11:22 AM EDT, March 27, 2014
If I ever go through a wormhole, let me land on a planet where repertory cinema is alive and well and showcasing all the lost, cruelly abridged and, especially, unmade movies conceived on a grand, misbegotten scale. That'd be quite a three-day weekend. Murnau's "4 Devils," followed by von Stroheim's original cut of "Greed," plus the Welles version of "The Magnificent Ambersons." Plus Welles' never-made "Heart of Darkness," intended to be his Hollywood debut. Plus Clouzot's "L'Enfer," the sexual-jealousy obsession he never finished and subject of its own terrific documentary.
From the looks of "Jodorowsky's Dune," we missed out on a real pip with the folly of the title.
There is a feature film version of "Dune," the one directed by David Lynch and released, to a baffled and tiny audience, in 1984. Nine years earlier, the Chilean cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky began pre-production on his own response to the 1965 Frank Herbert science fiction novel about feuding interstellar societies, worms and spices. "If I need to cut my arms in order to make that picture," Jodorowsky remembers thinking, "I will cut my arms. I was even ready to die."
What exists from this "Dune"? More than 3,000 detailed storyboards and countless, mouth-watering costume and design renderings, telling the mad Chilean's feverish story based on the novel. Jodorowsky admits he never actually read "Dune" before embarking on the project. He had some ripe and provocative casting in mind: Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, with music by Pink Floyd.
Had this ambitious head trip come to pass, it might've made Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" look like "Go, Dog. Go!"
The beauty of Frank Pavich's documentary is twofold. It's a fond tribute to erratic, creative crackpots everywhere, and to films that almost got the green light, nearly got made and practically had a chance to change the world. We'll never know.
Also, Pavich is great on context. Those who don't know Herbert's "Dune" well are still in for a treat. The documentary keeps the avid-eyed jester Jodorowsky, alive and well and whose dreams clearly have been a kind of Fountain of Youth for him, front and center throughout.
Artfully visualized, the film's worth seeing just for Jodorowsky's guided tour of his hoped-for opening shot in the "Dune" that never was, a swirling, sustained intergalactic special-effects wonder predating "Gravity" by decades. Scheduled to be shot in Algeria, Jodorowsky's "Dune" never acquired the necessary financing to make it before the cameras.
One of the highlights of the documentary is Jodorowsky remembering, with a devil's grin, what it was like to hear that Lynch, a director he greatly admired, had been tapped to do "Dune" on screen. He recalls further his euphoria after the Lynch project's box-office misfortune. It's a wonderful and human moment from the man whose midnight-movie titles, "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain," gave Jodorowsky a certain cache and mystique. He, and we, never got his "Dune," but Pavich's "Jodorowsky's Dune" is a lovely little tribute to a major league "What if?"
"Jodorowsky's Dune" - 3 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violent and sexual images and drug references)
Running time: 1:30
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