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Jodorowsky’s Dune

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Jodorowsky’s Dune, Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary, tells the story of the “greatest movie never made,” Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abortive adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Jodorowsky is a Chilean-born Jewish filmmaker and author of graphic novels and books on spirituality, psychology, magic, and divination. I have reviewed his The Dance of Reality at Counter-Currents.

In 1974, after the successes of his psychedelic cult films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky and his friend Michel Seydoux decided upon an adaptation of Dune and began assembling an amazing cast and creative team.

To help create the world of Dune, including designs for sets and costumes, Jodorowsky brought in French cartoonist/graphic novelist Jean Giraud (Moebius), English science fiction illustrator Chris Foss, and Swiss surrealist painter H. R. Giger. To realize their designs, he hired Dan O’Bannon to do special effects. For music, Jodorowski settled on Pink Floyd, with Magma to provide the music of the Harkonnens.

Chris Foss painting of pirate ship for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowski’s casting decisions were equally inspired. Salvador Dalí was to play Emperor Shaddam IV. Dalí wanted to be the best paid actor in the world. It was agreed he would be paid $100,000 per minute — but not for minutes worked, for minutes on the screen. Dalí also suggested plot elements and set designs, right down to the emperor’s toilet. At one point, he asked for a flaming giraffe, which was duly inked into the storyboards by Moebius. Clearly, Dalí was perfect for the role of a megalomaniac. Dalí ‘s muse Amanda Lear was to play Shaddam’s daughter Princess Irulan.

Fan poster art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

For the Harkonnens, Orson Welles was to play Baron Harkonnen; Mick Jagger was cast as Feyd-Rautha; and Udo Kier was to play Piter De Vries.

David Carradine was cast as Duke Leto Atreides, and Jodorowski’s son Brontis was to play Paul.

Although not mentioned in the film, Gloria Swanson was also cast, perhaps as Reverend Mother Mohiam.

Chris Foss design for Shaddam’s traveling palace

Apparently Jodorowsky had not even read Dune before suggesting the project. He simply had second-hand reports about a science fiction epic involving a mind-expanding drug and the coming of a messiah. But he wanted to suggest a highly ambitious project, and Dune popped into his head. Later, when he read the book, he came to regard it highly, “like great literature,” comparing Herbert to Proust.

Alejandro Jodorowsky (left) and Michel Seydoux (right)

Jodorowsky decided to make Dune into a vehicle for his own LSD-fueled version of Vedanta, much like his classic The Holy Mountain. Thus, his vision departed from the novel in crucial ways. Like David Lynch after him, he wanted to emphasize the genuinely magical and messianic elements of Herbert’s more ambiguous story. He wanted to make a movie that would give people a unitative mystical experience analogous to a psychedelic trip. His goal was to create something sacred, and he treated his creative team like a band of spiritual warriors.

In Jodorowsky’s telling, Duke Leto has been castrated in a bullfight, and Paul is conceived by Bene Gesserit magic from a drop of his blood. This plot device later appeared in Jodorowsky’s graphic novel The Metabarons. Leto is also tortured and dismembered by Piter De Vries in a scene resembling the Passion of the Christ.

But the most shocking departure is that Paul Atreides dies at the end, his throat slashed by a minor character, Margot Fenring. But Paul cannot really die, for he has transcended his ego and become one with the cosmos. Death simply cuts his final tie with individuality and ego. Jordorowksy’s dramatization of this apotheosis is brilliant: everyone begins to speak with Paul’s voice. “I am Paul. “I am Paul.”

Then, in a miracle far outshining Lynch’s rainstorm on Arrakis, the planet too is awakened. It transforms itself into a verdant paradise and begins moving through the galaxy, seeding it with cosmic consciousness. Naturally, none of Herbert’s sequels would have been possible. It is not known what Frank Herbert thought of this ending, but he did have a good working relationship with Jodorowsky. In the documentary, Jodorowsky likens his adaptation to rape — but with love.

The first draft of Jodorowsky’s Dune — the script, the storyboards by Moebius, plus paintings by Foss and Giger — were pulled together into the legendary Dune Book, as thick as a major city’s telephone directory. If there were ever a project for Taschen to publish, this is it.

Copies of the Dune Book were sent to all the major Hollywood studios, including Disney. But nobody wanted to finance a 14-hour movie. So after two years of intensive creative work, the project was canceled.

But the Dune Book, like the traveling planet, was still out there, passing from hand to hand, fertilizing the imaginations of many moviemakers to come. As Brontis Jodorowsky points out, when you watch many movies you hear the voice, “I am Dune.” “I am Dune.”

For instance, Dan O’Bannon wrote a script and brought together Giger, Moebius, and Foss to make Alien. The original Star Wars trilogy owes much to Dune, specifically to Jodorowsky’s Dune. The documentary points out borrowings in The Terminator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Masters of the Universe, Contact, and Prometheus. I think a case could be made for borrowings in Akira. Clearly there were also subtle borrowings — let us call them homages — in Lynch’s Dune, including a glimpse of a fat face and open mouth on the Harkonnen planet that quotes Giger’s original design for the Baron’s Castle. If only Lynch had used more.

Pavich’s documentary is highly entertaining, and I recommend it without reservations. Pavich interviews Jodorowsky — whose charisma is undimmed even in old age — and as many of the surviving participants as possible. But my favorite sequences were simple slide-show animations of the storyboards. Jodorowsky, of course, went on to produce multiple films and graphic novels. But it is a pity he never revisited Dune, for he already had the makings of a brilliant animated series. Quick, somebody translate this review into Japanese.





  1. Collin Cleary
    Posted November 7, 2018 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    “Jodorowsky decided to make Dune into a vehicle for his own LSD-fueled version of Vedanta, much like his classic The Holy Mountain.” This is highly misleading. Jodorowsky is not and was not an avid user of psychedelics. He didn’t need LSD to make The Holy Mountain, or to conceive any of his other projects. All of it came from the “naturally psychedelic” imagination he was gifted with.

    • Rob Bottom
      Posted November 8, 2018 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      Jorodowsky has himself used that description:

      Jodorowsky has described his films as the equivalent of psychedelic drugs.

      Meanwhile, Lennon had persuaded Klein to put up $1m to help Jodorowsky make another film, The Holy Mountain. […] Jodorowsky hired a fashionable guru to prepare him, performing mystical exercises and experimenting with LSD and magic mushrooms (the only time he has taken drugs, he says).

      And he was hanging out with John Lennon, who was a big fan? Around the time of The Beatles’ psychedelic period? I don’t see the problem in Lynch’s description. Nor would Jorodoswky’s use of LSD take anything away from him or the other artists who worked on these projects, or The Beatles’ songs from the era for that matter.

  2. minsc
    Posted November 7, 2018 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    I think that it was better that he got to develop his vision independently via graphic novels. If it was attached to another work, then both his vision and that of the work in question would have to suffer in order to achieve synthesis.
    Here’s hoping that we’ll get animated series of some of Jodoverse comics, rather than his Dune. IIRC at one point there was actually some talk of live action Hollywood adaptation of Incal, but I have a hard time imagining that working out.

    Another thing. If you want some laughs, take a look at articles about Jodo’s and Lynch’s Dune(s). Former in particular is quite something.

  3. Afterthought
    Posted November 7, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Some nice Election Hangover filler?

    I eagerly await Greg’s take on the future of white safety within the paradigm of America as we know it.

    My take is Partition.

  4. Benjamin
    Posted November 7, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Jodorowsky is my favorite living Jew lol. If only more of his fellow tribesmen were more like him and used their insanity for creative artistic endeavors instead of undermining Western Civilization, there wouldn’t be any anti-Semitism to speak of in the world.

    OP documentary is legit worth paying the $5 it is to stream off of Amazon.

    “The Holy Mountain” was great too.

    Couldn’t sit through “El Topo“ though.

  5. Vauquelin
    Posted November 7, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Jodorowsky amazes, inspires and befuddles. I’ve long wondered what Counter Current thinks of him. He is what I consider to be one of several “good Jews” in the arts, one who seems above pathological Judaic political behavior but nevertheless exudes an unmistakeable Judaism that seems ascended and healthy, intertwined with the occult but never against the Western spirit, instead married to it. His great bargaining skills and shrewd artistic radicalism come to mind, plus his love of the grotesque. Yet he also seems totally antithetical to the material, to money, wealth and the shallow pursuit thereof – what Jodorowsky craves is spirit, boundless ambition, and true greatness.

    The Dune project is a testament to this, and the fact that it was never made serves to illustrate his points. It’s as if its failure was intended. He seems bitter about the profit-oriented Hollywood studio culture rejecting his dream, but also energized: he now gets to mythologize it, rile against its soullessness and spiritual bankruptcy while expounding great narratives about the metaphysical aspects of His Dune, how its death made it influential, and the “soft power” of artistic influence the project went on to have. This documentary is as great and intriguing as the man himself.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted November 7, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Very well put.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted November 7, 2018 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Thomas Mann said that the grotesque is the ultimate anti-bourgeois style because it rejects progressivist meliorism. The grotesque is Platonist in the broad sense, since it underscores the gap between the idea and the material planes of existence. There’s nothing specifically Jewish about it.

  6. Francis
    Posted November 8, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I saw this film on opening night some years ago. To this day, his book has not been published for the public.

  7. Christopher
    Posted November 10, 2018 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    I would gladly accept Jodorowski’s Dune in any form: movie, tv series, animated series or graphic novel. I wasn’t a fan of the departures from Herbert’s story, but am open to rethinking it after hearing TL describe them as brilliant. This review may be long overdue, but definitely belongs on the site. Thanks!

    I wonder if we’ll ever get a review on the Twin Peaks sequel. I thoroughly enjoyed the season, but also experienced frustrated expectations and overwhelming confusion. I’d love to have Trevor Lynch guide me through this landmark television event.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted November 10, 2018 at 2:38 am | Permalink

      I was very disappointed by the new Twin Peaks and cannot summon any enthusiasm to rewatch it or write about it. Maybe someday.

  8. R_Moreland
    Posted November 11, 2018 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    I’ve shown Jodorowsky’s Dune to several people and they were all entranced. A major theme is the artist as warrior, using the medium to promote a higher order message. The team Jodorowsky assembled to work on his version of Dune was a cultural mannerbund and the documentary can be a way to open people to certain meta-physical/-political concepts. There’s that element of Dune archeo-futurism which has been commented on elsewhere on this website. It certainly can be an inspiration to those dissidents operating on the “desert” of the post-modern world and looking to open up (White) consciousness.

    You can find samples of the Dune pre-production artwork scattered about the Internet. H. R. Giger’s depictions of Harkonnen Castle and an Arrakis sandworm are especially impressive. (I first came into contact with Jodorowsky’s plan for a film of Herbert’s novel many years ago with a collection of Giger’s artwork found in a used bookstore.) Dune strikes some primal chords, manifested in books, films, art, video games, a rock band and all sorts of online and offline materials.

    As for being the “greatest movie never made,” today there is crowd funding and CGI which, under the right helm, could make a reality out of Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune.

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