Jodorowsky's Dune: story of a cursed film

Jodorowsky's Dune: story of a cursed film

Arte is putting back online the crazy documentary on Dune stillborn by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Here is his story.

Arte benefits from the theatrical release of the second part of Duneby Denis Villeneuve, to propose the great documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, free streaming on its site, until August. A look back at this captivating aborted adaptation.

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Dune Quixote
“I hadn't read Dune. I could have chosen any novel, I could have said Don Quixote…” When he talks about how he chose to adapt the greatest science fiction novel of all time, Alejandro Jodorowsky seems to be laughing, but by quoting Cervantes alongside Frank Herbert, he couldn't have chosen better symbol, which often comes up when he talks about Dune. Adapting Quixote – this picaresque odyssey where we go against windmills, and which ultimately tells of the death of chivalric ideals in the face of the modern world, idealism versus realism – broke both Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam. Just to signify that, from the start, Dune would never see the light of day? In the unreal galaxy of unmade films, Jodorowsky's Dune holds a famous place, alongside Napoleon of Kubrick or 900 days of Leningrad by Sergio Leone. A recent Arte series, Never on your screenslet filmmakers (Michel Hazanavicisu, Joe Dante…) talk about their stillborn films.

“Make a film that produces LSD hallucinations”
But let's get back to Arrakis. It's the story of a guru whose sect goes wrong. In 1970, the Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky experienced his first major success with his second film, the western El Topo. The esoteric odyssey of a gunslinger confronting “the masters of the revolver” in a spaghetti western universe before transforming into Jesus, defender of a band of monsters hidden in a cave. It was upon seeing the film in New York that Michel Seydoux decided to distribute it in France. Success. Jodo followed up with The Sacred Mountain in 1973: a new hit. Seydoux then suggested that Jodo produce his next film: it would be Dune. Frank Herbert's novel, published in 1965, is the emblematic SF bestseller of the 60's. It is the story of the battle for a desert planet, the only place in the universe where there is the Spice capable of seeing the future and traveling in space. “I wanted to make a film that gave people the same hallucinations as LSD.” A risky bet for the time: Star Wars had not yet resurrected space opera, and it was a hit 2001, The Space Voyage in 1968 which revived the taste for SF in cinema.

Moebius, Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles
Jodorowsky has carte blanche. He brought together Chris Foss in a castle to create the spaceships, HR Giger (met thanks to Dali) to design the Harkonnen villains, and especially Moebius who took care of the costumes and the storyboard for the film. The fusion between Moebius and Jodo is total: the Chilean narrates, and Moebius immediately draws the visions of the director, who completely recreates the novel in his own way, going very far in his mystical and prophetic delirium (the hero's father, castrated, impregnates his woman using a drop of blood…). For the music, Jodo wants to call on Pink Floyd and the psych group Magma. After refusing to work with the visual effects manager of 2001, Douglas Trumbull (reason: “he was not a spiritual person”), Jodo hires Dan O'Bannon for SFX after seeing the much cheaper Dark Star by John Carpenter, and after meeting him around a joint “special marijuana”. In the casting, Jodo wants his son Brontis to play Paul, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, Salvador Dali to play the Mad Emperor of the Galaxy (at $100,000 per minute), Orson Welles for Baron Harkonnen, at morbid obesity.“I was like a prophet, I was enlightened!” Jodo says in the film. “He was a real guru, he was totally inspiring”says Chris Foss, still happy to remember this period of his life: “Dune would have been even bigger than 2001”. The film's budget exploded, and two and a half years later (and two million dollars at the time spent in pre-production) the inability to find a US studio to complete the financing sounded the death knell for the project. The enlightened person has lost out in the face of the reality of production. The rest is known: in 1977 Star Wars was released, and in 1979 it was Alien (Ridley Scott almost did Dune before David Lynch, in fact) on a script by Dan O'Bannon with designs by Foss, Giger and Moebius. The latter will take up in 1981 with Jodo the elements of Dunetransfigured in the comic strip The Incal. The story of the Dune de Jodo is known since in 1985, the magazine Screaming metal published a supplement which reproduced Moebius's sketches. This is the story told brilliantly, with humor and technical mastery, in the fantastic documentary Jodorowsky's Dune : how a director, victim of his hubris, went too far, too hard, and blew up a film before it even took off.

Paranormal activity
In 2010, Frank Pavich, 36, future director of the documentary, earned his living as a production assistant on the reality TV series Paranormal State, where he managed logistics. “The series follows the investigations of students who are called for help by families convinced they live in haunted houses”explains Frank. “Unfortunately, I didn’t experience anything supernatural on set”laughs the director. “But it was on Paranormal State that I met my cinematographer and my sound engineer who made Dune with me.” Coming from a New York film school, Pavich is not a geek obsessed with sci-fi, and Dune is not his Quixote. “The story of Jodorowsky's Dune is part of the collective unconscious. At one point or another, we hear about it, and we end up frustrated by what we read on the subject. The idea of going further became more and more pressing, and I thought it would make a good subject.” In the fall of 2010, Frank managed to contact Jodorowsky, who agreed to talk about Dune on the condition of traveling to Paris where he lives. “He was super enthusiastic, but gave us complete freedom in the editing and choice of sequences.”

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The Dune Bible
Someone is missing from the documentary: Moebius. “He was already very ill when we started the film”explains Pavich. “And he left us in March 2012, so we obviously couldn't interview him. But his voice is present in the film, thanks to his drawings.” More than his voice: the style comes back to life in Pavich's film, who chose to animate the black and white storyboards to the sound of ambient and spacey music from the group SpaceKraft. “It's not a trick to make the film more fun. We carefully chose which extracts to animate to give an idea of ​​what Dune could have been”, says Frank: notably the fabulous sequence shot which opens the film, where the camera had to cross the entire galaxy to arrive at the planet Arrakis, crossing stars, ships and battles on its way. To do this, Pavich and his animator Syd Garon managed to use the legendary “Dune book”, an art book which contains the 3000 and some drawings of the Moebius storyboard, plus the screenplay and all the concept arts of the film. Sent to all Hollywood studios, there are only two known copies left. It is this bible which was used by Pavich, and which was responsible for the impossibility of seeing Jodorowsky's Dune in France for three years.

The new death of Dune
Saturday May 18, 2013, Cannes Film Festival. The Directors' Fortnight gave Jodorowsky's Dune a standing ovation – after a screening in front of a hilarious and fascinated audience – in the presence of Pavich and Jodo, who discovered the film at the same time for the first time. The same evening, The Dance of Reality is screened at Cannes (Jodo's first film since The Rainbow Thief in 1990, produced by Seydoux), fictionalized autobiography with his son Brontis in the role of his father. “Cannes was very strange. There was my Dune, plus La Danza, plus Only God Forgives by Nicolas Winding Refn dedicated to Jodo, plus Alma Jodorowsky (Alejandro's granddaughter) in La Vie d'Adèle where she played also Léa Seydoux, Michel's niece…” Frank remembers. “We couldn't have asked for anything better. It was the return of Dune.” With that, there's a twist: the police arrive at the Fortnight offices. The widow of Jean Giraud alias Moebius filed a summary complaint against the producers. Reason: the documentary illegally uses the work of her late husband. The designer had, however, given his consent before his death for the use of his drawings in the film. “I hired Moebius as a storyboard artist, as we do for all films. The script artist never owns the film. We paid him”Jodo lamented at the Allociné microphone in September 2013. But on this necessarily sensitive subject, he no longer wants to speak today. “He said everything he had to say about Dune in this fantastic documentary”, says those around him: And Jodo to embark on the twists and turns of his next film, Poesia Sin Finwhich he is currently trying to complete despite funding problems.

“They all failed.”
For three years, therefore, Jodorowsky's Dune could not go out to France. Negotiations continued between Camera One – the studio of Jérôme Seydoux which produced the Dune stillborn- and the widow of Moebius. Meanwhile, the film was released in July 2013 in the United States, on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray, in a slightly longer cut than those presented at Cannes (1h30 compared to 1h25: “my first edit was 2h30”Frank believes), and “45 minutes of rushes, mostly digressions by Jodo on philosophy, cinema, the death of Hollywood…” Just to remind us that the title of the documentary is very revealing: at all levels, it is indeed the resurrection of the Dune by Jodorowsky, whose enlightened genius still resonates, 40 years later. And the curse Dune keep on going. Encouraged by the success of the mini-series Dune (2000) and Children of Dune (2003) with a young James McAvoy, the Paramount studio has been preparing a reboot since 2008. But who remains stuck in the development hell. Main problem: dealing with Brian Herbert, son of Frank and guardian of the temple, who absolutely wants to integrate into a future Dune film the elements of the prequels and spin offs of the very average quality series that he publishes with regularity. Joshua Zetumer (author of the remake of RoboCop) and Chase Palmer wrote a script for Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Blood and tears) but the director left to be replaced by Pierre Morel (Taken). Nothing happened, the film was too expensive and too complicated to make. Nothing that lives up to the demented vision of Jodo's sect or the strange, unhealthy beauty of David Lynch's version produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Paramount dropped the deal in March 2011. The sleeper is not ready to wake up. The final word goes to Frank Herbert: “a lot of people tried to make the Dune movie”he said shortly before his death in 1986, two years after the release of Lynch. “They all failed.”

Trailer for Jodorowsky's Dune :

Dune: Part Two is a monumental cinematic messiah (review)

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