American Film

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By Kenneth R. Morefield

Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of 1More Film Blog. JODORWSKY'S DUNE opens in theaters this month.

One does not need to be a disciple in the cult of French-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky to enjoy Frank Pavich's chronicle of how the midnight movie maverick tried and failed to bring Frank Herbert's science fiction classic "Dune" to Hollywood.

Anyone who has come close to realizing a dream only to have his plans unravel will sympathize with the director's frustration at how tantalizingly close his fantasy came to fruition.

Anyone who has laid the foundation for a project only to be passed over in favor of another to realize its execution will recognize the bittersweet schadenfreude Jodorowsky feels when he finally sits down to watch David Lynch's version of the movie he so desperately wanted to make.

The documentary may not make you run out and buy Jodorowsky's EL TOPO or HOLY MOUNTAIN, but it should convince even those unfamiliar with his work that the filmmaker was a visionary with a keen eye for talent. One of the film's more substantial pleasures is watching him praise the talents of Moebius, Dan O'Bannon, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. We have the luxury of hindsight. Because we know what Giger and O'Bannon did with ALIEN, what Foss did for SUPERMAN and A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, and what Moebius did with STAR WARS, TRON and THE FIFTH ELEMENT, we can "see" through clips of those movies what Jodorowsky's DUNE would have looked like.

Part production history, part biography, the documentary begins with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn relating a dinner at Jodorowsky's home after which his colleague offers to walk him through – page by page – the storyboards of his unrealized dream project. Refn becomes an advanced scout for the audience, inviting us to share an experience in some ways more intimate than seeing an artist's actual film on screen. We get to see the film as it existed (and still exists) in the artist's head. Memory, like film, can arrest time. No matter that his proposed collaborators such as Orson Welles and Salvador Dali are dead, our images of them, like Jodorowsky's own, are suspended in eternity. The title refers not just to the film's subject but to the documentary itself, as Pavich's film is one telling of Jodorowsky's DUNE, the only telling we'll ever get.

Pavich's film is also the age-old tale about the clash between business and art. Jodorowsky, who confesses to having not read Herbert's novel when he begins, is self-taught. He has no preconceptions about what can or cannot be done, and one can easily see in his cavalier dismissal of practical, financial concerns how his exponentially expanding, grandiose ideas might make producers a little queasy. Even so, there is enough self-deprecation in the auteur's whimsical pronouncement that he looked for "spiritual warrior[s]" who would dedicate themselves to his project that the documentary about him never becomes a diatribe.

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE is a lyric poem. It is not as much about an individual artist as the unreserved commitment to ambitious imagination that he represents.

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