Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn, Diane O'Bannon, Christian Vander, Jean-Pierre Vignau, Amanda Lear
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Frank Pavich
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent and sexual images and drug references
Language: English, Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 03/21/2014

Jodorowsky's Dune (2014)

4 Stars (out of 4)

So What?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As a professional movie buff, I confess that, in general, it's much easier to get excited about documentaries about movies than it is to get excited about documentaries about, say, war or the climate crisis or the financial crisis or the food crisis. However, aside from Jodorowsky's Dune being spectacularly entertaining and intriguing, as well as flat-out surprising, it also contains wonderful themes, worth carrying into any aspect of life.

Currently age 85, Alejandro Jodorowsky is a legendary Chilean filmmaker, more along the lines of a maverick, or an outsider, than someone respected or revered. His first feature film, Fando & Lis (1967) apparently caused a full-scale riot at the Acapulco film festival. His second feature film, El Topo (1970) became the first official midnight movie hit. Following these two, in the forty-five years since, Jodorowsky has been able to make only five other films, the fifth one, The Dance of Reality, making the rounds at the same time as this documentary.

One of the films he wanted to make during all that that time was an adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune. He wrote a script, hired a bunch of artists, designers, and actors, and created a huge book filled with astounding images and ideas. But funding never happened. It was too much of a risk, even in the 1970s when risks were far more plentiful than they are now.

The very first DVD I ever reviewed was Fando & Lis, which contains a great documentary called La constellation Jodorowsky (1994). It was in that film that I first discovered what a great storyteller, and what an artistic inspiration, Jodorowsky is. In the new movie, documentary filmmaker Frank Pavich interviews Jodorowsky and goes, step-by-step, through the preproduction. Time has not dimmed his light at all. It's still incredibly exciting to listen to him.

Learning about all the casting and hiring on the film is part of the pleasure of watching this documentary, so I will only briefly mention the people who are actually still alive to talk about it, aside from Jodorowsky himself: producer Michel Seydoux, artists H.R. Giger and Chris Foss, and Jodorowsky's son Brontis, who appeared as a child in El Topo and was set to play Paul in Dune. Jodorowsky uses the phrase "spiritual warriors" again and again to describe the cast and crew he was assembling. For example, he interviewed special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and did not hire him for the simple reason that he was not a spiritual warrior.

Other interviewees include film directors Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Richard Stanley (Hardware), Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, and film critics Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci. Thankfully, the movie includes a generous selection of striking, haunting drawings and paintings, showing what the film might have looked like. The film makes an argument that, even though this Dune fell through, its images and ideas continued to resonate throughout Hollywood and inspired many other films, including Star Wars, Alien, The Matrix, etc.

We're left with Jodorowsky himself, who was forced to look for other ways to exorcize his unmade movie; many of the themes made it into his comics. He also hilariously describes the experience of seeing David Lynch's ultimately released Dune (1984). But I love Jodorowsky's conclusion to this whole thing. Speaking a combination of Spanish and raw, subtitled English, he gives us his current reaction to the loss of his film, or, indeed, to anything else life throws at him. "They come? You say 'yes.' They go? You say 'yes'... and 'so what?'!"

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released a two-disc combo set with a DVD and a Blu-ray. The picture and sound is very clear, even if it's not quite dazzling. It looks a bit flat, which is probably fine given that this is a documentary based mostly on talking heads, drawings, and photos. Extras include some trailers and about 45 minutes of deleted scenes, which, in itself, is probably better than most other completed movies out there these days.

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