Frank Pavich documentary resurrects Jodorowsky’s vision for sci-fi classic DUNE

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—by Christopher Johnson —

He certainly didn’t set the bar too low. In the mid-70s, Chilean-born art house film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who lived between Mexico and France, wanted his grandiose version of author Frank Herbert‘s sci-fi classic Dune to not only change cinema, but to transform the consciousness of all mankind.

By 1974, he thought he had his “spiritual warriors in place”: artwork by Moebius, Giger, Foss and O’Bannon; actors including Orson Welles, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and his 12-year old son Brontis, training in martial arts. Even Pink Floyd, who he met eating hamburgers at Abbey Road studios, seemed hip to the idea.

With a line-up like that, it could have been the artsiest film ever.

But there was one small problem, which scuppers many dreams of artistic glory. The Houses of Hollywood wouldn’t buy it. They perhaps weren’t sold on giving a mad Chilean $15 million, more than twice the budget they’d spend on Star Wars a few years later. They also may have wondered about Jodorowsky’s plan to make the movie — not 1:40 minutes — but more like 10 or 12 hours. And though it’s hard to prove, some people claim that Hollywood moguls decided to harvest the ideas for future films such as Star Wars, Alien and other sci-fi epics.

His dreams shattered, Jodorowsky never really lived up to the potential shown in his earlier cult films El Topo and Holy Mountain, which John Lennon reportedly helped finance. But the debacle over Dune has spawned an inspiring and trippy documentary by rising star Frank Pavich, a Croatian-American who lives in Geneva.

“When you hear who he had,” says Pavich, referring to the assemblage of icons, “you wanna see that movie.”

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Pavich exchanged emails with Jodorowsky and went to see him in Paris. He says Jodorowsky put the famous “book”, containing the epic artwork, between them. “He just sat there teasing me with it,” Pavich said in Tokyo after a screening of his film at the Tokyo International Film Festival. “It was incredible to touch all this motion picture history.”

Pavich unearthed great stories from the eccentric director, who pet the cat on his lap during one interview. “I didn’t know if he would let me do it, or attack me,” says Pavich, referring to Jodorowsky’s reputation for being a tempestuous control freak. “The amazing thing is that he left me alone. He let me make my film.”

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Pavich also interviewed Giger, Foss and others who told stories about the eccentric Mexican, known for his interests in tarot cards, “psychomagic”, and giving free lectures around Paris.

We can see why Jodorowsky’s passion and extravagant way of putting things would win over fellow madmen such as Dali, who demanded to be the highest paid actor ever. The story about the story is compelling and inspiring; it’s like smoking dope with madmen, and the artwork is trippy, especially when viewed close to the massive screen at Toho theatres in Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo.

A fan of Jodorowsky’s other works, Pavich says that Dune would have had two results. “It would have been a huge success, and it would have changed the world. Or, it would have been a huge disaster, and it would have changed the world.”

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Jodorowsky, born of Jewish Ukrainian parents in Chile, tells him about his delight when he saw the failure of David Lynch’s Dune, a notorious flop. Jodorowsky would also like to see anime directors realize his vision, especially after the 1984 flop of David Lynch’s Dune. But Pavich says that he doesn’t want to embark on realizing Jodorowsky’s vision on screen. “The road for me ends with this.”

Jodorowsky saw the film for the first time at Cannes, sitting with his wife beside Pavich. “He was in tears,” says Pavich. “He was hearing people he hadn’t seen for years. It was an incredibly emotional experience for him.”

After the film, Pavich asked him “What do you think?”

“It’s perfect,” said Jodorowsky.

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