There are plenty of fascinating unrealized projects from great directors – Sergio Leone's "Stalingrad," Martin Scorsese's "Dino," and David Lynch's "Ronnie Rocket" among them – but few as unlikely and bizarre as Alejandro Jodorowsky's "Dune." Frank Herbert's beloved sci-fi novel was eventually adapted by Lynch in a version that sees him grappling with studio interference and a gigantic scale the director clearly isn't comfortable with, so giving the project to another famous surrealist doesn't necessarily sound like a great idea. Yet in "Jodorowsky's Dune," Frank Pavich's documentary about the aborted project, Jodorowsky proves to be as charming and thoughtful as he is wildly ambitious, to the point where it's hard to believe that anyone could resist the man.
Indiewire spoke with director Frank Pavich about the ongoing interest and influence of Jodorowsky's "Dune," and gathering the right voices to shed light on the project. Sony Pictures Classics opens the film this Friday.
There are so many unrealized projects that hold the public's fascination. Why Jodorowsky's "Dune" rather than Kubrick's "Napoleon" or Coppola's "Megalopolis?"
Two things. I think that this is the most fully realized. The beauty of Kubrick's "Napoleon" was the research. But I think this was the most realized. This was completely storyboarded, completely cast, musicians, everything. His team of artists was ready to go in front of the cameras. That's what makes it cool. It wasn't something spoken about, it was actually something that was gonna happen. And then the fact that many projects die every day and every year, but how many don't come to fruition but still go on to be so influential. I don't know any examples besides this one. Who was influenced by Kubrick's "Napoleon?" I don't know of anybody. It's cool, it's wild, but I don't know that those ideas got out there like the ideas that Jodorowsky had with "Dune." They really permeated the history of the movies. Those are the things that drew me, that I found interesting.
How were you first introduced to Jodorowsky's work? Were you very familiar with him when you first found out about "Dune?"
I was pretty familiar with him, but it was back in the time when you couldn't see his movies. It was in those years where Allen Klein and ABKCO prevented his movies from getting out there, so the only way you could see them was on bootleg VHS tapes in really bad quality stuff. You could barely get an idea. But that also kind of helped to create his myth and mystique, so it kind of backfired on Klein a bit, because it made Jodo into something even more incredible. So I came to him way back then, then was happy when the movies finally got re-released and remastered and put onto DVD. But I come to it originally from the Jodorowsky side.
And along with the re-releases, you get those new projects he planned finally going forward, and his new movie, "The Dance of Reality." Have you seen that yet?
Yes! Many times! I saw it at Cannes, since we were both at Cannes. It was kind of a double feature! You stay in the theater and watch the movie. It was great. I love it, though, I love the new film. It's not for everybody.
That describes him perfectly, though.
Exactly. That's no surprise, but it's beautiful. It's fantastic. It's magical.
Was there anyone in the process of making the film that you tried to get ahold of but couldn't, or had trouble getting in contact with?
No, because really the only people were the people who aren't alive anyone. We've done a couple of festivals, and people were like, "Oh, did you try to get Mick Jagger?" That's not really interesting, because he didn't have such an integral part. If David Carradine was alive, that'd be different. Or Orson Welles, or Moebius, or Salvador Dali, or Dan O'Bannon (who is present via recordings), people that are much more integral. To do some sort of weird stunt casting, "Oh, let's get Mick Jagger," that seemed kind of empty. I also don't like documentaries with too many voices. Sometimes you see a documentary that's 90 minutes and there are 90 people interviewed. I can't figure out what the hell is going on at that point. Let's get a couple people, the main guy can tell the story, we'll get a couple of supporting voices, and that's all we really need to tell the story. Otherwise it gets to be sort of overwhelming, I think.
How did you decide on the supporting voices, with people like Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeny?
We had our core people with Jodo, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, H.R. Giger, people like that, and then we just needed a couple of outside voices to put things into perspective a bit as to where this artwork sits in history. That's why Devin and Drew were good, because they're younger, they're my age, they came up with "Star Wars" and stuff. They could really feel the ramifications of that era. And then we had people like Nicolas Winding Refn, who's Jodorowsky's spiritual filmmaking godson, and Jodorowsky's called him the greatest filmmaker alive, and they know each other very well, so he was a good voice. And Richard Stanley is a Jodo acolyte and has a very similar experience with "The Island of Dr. Moreau." I mean, that's a crazy, amazing story in and of itself. He can speak, if not directly stating it, he can speak from the perspective and point of view of how painful this experience can be. Because he really had a rough time and was out there shooting when he was fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer. And then he went to live in the woods and wear an animal costume to spy on the production. How incredible! He's a character-and-a-half, so we had to have him.
You spent years editing this. Were there any stories or bits that you reluctantly had to cut in order to shape the film?
Oh, so many. The structure, we really just had to keep the freight train rolling down the tracks. Too many anecdotal stories that don't have any real purpose would just sort of slow it down and make it feel weird. We have a lot of good stories, but each story leads to the next one, to a greater idea, to a greater topic. So we just tried to keep it as trim as possible. I don't really think documentaries should be too long, either. This one's 90 minutes, which is the perfect length for me.
What would be one story that you almost kept in, but you had to cut it for the sake of the film?
Jodorowsky was going to shoot part of the film in Algeria. They spoke to the Algerian government, and the Algerian army was going to play extras. Jodorowsky was looking for who was going to play Jessica, and he wanted a strong, beautiful woman, not a weak dainty woman. Someone with a real spiritual strength. He saw a movie with Charlotte Rampling, and thought she would be perfect. They sent Charlotte Rampling the script, and she agreed to meet with Jodo before she had read the script, and in the script, there is a scene where a character named Rabban the Beast, part of the Harkonnen army. In order to insult Duke Leto, David Carradine, Rabban the Beast gets his army, the Algerian army, to pull down their pants in front of the palace and shit. So there's going to be a scene of 2,000 extras defecating at once. So here's Charlotte Rampling, she agrees to meet with Jodo, she gets the script, she reads the script, and she says, "I can't be in a movie where there's 2,000 extras defecating on screen! I need to be in a movie that people are actually going to see! Who the hell is going to see this movie?" Jodo said, "It was a great disappointment for me. A great disappointment." It's kind of fantastic.