The story behind the greatest film never made
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
photo: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s, unscussessful attempt at adapting the science fiction novel, “Dune” is the focus of Director Frank Pavich’s
The old adage goes that the greatest journeys begin with that single first step, but what about the epic odyssey you and a band of merry spiritual warriors embark on that never reaches its destination? Does the first step matter if you end up somewhere, God knows where, in a desert with swirling winds that wipe away your steps, leaving you standing in the infinite expanse?
That is what happened to Alejandro Jodorowsky, the surreal cult filmmaker, the untrained artist, who dared to tackle the impossible text of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” back in 1974, a decade after it was published and earned worldwide bestseller status. It was the science fiction prophetic opera of the rise of Paul Atreides, the boy who would become Muad’dib, the prophet of the universe. This was before the dawn of the current young adult fiction movement – books marketed to tweens and teens complete with “empowered” protagonists and chastely budding hints of romantic longing. “Dune” was adult literature that ended up spawning a franchise, which traveled forward and backward through time and space in an effort to create a rich and dynamic universe.
I was an early “Dune” devotee who has continued to keep a foothold in that world, now guided by Herbert’s son, Brian. So, as soon as I spied the title “Jodorowsky’s Dune” in the program for last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I leapt at the chance to see director Frank Pavich’s film, which captures the mercurial genius of Jodorowsky and fashions a marvelous tribute to what might have been. Jodorowsky comes across as a man who embraces his madness because that passion will lead him to the altar of art. He is the ideal, the Super Soldier of human artistic aspiration and it could be argued the world of film could use a few more like him.
Who else would seize a revered tome like “Dune” – without having read it – and then gather a team of artists and collaborators to remake it in their psychedelically deranged image, rather than producing a faithful recitation? A man like Jodorowsky who happens to be a man without fear – that’s who.
The idea of Jodorowsky leaps off an early page of “Dune” when young Paul Atreides finds himself being tested for his potential to be the messianic figure several groups have been attempting to engineer.
To steady himself, Atreides recites the following mantra, known as the Litany against Fear: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
If only studio executives, prior to assuming their responsibilities, were pressed to pledge allegiance to this litany against fear as a call to creative arms. Imagine the films that might result from such fearlessness? Jodorowsky illuminated the way, captured here by Pavich, daring to fashion “Dune” according to his own vision and muse. Herbert’s book offered little more than a blueprint, but there was no need to slavishly recreate what had already been formed.
Jodorowsky’s madcap “what might have been” dreams found their way into the reel world thanks to his spiritual warriors – HR Giger, Chris Foss and Dan O’Bannon who scattered the seeds of their artistic efforts into a host of projects – most notably the “Alien” franchise – that still, through some degree of creative artificial insemination, could transform the science fiction universe into a seriously demented – and beautiful – clone of the genius vision that belongs to Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.