An adaptation of Frank Herbert’s revered science fiction novel, directed by visionary film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky and with input from H. R. Giger, Moebius, Dan O’Bannon and many more, Dune looks on paper very much like it could have been something truly extraordinary.
Speaking to many of those involved and also to directors, producers and critics director Frank Pavich weaves a very compelling tale of this fascinating project. Whilst in Cannes I was lucky enough to speak to Mr. Pavich who, like me, was also high on having just seen Jodorowsky’s return to cinema, La Danza de la Realidad.
What do you think of Jodorowsky’s latest film?
I think it’s astounding. I know Brontis [who plays the lead]. We worked together on Dune obviously, he did a play last year that I saw and he’s fantastic in, he’s in a new Mexican film called Tau and he’s fantastic in that. But La Danza is on another level. Whatever that film is eligible for – a Cesar award, Oscars, I don’t know – he’s gonna take it because he’s remarkable, I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s so incredible.
In Dune he [Alejandro Jodorowsky] talks about how it took his work for Dune and put it into his comics and stuff like that. When I watch La Danza the whole torture scene is exactly like the torture of Leto [in Dune]. He has these things and he needs to get them out there. He can’t do it one, he’s got to do it another way. It’s really interesting. I couldn’t believe it.
Did you manage to convince him to consider publishing the book on Dune [a very large book that details the entire film]?
I don’t know if that would happen. I would love to see it myself. If it was up to me I would do that book exactly as it is. Same dimensions, same everything so you can have a newer version of exactly that. Taschen had that giant Muhammad Ali book, it was the size of a bed, it was crazy. But people bought it. It should be limited, a couple of hundred copies and that’s it. It shouldn’t be a cheap paperback copy.
What was your first Jodorowsky film and how did it happen?
The first of his that I saw was Holy Mountain and I saw it back in a time when you couldn’t see his movies. For a long time his films were pulled, there wasn’t a print, you couldn’t go to screenings, there was nothing on home video, nothing existed. So we could only get them on a dub of a dub of a dub of a dub of a bad VHS tape. Like five or six generations down and you’re looking at a screen trying to understand what’s going. There’s no subtitles for the most part and it’s just awful. But it’s not awful because his films are so incredible that it could fight through all those layers of video dropout and disintegration and generational loss and they were incredible. So I started with Holy Mountain and had my mind blown. It literally changed my life. I didn’t know that movies like this were possible. It’s like Richard Stanley says in our documentary, it comes from like a parallel universe of filmmaking where there’s different rules. He’s wild, his stuff really is insane.
I Tweeted after seeing his new one that he has morals but he doesn’t have the inhibitions to stop him doing things…
Yeah, that’s a really great way to put it. He has the morals but doesn’t have the inhibitions. That’s kind of brilliant. That’s poetic.
Where did you go to after Holy Mountain?
Obviously you go the normal route. The big three first, Holy Mountain, El Topo and Fando y Lis, and then the later one, Santa Sangre. So, we’d watch those and be blown away. Then you had that resurgence once he and Allen Klein mended their little battles. Then you had the remastered Blu-rays and they started playing again at midnight and all these crazy things. We were already so excited and wowed by his films and then around that time was also when we stumbled across the story of Dune. And you put two and two together, the guy that was going to make this version of Dune with Salvador Dali and Orson Welles and Pink Floyd. That was the guy that made Holy Mountain? Holy shit, that’s crazy. We need to learn more. We needed to research more. But there’s not much out there. Just little bits.
Was there much that surprised you then when you made the documentary?
Yeah, because there’s not that much out there about the film. We only considered making the film once we had all the information. We were researching it not to make a documentary but just because we were interested. We need to learn more, this is the craziest story ever! Once we had this pile of information we wanted to learn more but we’d reached the end of the road. And we needed to share this with other people. Lets try and make a documentary about this… Like that would be possible? How am I going to find this mythic character. How am I going to find Alejandro Jodorowsky? It’s impossible. But like he says, miracles happen. And somehow I found him… Lots of Googling and lots of hunting, hunting, hunting.
How did you know about the Nicolas Winding Refn thing [Jodorowsky once took Refn through the entire film explaining in detail how Dune would have played out]? Did you already know about that?
That we did not know. That was news to us. We knew that Refn is a huge fan of Jodorowsky. That we knew. And we knew that Mr. Jodorowsky had christened Refn as his cinematic spiritual son, or something like that. So they became really close. We interviewed him just before Drive came out, so we knew that was coming. Then we learned that Nicolas had dedicated Drive to Alejandro Jodorowsky and we said that this was the perfect guy to speak to about it. Once we contacted him he was like, ‘for Alejandro yes. I will make the time.’ So in the middle of all his mega-bucks publicity for Drive he made an hour to come and sit with us and talk about his good friend. And he adds so much to the story.
You decided to include the voices of two critics/journalists and a lot of documentaries about films are more insider documentaries with those speaking about it being people involved in production and so on.
You need that perspective. You need that third party perspective. We need Gary Kurtz to give that perspective. We need Nicolas [Winding Refn] and [Richard] Stanley. We need Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeney. We need those other voices. If you look at the structure of the film those people are at the beginning of the film and at the end. In the centre we are hearing from the people that were there, the core team. You need to have them there though to have that Greek chorus almost. They represent us to a certain extent. We weren’t there and neither were they. It’s kind of perfect that they can put things in a different way for us to understand them.
It’s one thing for Mr. Jodorowsky to say that this is the greatest film never made but for someone else to say it, it’s like ‘oh yeah it is the greatest film never made’.
What’s really interesting is the way in which the work Jodorowsky did on Dune feeds into other people’s work. I would have expected him to find that more painful than he seems to.
He’s open to everything. He’s like, ‘why is that bad? It’s great.’ He inspires me. He inspired me to make this movie. So why would it be bad that he would inspire other people. It’s art. Art comes from other art. Art is what remains. Civilisations go, art remains. Rome, Greece, the artwork remains. His artwork remains. Whether it’s in his films, in his books or his comics or in the inspiration he gives to Nicolas Winding Refn. No Alejandro Jodorowsky, no Drive. I don’t want to live in that world…
…Alien, Blade Runner. No Blade Runner. Dan O’Bannon and Moebius met on Dune, wrote a comic book called The Long Goodbye. It is Blade Runner. All the production design comes from there. There is no Blade Runner without Dune. And Blade Runner changes everything. There’s no Alien without Dune. Alien changes everything. It’s a complete ripple effect, it’s a complete butterfly effect. It’s crazy. All roads lead back to Jodorowsky!