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rochefort [Celluloid 09.24.13] scifi documentary

Alejandro Jodorowsky is the acclaimed writer/producer/director/actor responsible for "El Topo", "The Holy Mountain", and "Santa Sangre". He has directed only seven feature films in a career spanning more than fifty years, and yet his is a body of work as influential as any of the world's best directors. "El Topo" was the original cult film. "The Holy Mountain" is widely regarded as one of the most hallucinatory films ever made. He is a storyteller, philosopher, self-proclaimed shaman, even a puppeteer. And if "Jodorowsky's Dune", the new doc by director Frank Pavich, is accurate, he came this close to making the science-fiction film that might very well have stolen some of the thunder from "Star Wars".

Jodorowsky's version of "Dune" has long been a sort of sacred cow of great movies that were never made, and is one of the rare unproduced films to exert a major influence on its genre. I remember first reading about it in magazines like Starlog and Fantastic Films (yeah, I'm old), where it frequently came up in pieces on everything from "Alien" to "Heavy Metal", and it was common to see articles comparing the eventual version directed by David Lynch to what could have been. In "Jodorowsky's Dune", we get the full story of how Jodorowsky and producer Michel Seydoux traveled the globe in search of the perfect cast and crew, Jodorowsky's "Warriors", their goal to create not just the ultimate science-fiction film, but also a transcendent, psychedelic epic which might have even surpassed the likes of "2001". One of the many triumphs of this new doc is that, by its end, you'll believe they would have succeeded.

If you've only heard or read snippets of Jodorowsky's comments in interviews you couldn't be faulted for thinking he's somewhat insane. This is a guy who has never been even remotely shy when talking about his drug use, mystical experiences and heady ambitions, which can make for some pretty wackadoo soundbites. But in larger doses that perception drastically shifts, revealing an artist who is both an idealistic perfectionist and an incredibly warm, frequently hilarious gentleman. He's the kind of interview subject who wins his audience over almost instantly, and Pavich knows this, dedicating the majority of talking heads-time to the director himself.

Jodorowsky recounts how he managed to bring together his team, often by charming them but just as often scaring them into saying yes, and the talent list is truly impressive. Imagine a version of "Dune" with Salvador Dali as the Emperor, Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd, where Moebius-designed starships fly through space accompanied by a Pink Floyd soundtrack. Picture Paul Atreides' spice-induced visions as realized by Jodorowsky and effects artist Dan O'Bannon, sequences that might have compelled a generation to adapt its recreational drug use in the hopes of achieving a mightier result. This could very well have done for sci-fi what "Apocalypse Now" did for war movies. We're treated to loads of animatics and concept art, and the showcase of imagery is breathtaking even in its raw state, so much so that with each sequence it becomes more and more clear just how sad it is we were never allowed the chance to see the finished film. Surprisingly, the doc is less concerned with inspiring outrage than awe, and Jodorowsky happily guides us through the process like an artist thrilled to finally be displaying a long-gestating work, even if only in skeletal form.

There are tons of making-of's and behind-the-scenes docs out there, and the best of them can reaffirm the accomplishments of their respective films by giving us further insight into themes and subtext, or by revealing the struggles involved in getting to the finish line. And in the end we're satisfied because the happy ending is a foregone conclusion: the film was made, we got to see it, and our lives were made that much better. What an accomplishment, then, that the story of an unmade film could be just as inspirational, perhaps even more so since its failure still reaped more benefits than most films' successes. Without Jodorowsky's "Dune", there would likely be no Giger in Ridley Scott's "Alien", and science-fiction cinema as a whole would have had to struggle even more to break free off its pulpier trappings and seek loftier heights. We may never get to see what could have been, but Jodorowsky and company have nonetheless fueled our imaginations.

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chuc k (9 years ago) Reply

There are so many 'throw away' ideas and images in the Holy Mountain that other directors would have made a whole film around. Jodorowsky's imagination is amazing.
I'm surprized that Fando y Liz doesn't get more attention (especially here). Psychedelic PA is a rare bird.


lotus eater (9 years ago) Reply

his comic book work is really amazing too

Someone needs to give him some money to play with.

hes awesome. i really like him.


Asshole (8 years ago) Reply

I'm so sad I will never get to watch this and that the original vision is now completely impossible, even with a great kickstarter.

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