y Lis (during which his inspiration served to compensate for his professional inexperience), and the unprecedented underground triumph of his satirical, symbolical western El Topo preface for the uninitiated Jodorowsky’s initial achievements, that last of which attracted the attention of Seydoux, who distributed first El Topo, then the bricoleur’s metaphysical masterwork The Holy Mountain to zealously receptive French audiences. An enduring friendship between the Chilean dynamo and his French benefactor persisted to the present, years after the former’s swindle of his prior producer, Allen Klein (a misdeed unmentioned in this flick). Encouraged by both Jodo’s accomplishment and the unexcelled international success of his selected subject matter, Seydoux eagerly agreed to produce a motion picture of Herbert’s Byzantine saga, quartering his alacritous auteur in a French castle while he lucubrated its screenplay. Jodorowsky’s gift for identifying and locating his collaborators may be demonstrated by the fortuity accompanying many of their first encounters: on the strength of his artwork in the serialized western Blueberry comic books, peerless sequential/commercial artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud was designated to sketch storyboards of over 3,000 shots and render vividly detailed character designs; during a screening of John Carpenter’s and Dan O’Bannon’s joint first picture (the penurious space comedy Dark Star), O’Bannon was reckoned by Jodo kindred, enthralled by his palaver and ingestion of recherche marijuana, and assigned a position as the picture’s SFX supervisor; the phantasmagoria of British conceptual painter Chris Foss were often superior to the books for whose covers they were masterfully pictured, so he seemed as fitting a contributing artist to image outlandish spacecraft and edifices as H.R. Giger, commissioned to delineate with airbrushed intricacy Jodorowsky’s unique contrivance of Baron Harkonnen’s castle, predicated on Giraud’s storyboards. They first met at the St. Regis hotel in NYC, and frequently thenceforth, but Jodo only prevailed upon Dalí to create the Padishah Emperor by the liaison of the Catalan painter’s muse Amanda Lear, to whom he granted the role of Princess Irulan for her mediatory efforts. No small contemplation was invested to cast and score both of the novel’s rival aristocratic families. His stardom in Kung Fu secured David Carradine prominence as a gelded Duke Leto; Jodo’s son Brontis was to portray the messianic central figure of the Atreides scion Paul, and subjected for two years to an operose regimen by martial artist and stunt coordinator Jean-Pierre Vignau so to acquire the martial skill befitting Muad’Dib; Pink Floyd’s meditative resonance seemed a choice aural backdrop for the seafaring family. To one of his preferred Parisian restaurants where he waxed epulose, Jodo’s secretary tracked Orson Welles, whose famed obesity and iconic mastery convinced him that no other could play Baron Harkonnen…and who was eventually propitiated with a bottle of wine and a pledge that one of his favorite chefs would prepare his meals on set or location during the production’s shoot; at a party, Mick Jagger immediately, compulsively accepted Jodo’s offer to play lean, swaggering Feyd Rautha, and Udo Kier was met at Warhol’s Factory to receive the part of Piter De Vries, the post-Teutonic clan’s chief Mentat; no strangers to dystopian fantasy, Magma were picked to generate a sonic aspect of the Harkonnens’ miasma. With no deficit of politesse, every major studio solicited for subvention by producers Seydoux and Gibon — Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, etc. — rejected this interpretation of Dune, conceding their admiration for the endeavor’s fastidious conception…and bewilderment regarding its director’s demands in concern of length and thematic complexity. Pavich wisely focuses on his subjects’ accounts of this grand failure, and interlarded with demonstrative animations of Giraud’s storyboards and Foss’s paintings, interviews with and recordings of Lear, O’Bannon, Seydoux, Gibon, Vignau, Foss, Giger, and especially Jodorowsky graphically report his visionary divergences from Herbert’s novel, charismatic inspiration of his cast and crew, and the immense creative potential that was never fulfilled beyond preproduction. Supplementary commentary by sci-fi filmmaker Richard Stanley and producer Gary Kurtz (whose last endeavors with George Lucas owe an enormous conceptual debt to this undertaking) provide converse perspective on the picture’s abortion; overt observations and hoary hyperbole voiced by overestimated genre moviemaker Nicolas Winding Refn and overfed Twitter jackass and alleged film critic Devin Faraci contribute nothing of worth to this history, and seem oddly incongruous with Jodorowsky himself, a born raconteur and still ebullient in his ninth decade. Despite its cancellation, the influence of Jodo’s Dune reverberated for years in the composition, production design and thematic signification of many motion pictures: storyboards and production photos are juxtaposed with shots of unmistakable similarity from Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Golan-Globus’ Masters of the Universe, Contact, Prometheus and especially Alien, for whose efforts O’Bannon, Giger, Foss and Moebius were indispensable. Therewithal, most of Jodorowsky’s best concepts were hardly squandered, instead exploited in superb comics such as The Incal in collaboration with Moebius, and The Metabarons with Juan Giménez. One can’t help but speculate whether the creative profusion of this scuttled Dune was worth more than the picture might have been.