Permanent Midnight is a weekly Complex Pop Culture column where senior staff writer, and resident genre fiction fanatic, Matt Barone will put the spotlight on the best new indie horror/sci-fi/weirdo cinema, twisted novels, and other below-the-radar oddities.
“What is the goal of the life? It is to create yourself a soul. To me, movies are an art, more than an industry.”
Those are the first words spoken by Alejandro Jodorowsky in filmmaker Frank Pavich’s new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, a fascinating and lively account of the Chilean midnight movie king’s failed efforts to turn Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 novel into the biggest movie ever made. That ‘imagination first, commerce second’ mentality enabled Jodorowsky to create the incomparable, psychedelic cult classics El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), and Santa Sangre (1989).
It’s also why this generation’s bravest artists swear by Jodorowsky. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn dedicated last year’s Ryan Gosling-led Only God Forgives, his indecipherable follow-up to the Gosling-starring Drive (2011), to Jodorowsky; for his Yeezus tour, Kanye West had the grandiose sets made up to resemble imagery from The Holy Mountain, even giving credit to Jodorowsky during one of his on-stage monologues: “…me saying Jodorowsky’s name and ya’ll don’t know who the fuck he is when everybody copied off of him.”
One can imagine Yeezy similarly admires the filmmaker’s steadfastness in his vision. Jodorowsky has never conformed to popular cinema’s conventions or standards. In the case of Dune, his inability to let others change his “dream” resulted in ongoing frustration and disillusionment. It’s occasionally right there on his face during Jodorowsky’s Dune, offsetting the joyous disposition that he mostly exudes for Frank Pavich. It eventually boils over. “This system make of us slaves,” says Jodorowsky, with his slightly broken English. “Without dignity. Without depth. With a devil in our pocket. This incredible money in our pocket. This money. This shit. This nothing. This paper who have nothing inside. Movies have heart. Have mind. Have power. Have ambition.”
After watching the inspiring Jodorowsky's Dune, you'll agree with Jodorowsky. Even more, you’ll want to go out and try to take over the world.
Today just as much as back in the ‘70s, Jodorowsky is a dreamer first and a filmmaker second. With Dune, he wanted to make a film that would “change the public’s perceptions,” and that endearing but problematic outlook is one of the many reasons why the film was never made.
It wasn't for lack of effort. Beginning in 1974, Jodorowsky secured a bizarre, fever-dream cast (including Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dali), a musical score from Pink Floyd, and out-there, visually unthinkable set designs and art concepts from a pre-Alien H.R. Giger for what, at the time, would have been the most overzealous motion picture ever attempted. Its desired price tag: $15 million.
Unfortunately, investors and distributors didn't share Jodorowsky's enthusiasm beyond the dollar, and Dune couldn't get funded. The director's audacious dream was shattered.
Jodorowsky's Dune would have predated George Lucas' Star Wars and very likely changed the Hollywood landscape as we currently know it. Put it this way: without Star Wars, there would be no Blade Runner, meaning there’d also be no Matrix and every other dystopian sci-fi favorite since the early 1980s. Had Jodorowsky’s Dune been completed and released, though, Lucas’ Star Wars universe might not exist. And if Jodorowsky hadn’t introduced Swiss artist H.R. Giger to screenwriter/visual effects guy Dan O’Bannon to work on Dune together, Ridley Scott’s Alien wouldn’t have happened.
In Jodorowsky's Dune, Pavich gets the complete backstory from Jodorowsky himself, as well as many of his collaborators (or "spiritual warriors," as he calls them), detailing what genre experts dub "the greatest science fiction movie never made." By illustrating all of Dune's storyboard designs and pointing out all of its subsequent influences (Dune's imprints can be found in everything from Star Wars to The Terminator to Prometheus), Pavich sells you on Jodorowsky's hyperbolic musings.
When Jodorowsky, who talks like a wacky road scholar, says that his Dune would have been a "coming of a god," it's hard to deny him that claim. And it's impossible not to love his candidness, as in when he addresses the fact that he'd never actually read Herbert's novel and changed damn near all of it: “When you make a picture, you must not respect the novel. It’s like you get married, no? You go with the wife; you take the woman. If you respect the woman, you will never have child. You need to open the costume…and to rape the bride. And then you will have your picture. I was raping Frank Herbert! But with love.”
Such graphic metaphors aside, Jodorowsky's Dune promotes the most genuine kind of filmmaking. Sadly, Pavich’s documentary also emphasizes how difficult it is to see that kind of cinema through. "I have the ambition to live 300 years," says Jodorowsky, now 85 years old and still making movies (his latest, The Dance of Reality, opens theatrically in late May). "Why not have the ambition?”
That’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s way of saying, “You can’t tell me nothing.”
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
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