Friday, August 1, 2014

Jodorosky's Dune

"What is to give light
               must endure burning"

- Viktor E. Frankl

Jodorosky's Dune begins with the quote above.  Bill Laswell told me a few weeks ago that it was absolutely essential I see this.  I finally got the chance to view it last night so will pass on the message.  Anyone in any kind of creative art, anyone on any kind of spiritual path, course, direction, or inclination, anyone with the wish to be more alive, will benefit immensely from this documentary.  It inspires and challenges everyone to not hold back and reach for their wildest hopes and dreams.  Jodorosky's story excellently illustrates Will in action.  Not only Will in action but a Master's Will in action.  This despite the fact that in the superficial, "Hollywood," valuation of things, the project failed.  Jodorosky's Dune, the film not the documentary, never got made.  Jodorosky's Dune, the recently released documentary, is about the making of a film that never got made.  In the underground, culturally effective valuation of things the project reaped tremendous success over the years with it's influence on subsequent blockbuster science fiction films.  A montage towards the end compares ideas initially presented in the Dune storyboards with their realization in films like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Arc, and even as recently as Ridley Scott's Prometheus.

Who is Jodorosky, what is Dune, and why should anyone care?  Alejandro Jodorosky is best known as director and actor in the surrealist classics, El Topo and The Holy Mountain.  Both exemplify strong spiritual themes though not always coherently or easily understandable - they explicitly show the influence of alchemy, Buddhism, and tarot, particularly in The Holy Mountain which got partially financed by John  Lennon and Yoko Ono.   Jodorosky's background is in experimental theater, producing and directing over a hundred shows in Mexico before getting into film-making.  He studied and practiced Zen Buddhism intensely for 5 years with a Japanese roshi in Mexico.  While making The Holy Mountain, Jodorosky became involved with Oscar Ichazo whom he described as his guru.  Ichazo, started an esoteric School called Arica influenced by Gurdjieff and Sufism among other things.  He initiated and ran a famous retreat in the Chilean desert that John Lilly recounts in The Center of the Cyclone.  I have heard that Jodorosky attended at least part of this intense training though have to get that verified.  My friend Lily Nova remembers him from his Arica days.  Jodo (as he signs his graphic novels) also received intensive training from one of Gurdjieff's daughters as told in his autobiographical The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorosky.  In short, Jodorosky seems one of the most spiritually equipped film directors/storytellers on this planet as made evident in this doc.

Alejandro Jodorosky

Dune, published in 1965 by Frank Herbert unquestionably rates as a Science Fiction classic of the first order.   It claims to be the world's best selling Science Fiction book of all time.   The Library Journal declared that "Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of the Rings is to fantasy." E.J. Gold, who knew Herbert through his father, science fiction editor H.L. Gold, told me that Herbert and he once met in a restaurant for several hours discussing an idea they both had independently arrived at.  Gold left the meeting and wrote The American Book of the Dead inspired by that idea while Herbert left the meeting and wrote Dune based on the same idea.  Whether or not this literally happened, the story certainly points to something.  Gold and Jodorosky share a mutually close friend, Claudio Naranjo known for his presentation of the Enneagram diagram/map of energetic and psychological processes, and for the School he started called Seekers After Truth.

Making a film of Dune was set to be the pinnacle of Jodorosky's film-making career, his Citizen Kane, his Apocalypse Now.  After The Holy Mountain was released he was approached by a producer, Michael Seydoux who told him that The Holy Mountain was a success, that he could now have the money to make any film he wanted.  Jodorosky told him he wanted to make a film of Dune, amazingly, without ever having read the book.  He decided using pure intuition and the story perfectly fit the vision he had to tell though he did change the ending.  Dune, the book continues on into several sequels   Jodorosky wanted the film to have an ending.  He wanted to create a picture that would change people's perceptions, to give them an acid experience without the drug.  He said that he wanted to "create a Prophet."  In effect, he wanted to create a piece of art that could change the world.

Jodorosky's method of realizing his vision was no holds barred, reach for the sky, think big, anything seems possible with the correct application of Will.  He berated Pink Floyd when they appeared distracted and disinterested while on a lunch break from mixing Dark Side of the Moon and got them to pay attention and get on board.  He wanted and got Salvador Dali and Orson Welles each of whom were reluctant and had to be persuaded in unique individual ways.  In fact, a fun part of this doc are the stories told of how Jodo convinced the separate members of his team to participate going so far as to apparently demonstrate psychic abilities according his Special FX man Dan O'Bannon when they first met.  How he found O'Bannon makes a great story in itself after rejecting the guy who did the FX for 2001. 

Jodo's approach to everyone was different but the passion and focus he had looked quite apparent to all.  He says in the doc that at that time he would have cut off his arm if that was necessary.  He cast his son in the lead role of Paul Arteides, as he didn't know anyone else he could trust with the part, then hired a martial arts master to give him intensive training for two years to make him a Spiritual Warrior.

Moebius, the now well-known illustrator was hired to storyboard every single camera shot.  Jodo says he shot the entire movie in storyboard.  I don't remember the name of the famous artist he approached to design some of the set pieces - have to watch it again - that artist wasn't available, but he recommended H.R. Giger, virtually unknown at the time, beginning Giger's career in film.

It's not made apparent in the doc, but rumor has it that Jodorosky spent money without concern, some might say recklessly.   They reached a point where a major investment was needed to continue.  A large book was made containing all the storyboards and everything detailing exactly how the film would get made and distributed to all the Hollywood studios.  They all said they loved the ideas and the whole thing, but hated the Director, Jodorosky.  They don't really say why,  probably felt that he couldn't be controlled.  Ironic, because the whole vision which the studios liked had come from Jodo and the team he assembled.  As a result, it didn't get funding and was shelved.

It's interesting to see how Jodorosky dealt with this huge setback.  It didn't break him, rather got him to drastically change directions.  His next foray went into the world of graphic novels where he could tell stories and use themes originally intended for Dune.  He definitely has a few words for the film industry, I'm glad he publicly gets to have his say.

Dino de Laurentis hired David Lynch to direct a completely different version of Dune a few years later.  The segment of Jodo handling that shows his Spiritual Warrior graciousness.  He has tremendous respect for Lynch, " the only other director who could do it,"  but is greatly relieved when the movie turns out to be terrible, not an uncommon opinion.  Even then, he says it couldn't have been  Lynch's fault, sloughing the blame off on the producers.

Someone recently said to me that Jodorosky's Dune may have been the most influential movie that never got made.  Ridley Scott used most of the key production people Jodo assembled for Dune and had a huge hit a few years later with Alien.  A number of other examples are given in the aforementioned montage along with a few testimonies from film people.

I suggest anyone having anything to do with creative arts see this documentary to experience the passion and Will one person devoted to his life's work.  Jodo said he wanted to make something sacred.

Jodorosky's final message in the doc can't help but leave one inspired.  He's essentially saying, this is what I did now lets see what you can do.  Don't be afraid to try, I wasn't, don't be afraid to reach for the sky.


  1. Oz
    Hello. We met in Morocco during your recent film shoot. I had a most excellent time watching the musicians and listening to your stories. Was the project completed or did the makers run out of money and abandon it as you had feared? I hope you are well. I have enjoyed your diary entries.
    الكثير من الحظ --C.Dorin

  2. I'm sorry, I don't know who you are. I don't remember telling any stories to anyone apart from the Smithsonian magazine people and some people in the crew always privately. I also don't remember ever having the concern, worry, much less fear that you express. I'm not a movie maker so I don't really care too much if it gets done. If it does - great! It'll be very interesting. I was told it would take at least a year. The African doc that I worked which is almost done will take something like 7 years. One must have patience with these things.

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