Frank Pavich's "Jodorowsky's Dune," opening this week in limited release, is a documentary that, for film freaks at least, is something close to miraculous (read our review). It's a detailed, first-hand account of Chilean-French filmmaker Alejando Jodorowsky's failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert's influential sci-fi novel "Dune" to the big screen (years before David Lynch "succeeded" in making a movie out of the difficult material). At one point Jodorowsky explains that he wanted to create the experience of a psychedelic trip… without the drugs. What could have possibly gone wrong? We got to sit down with Jodorowsky at South by Southwest, and while we mostly talked about his new film "Dance of Reality" (out in May—read our review), we were able to squeeze in a few questions about "Dune."
One of the big focuses of the movie is a book that Jodorowsky made which lavishly detailed his plans for "Dune." Hundreds of pages long, lovingly illustrated by French comic book illustrator Mœbius (née Jean Girard), the book broke down, beat for beat, what the movie would end up becoming. Production artwork from H.R. Giger, costume and character sketches from Mœbius and other miscellanea (some of it composed by Dan O'Bannon, a fledgling screenwriter who worked on the movie's visual effects) are crammed into this book, which almost every studio had in their possession at some point and has taken on a talismanic quality in the years since the production was shut down. This was the blueprint for "Dune." (At one point in the documentary Nicolas Winding Refn recounts the time he spent with Jodorowsky narrating the entire book for him. A rare treat indeed. Refn claims he's the only person on Earth who's actually "seen" Jodorowsky's "Dune.")
We started with Jodorowsky about "Dune" after the filmmaker expressed his interest and, indeed, love of new digital technology, which he says allows him to go back and fix things that he was unhappy about in his earlier films and would have probably allowed his vision of "Dune" to reach the big screen as he had original intended it. We also discussed how no rumor about "Dune" is too extravagant, since the reality was so much nuttier, and whether or not his "Dune" book will ever be published.
It seems like with this new technology, your version of "Dune" would have been a lot easier to achieve.
At that time they said I was crazy because I wanted to make a movie that was 14 or 16 hours. But now people do it. There are three—"Hobbit 1," "Hobbit 2," "Hobbit 3." Everything I wanted to do is possible to do today.
Do you feel satisfied in some way that, at the very least, the intent of the movie is getting across?
Yes. Justice! The world has justice! When Pavich came to see me, I thought he was a crazy person. And then we started to talk. And he put it in the picture. I wasn't speaking for the picture, I was speaking for him. In the world, what you do has a value but what you don't do also has a value. For me "Dune" was a dream—a big dream! And I am happy like this. It's a dream that I intended to do, which is good.
What's the craziest story you ever heard about "Dune?"
There was nothing too crazy. When we didn't make the picture, Dan O'Bannon needed to be interned in a mental institution for two years, suffering because we didn't get to do "Dune." And when he came out he wrote the script for "Alien." "Alien" was the reaction to not doing "Dune." Who would believe that? But it's true!
Would you ever be able to publish the book?
The book is there. It's there. One day it will be published. But the widow of Mœbius is making problems, because she wants a lot of money. But it's not really Mœbius. I dictated the whole thing to him. It's an illustrated script—that is all. And we paid him. But she wants more money. We are waiting. Japan want to publish, French want to publish, I have propositions. One day, yes. One day… I made the whole picture, shot by shot, with dialogue, with everything. I worked two years on that.
"Jodorowsky's Dune" opens today. We'll have more from our interview with Jodorowsky before "Dance of Reality" opens in June.