Jodorowsky’s Dune is a heartening and often amusing experience that hoists the weight of the auteur theory on its shoulders with vivid and sobering clarity. Frank Pavich’s documentary charts the early career of Chilian-French director- Alejandro Jodorowsky and his subsequent attempt to bring his vision of Frank Herbert’s celebrated and influential science fiction novel to life.
As conceived, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been a twelve-fourteen hour film that claimed to have replicated the effects of LSD and ultimately represent a sacred life-changing event for its young viewers; particularly in reference to its conception of God as universal consciousness. The picture also would have boasted visuals that were going to be based on the sexually macabre concept art of H.R. Giger and the imaginative science fiction illustrations of Chris Foss.
While the central appeal of the documentary may come from finding out the sheer surreal and frankly demented behind the scenes wrangling of talent: Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and Orson Welles are among a few of the names that casually glide through the picture. Jodorowsky’s Dune primarily engages as an examination of the auteur theory.
By his actions and words, Alejandro Jodorowsky has enough gusto to inspire a small country, and the film’s humour arises from the comic timing via graceful juxtapositions of Jodorowsky’s fiery outcries with the severe and sobering version of the events under discussion. At the same time, the picture illustrates how his passionate nature could be interpreted as having the overtones of a cult leader.
In stark contrast to other directors, Jodorowsky expected his technical crew to not only help bring his vision to life but wholeheartedly believe in it too. He even resorted to asking some of his loyal members to abandon their current life and move to Paris and work on the film. The famed cult director would not hire anyone unless they were deemed a spiritual person who believed his vision was the second coming. He thought that his crew were “spiritual warriors” who he permanently controlled and owned.
This aspect is wonderfully subverted through the course of the film as Jodorowsky is shown compromising his vision in fascinating ways to get certain people to commit to working with him. One sequence animates a storyboard of a scene involving a burning giraffe, which was one of Dali’s conditions to starring in the film. Even the director’s musical choices that varied from Pink Floyd to the French prog rock group- Magma show that he dipped his toe in the waters of commercial viability to sustain his picture’s longevity.
If there is a problem with the film, then it stems from Jodorowsky’s conception of the film becoming an overwhelming force of nature. By the premise of the picture, it has to expound upon his version of Dune, but at times it comes at the expense of other versions of the famed Science Fiction story. There is cursory mention of the original text, and the tail end of the picture acknowledges David Lynch’s adaptation as a compromised counterpoint to Jodorowsky’s unproduced endeavour.
This element is somewhat redeemed by a hopeful irony that gets revealed in the final stretch of the documentary. While Jodorowsky never got to make his “celluloid prophet” of a film, he at least has been able to see his dream for the project have ripple effects in science fiction cinema. In that regard, his work can be at least deemed an accomplishment as a fever dream that everyone keeps aspiring to comprehend.