Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
The Most Influential Movie Never Made:
An Interview with Frank Pavich, Director of JODOROWSKY'S DUNE
By Joshua Handler
A bit of background first: by the mid-1970s, legendary cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky had already made two hits: El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Because The Holy Mountain, in particular, was such a big success, producer Michel Seydoux decided to give Jodorowsky carte blanche to make whatever film he wanted to make next. Jodorowsky decided on Dune, Frank Herbert's notoriously dense sci-fi epic, even though he'd never read it. The film was to star, among others, Jodorowsky's son, Brontis, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, and Orson Welles. It had the most incredible team of designers and technicians around. But, it never got made. However, through its wide-spread influence, it changed the face of science fiction cinema.
Fast forward to 2011. Filmmaker Frank Pavich decided that he wanted to make a film about the making and unmaking of Jodorowsky's Dune. Pavich said he was drawn to "the story itself. Once you know a little bit about Jodo and his films and then you learn that he was going to do an adaptation of Dune...what the hell is cooler than that? It's literally an out of this world idea...it just sounded fascinating."
Pavich found Jodorowsky through the Internet. "I found him online. I just found him," Pavich says even now with disbelief. "It's interesting to wake up and see an unread email from Alejandro Jodorowsky." Pavich then flew to Paris to visit Jodorowsky's home. "Oh I have to go to Paris and go to Alejandro Jodorowsky's house! Oh poor me," joked Pavich about his first visit. Jodorowsky agreed to be the film's main subject because "[h]e felt that I'd tell the story well and I'd tell it with respect," says Pavich proudly.
Production on Jodorowsky's Dune began in February 2011 and continued on into 2013. Once Pavich secured Jodorowsky for interviews, everyone else involved in Jodorowsky's production of Dune agreed to be interviewed because of their admiration for Jodorowsky. Director Nicolas Winding Refn was in middle of the promo tour for Drive, yet he emailed Pavich back immediately about being interviewed for Jodorowsky's Dune because of his love and respect for Jodorowsky. Refn is friends with Jodorowsky and has been heavily influenced by his work. Refn is also the only one to have "seen" Jodorowsky's version of Dune. While Jodorowsky's version of Dune was never produced (David Lynch's was, a few years later), Jodorowsky, along with artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, storyboarded the entire film and published it in a book, of which only a few copies exist. Jodorowsky invited Refn to his house one evening and showed him the book. He brought the unmade film to life for Refn. According to Pavich, "Once [Jodorowsky]...opens [the book], he becomes...a little kid almost. He keeps saying 'look what I invented,' and he did. The book is full of cinematic inventions...[Jodo's] the best."
The cinematic inventions of Jodorowsky's Dune changed the industry. "Let's say that there's another timeline and let's say this timeline is where Jodo completes his film and it ends up on the big screen...and let's say [it's] a huge smashing success...what would that mean for the studios? Would they look at bizarre, auteur-driven, fantastical, out-there films to be worthwhile and financially viable? Would we have seen more films like that - more intellectual films, larger-budgeted films directed by people with really unique visions? And if so, what would the big movies be every summer?
"Let's say there's another timeline where Jodo makes his Dune before George Lucas [makes Star Wars]...and Jodorowsky's Dune is a huge failure...[A]t that same time, you have George Lucas and his guys working on Star Wars at 20th Century Fox. Fox was not behind Star Wars. If Jodo's sci-fi space opera had failed, the other sci-fi space opera that was being made at the same time definitely would have been cancelled...and then for better or for worse, we don't have Star Wars. Where does that bring us then to today? Do we have franchises? No matter what happens...the world is a different place." Pavich also mentioned that without Dune, there's no Alien. Without Alien, there's no Ridley Scott or David Fincher, which means no Blade Runner, no Fight Club, no The Social Network.
The story beyond the movie has a happy ending. Jodorowsky's Dune premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, along with Jodorowsky's own film, The Dance of Reality, and Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, which is dedicated to Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky attended the premiere of Jodorowsky's Dune at Cannes. Pavich was "terrified" to show Jodorowsky the film. "So what did you think?" Pavich asked Jodorowsky when the film ended. "It's perfect," he replied, tears streaming down his face. I sincerely hope you enjoy Jodorowsky's Dune as much as Jodorowsky himself. It's an excellent film. My full review will be published later today.