“They tried and failed? All of them?”
So goes the question Paul Atreides asks the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam early in Frank Herbert’s Dune. While the powerful Bene Gesserit answers far more harshly than is required for a discussion about the making of movies, Paul’s brief meditation on the failure of those who came before him is still appropriate when thinking about the many attempts to bring the legendary sci-fi novel to the screen.
One of those attempts came from Alejandro Jodorowsky, who spent years working on a Dune movie that never came to be, and might just be the most famous unmade film of all time.
During a conversation with Jodorowsky about his latest documentary Psychomagic, A Healing Art, we asked the director for his thoughts about the first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. While the director has praise for the trailer, he’s quick to make the distinction between “industrial cinema” and that which is made as “an artistic realization…by an auteur.” That seems to be how he sees the difference between the version of Dune he wanted to make and the one Villeneuve showcased in the recent trailer.
“Myself, I made an enormous project of a film that will not be a normal film,” Jodorowsky says. “I think in 14, 16, maybe 19 hours, my film. They think I was crazy. Hollywood thinks he is crazy. A picture, one hour and a half or two hours, no more… The kind of Dune I did was completely an artistic product, whose finality was not the mandate. The finality was a marvelous work.”
And a “marvelous work” it would have been, indeed. With a cast that would have included Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, and Mick Jagger, with music by Pink Floyd, and designs by Moebius, HR Giger, and Christopher Foss, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been a psychedelic vision, one that may have had little to do with conventional sci-fi filmmaking wisdom, or even its source material.
By comparison, David Lynch’s ambitious 1984 Dune adaptation was relatively conventional blockbuster fare. And while Denis Villeneuve’s new movie certainly seems more faithful to the book, Jodorowsky is skeptical that a modern Hollywood version of Dune, made even with the best intentions, can be the kind of art he once strived for.
“I was thinking in the art, not in the money….Hollywood is the contrary,” he says. “Hollywood first is the money, and then the work. And then the work cannot be in Hollywood in the hand of one person. Impossible. [It] needs to be in the hands of an army of artisan workers. And the principal person is the producer. What does this mean, producer? And the director cannot realize the work as an artist who lives off the object he is doing. It’s everything, it’s his life, he can die if he doesn’t do his work, he can die. Van Gogh cut an ear. But I don’t see a director of Hollywood cutting an ear there because he cannot make his picture.”
Still, he does have some praise for the vision of Dune presented in that trailer.
“The trailer of Dune is a good, good trailer of one industrial movie,” he says. “It’s good, but is similar to other pictures. Nothing, nothing which can open your mind. But it’s a lot of fun….this trailer shows me it is a good industrial picture, but it’s not art. It’s some kind of art. It’s industrial art. It’s possible, there are very marvelous industrial art pictures.”
It should come as no surprise that Jodorowsky, a niche director of cult-classic surrealist indie films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain, has no real love for traditional Hollywood blockbusters — and that extends to modern superhero movies. He seems to think that audiences who have gotten used to superhero movies are unlikely to fully embrace a proper Dune adaptation.
“Maybe they will like, and Hollywood will be happy he will make the business. We are proudest, we say, ‘Dune made the first week $400 million.’ A million million dollars, it’s a success, it’s a big masterpiece. Big master shit. This is a big, a big product, this quantity of money. It’s good for the industry. It’s good. Okay, okay. But that will be that.”
As for how Jodorowsky thinks the new Dune movie might be received…
“A person who likes Jodorowsky’s Dune, who knows what I wanted to do, and they will not find what I wanted to do [in Villeneuve’s Dune]. And they will start to call me in order to make me speak bad of the picture Dune. ‘Hey Jodorowsky, what do you think about that? What do you think about that?’ I will say I think he’s good in his area. In the industrial movies, he’s very good, he makes a lot of money, fantastic. If that doesn’t make money, they will reject the director, he will be made poor. Hollywood will reject because a director who doesn’t make money for them is not a good director. That is the real situation for me.”
Psychomagic, A Healing Art is now available on Alamo on Demand. The Alejandro Jodorowsky 4K Restoration Collection is also available now. Villeneuve’s Dune is scheduled to open in December of 2018, but that is likely to change. We’ll have MUCH more from our talk with Jodorowsky in the coming days.