Frank Pavich on getting Alejandro Jodorowsky to talk about his failed ‘Dune’

Director Frank Pavich directed "Jodorowsky's Dune," about the making and unmaking of the director's attempt at a Frank Herbert adaptation. Credit: Getty Images
Director Frank Pavich directed “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about the making and unmaking of the director’s attempt at a Frank Herbert adaptation.
Credit: Getty Images

Like many fans of Alejandro Jodorowsky — the Chilean filmmaker of the midnight movie titans “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” — filmmaker Frank Pavich had read about his aborted attempts in the mid-1970s to make a film of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic “Dune.” It was to star Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. It would be designed by Jean “Moebius” Giraud and H.R. Giger. Pink Floyd would do part of the score. But information on it is limited. “One day that road of information ends,” Pavich says, “and the only way to get the whole picture is to contact the guy himself and make a movie about it.” So, that’s what he did. “Jodorowsky’s Dune” tells the tale of the making and un-making of a film intended to revolutionize movies and change the world. Pavich argues that it did that anyway.

How willing was Jodorowsky to participate in the film?

I don’t think he really believed we were going to finish it. I think to a certain extent he said, “Fine, if you want to interview me, fine, whatever, nothing’s going to happen with this anyway.” And then as the years went on and we kept bothering him for more and more and more interviews, I think he realized it was maybe actually going to be completed. Throughout the process he really stayed out of it. He let us tell our version of the story. He wasn’t hounding me for rough cuts or animated sequences or giving us notes. The first time he saw the film was at Cannes.

Jodorowsky could have certainly been unhappy to talk about an old failed project.

We weren’t sure what was going to happen, speaking to someone about a failed project, a project that detailed him. What was he going to be like? Was he going to be sad? Was he going to be bitter? Was he going to be raging against forces that prevented him from making it? But that’s what makes him so wonderful: He was coming from a very pure and open and happy place. He’s like, “Sure, my film didn’t get made. But I made my film.” He considers it done. He says, “Look at the book [of storyboards that he sent to every Hollywood studio]. I created my vision. I wanted to tell the story, I wanted to change the world, and I did that. Everything is done. Everything is realized, from the first scene to the last. It’s over 3000 storyboards, images and costumes, production design, vehicles and clothing, everything. It’s more than a blueprint. It’s ready to go.”

And the ideas did change the world. Even though they didn’t end up in a feature length version of “Dune” directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, those ideas he came up with permeated through the universe and changed the world of movies and changed people’s outlook on things. At the end of the day it’s a success story and not a story of failure.

It’s interesting to think how different movies, even the world, would be if the film had actually been made.

But if his film had been a failure, how would that have affected the timeline of history? Fox was already not terribly supportive of George Lucas and “Star Wars.” If Jodorowsky’s giant mega-bucks space opera had come out and been a failure, you know Fox would have pulled the plug.

And its impact can be felt in other movies, including people like writer Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger winding up on “Alien.”

Without [Jodorowsky] bringing these people together, there would be no “Alien,” there would be no “Blade Runner,” none of these films that have existed for the last 30 to 40 years and changed our landscape and culture. It’s like the universe versus the multiverse. Maybe there’s a universe where Alejandro Jodorowsky is the biggest director in the world. I’d love to live there.

It’d be great to have the storyboard book published, but it’s probably not the same without Jodorowsky guiding you through it, as he did for you and Nicolas Winding Refn.

It’s definitely much more entertaining to have him show you it. That’s what we tried to do here. If that book were to be published you’d see his film. I’ve never seen a preproduction of a film where the film was completely realized and represented. If you sat down for a weekend, you would see Jodorowsky’s version of “Dune,” in its entirety.

Could it ever be published?

You’d probably have to go back to the Frank Herbert estate. I’d like to see it come out in its original dimensions: same size, same images, nothing additional. It should be sold as a limited edition work of art, not a paperback.

How faithful was Jodorowsky to the novel? There are elements, including the end, that are completely his invention.

Some of the scenes that we focus on and bring to life with animation are the creation of Jodorowsky — Duke Leto inseminating Jessica through blood and stuff like that. But if you look at his book, it’s very much “Dune.” It’s all the characters, there’s direct scenes that come from it. This really was his adaptation of “Dune.” It’s not just him taking the name “Dune” and making his own movie. He was really adapting the book.

The again, the book is mostly people standing around, explaining the world to eachother. It’s not often very cinematic, even if it’s a great read.

His point of view is cinema is something different than a book. He was creating a visual, audio world, not words on a page. His philosophy is a movie just can’t be conversation conversation conversation. It needs to be image image image. Only if you can’t express that idea through images, that’s when you speak.

The first half hour or so of “The Holy Mountain” has no words.

But you understand everything. You understand that weird world and it makes sense, in some way.

The film is fuzzy about how long his “Dune” would have run. Any guesstimates?

Probably between two and 20 hours. [Laughs] People thought he was crazy, but he was on the right path. Today people are looking for longer stories. That’s why you have multiple “Spider-Man”s, “The Hunger Games,” nine “Harry Potter” movies. They want long stories, they want long TV series. A series comes out on Netflix and you sit there for 20 hours and watch the whole thing. They’re not looking for short drops in the bucket. They say people have short attention spans, but it’s not true. [Jodorowsky] was really ahead of his time with long stories.

David Lynch’s 1984 film really runs into problems trying to cram it all into two hours and change. The second half is a bloodbath of montages that make little sense.

When his film was out you’d walk into the theater and you’d be handed a glossary page, so you could read that in a dark theater and try and make sense of what’s on screen. Maybe had he been allowed to make a 12 hour or 20 hours version, you wouldn’t have needed that.

It’s odd that Jodorowsky was considered to odd to make “Dune.” And then David Lynch winds up making it instead. And then the try to make this dense, challenging, progressive novel into the next “Star Wars.”

They made Paul Atreides action figures and Topps trading cards for kids. This is not a kid’s movie. [Laughs] When it came out my mother wound not let us see it. I wanted to see it as a child, and my mothers said, “No, you are not to go to that movie.”

Your film seems like it’s trying to give Jodorowsky’s “Dune” a second life of a sort. Where could it go?

There’s a filmmaker who was furious and jealous that [Nicolas Winding] Refn had received personal “viewing” of “Dune” with Jodorowsky. He was like, “I’m coming to your house. I want my ‘viewing’ of ‘Dune.’” And he went to his house and told him he wanted to make the animated version. So we’ll see if that happens.


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