Most of us have heard of DUNE, if not read Frank Herbert’s philosophical masterpiece. Whether we’ve seen David Lynch’s nutty film, we’re at least aware that Sting and Patrick Stewart both starred in the disaster, and that spice (a hallucinogenic drug) plays an enormous role in the plot.
You might not know that 8 years before David Lynch’s DUNE came out, in the mid-1970’s, that an entirely different version was OH SO CLOSE to being made, from the Chilean psychedelic cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who practically created the midnight movie with EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN. This version was set to star Salvador Dali as the Emperor of the Galaxy. Orson Welles as the uber-fat, uber-villainous Baron Harkonnen. David Carradine as one of the leads. Mick Jagger had even signed on, and Pink Floyd was going to do the music for the world of Arrakis. The world and visuals came from H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and Dan O’Bannon. These “spiritual warriors,” as Jodorowsky calls them, would help shape the very future of science fiction with ALIEN. Despite never being made, Jodorowsky’s DUNE was everything.
Now, director Frank Pavich has crafted a masterful documentary (my gushing review can be found here), appropriately entitled JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, chronicling the wacky story of this almost-classic that never was, to enlighten the masses of one of the most fascinating “lost” films ever almost made. The movie comes out next Friday March 21st, to LA and New York before expanding across the country.
I recently had the chance to talk to Frank Pavich about his documentary and how Jodorowsky’s DUNE was a touchstone of science fiction, despite it never happening. In the following interview, we talk STAR WARS, BLADE RUNNER and play a game of what-if’s within the Hollywood landscape, discuss LSD, Hawaiian vacations, Mick Jagger, David Lynch, and everything in between. Read on.
GREENE: How’s everything going with the film so far? What’s the next step with it?
PAVICH: So far, so good. We’re going to be in theatres March 21st, so it’s really just trying to raise awareness of what’s coming out.
GREENE: It deserves a large audience, especially for the sci-fans out there, and if you can connect to that Comic-Con audience…
GREENE: Are you getting a limited release or a wide release?
PAVICH: It slowly grows. Starts limited, starts in New York and LA on the 21st and then every week from there it spreads out through different cities. It basically goes as far as Honolulu, oddly enough. It really kind of hits the whole country.
GREENE: Well perfect. Hopefully there are a lot of DUNE fans in Hawaii.
PAVICH: I hope so, I hope so. That’d be good, right? I think I need to go to Hawaii to promote the film. Don’t you think that’d be necessary?
GREENE: I think so too, they need to comp you a trip there.
PAVICH: If you wouldn’t mind e-mailing or calling Sony and telling them that you think that, I’d really appreciate that. I could go for a nice tan. [Ed. Note: Sony hasn’t been answering my calls.]
GREENE: If I could come with, maybe I’ll do it.
PAVICH: I don’t see why not. If they’re going to buy one ticket, might as well buy a second one.
GREENE: The airlines might have a deal.
GREENE: How much did you know about Frank Herbert’s DUNE and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s DUNE film before picking this as your next project?
PAVICH: I came to the story from the Jodorowsky side. I came in as a big fan of his and knowing his films. So that was my introduction to this. When I first heard about this story, and I was like, “Oh, Alejandro Jodorowsky had a lost movie?” And not only that, but a lost movie that he basically completely realized; it wasn’t just a screenplay draft. He had a whole team working, and they were working for two years, and it was fully cast, and they had all these people attached. It was ready to go, every scene was drawn out on paper, the entire film from the first scene to the last scene. That’s what kind of first drew me to it, along with this amazing array of characters that he had involved. So really I don’t come from the DUNE side of things, I kind of approached it like he did, to a certain extent. I actually didn’t read the novel until I was on the plane, flying from New York to Paris to do our first interview with him. I feel like part of me didn’t want to jinx it. I wanted to follow his path. “I will make DUNE without having read it.” So I will make the DUNE documentary without having read it at that stage of the game. So my knowledge of DUNE all came as we were making the film, as we were doing our interviews. Which is kind of a great way to just immerse yourself into it.
GREENE: I think you did it right, I love it. That was one of my favorite parts in the film, when Jodorowsky wanted it to be his next project, yet he didn’t really know why, and hadn’t read the book.
PAVICH: Yeah, exactly. Something told him to make it that. That was it.
GREENE: So did you make it past the first 100 pages and beyond? It almost seemed like that was as far as Jodorowsky got.
PAVICH: Oh no, he’s read the whole thing. If you look at his screenplay, if you look at his book, it’s DUNE. There are certainly Jodorowsky flourishes in it, but it is almost an exact adaptation of the book. He’s just saying that it’s such a dense book, that in the first 100 pages, you don’t need any introductions to it, it’s complete. He considers it to be not just a pulpy, science fiction book, but he considers it to be great literature. He equates it to Proust and the classics. He knows it very well, for sure.
GREENE: Did you get a peek at Jodorowsky’s bible?
PAVICH: Of course. We shot it at his house and we animated directly from it. I know it quite well.
GREENE: I would’ve wanted to just take that thing. It’s like a rarified piece of treasure, it was awesome.
PAVICH: Oh yeah. There are only 2 left that are for sure in existence. He has one, and [Producer] Michel Seydoux has one. They think they made 20 when they came to the studios. Where those other 18 or so copies are is quite a mystery. It’d be great that when this movie comes out, people might come out of the woodwork. “I found this in my Uncle’s attic!” or “I found it in a box in the basement” or “It’s been on this shelf collecting dust for the past 40 years.” I figure those books must be somewhere. I’d be shocked if anyone would take a book of that size and throw it in the garbage. It’d be weird. Even if they don’t make the film, it’s like, “Wow, this is really cool to have.” If someone pitched it to me, I would keep it. It’s such an awesome thing to put on your shelf. It’s amazing.
GREENE: I think you have your sequel idea. The search for the missing bibles!
PAVICH: [laughs] The Hunt For The 18!
GREENE: I think I know the answer to this, but I’m going to ask anyways. Jodorowsky (above) is a goldmine of anecdotes and one-liners during the interviews. Is he any different off-camera or is he as wacky and wonderful as he seems?
PAVICH: Oh, it’s him. He’s completely genuine. He’s a performer, he’s a storyteller, but he’s not false. He gives you everything. There’s a video online [here], that I don’t know if you’ve seen, he entered his new film [LA DANZA DE REALIDAD] into a festival, in Montreal, and he could not make it to introduce the film, so he recorded a video that was played in the theatre before his film showed. It’s him completely nude sitting in a chair, talking to the camera, and explaining his film. He’s basically saying that in his new film, he exposed himself completely, spiritually, and mentally, for the audience. So now in his introduction, he’s completed it, and he is exposing himself physically, as well. He goes all out. No matter what he does, he goes all out. He’s incredible.
GREENE: I love that. It’s so admirable. It’s scary to Hollywood, unfortunately. Or it was. Though I think it still would be.
PAVICH: I think so. Although it’s weird. If you think about Hollywood…Hollywood was scared of Jodorowsky, because they were scared of losing money. That’s really all they care about. Is the money. They want a lot. They were scared to lose money. And he was ahead of his time. He came up with this idea of making this giant megabucks space opera before anybody, before STAR WARS and all that stuff. If you look at the timeline, here comes this really out there avant-garde director with this giant budgeted space opera and pitch it to the studios. They have no idea what to make of it. They have no idea. [As the studios] “The films you’ve made, EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN, don’t lend themselves to material like this,” and they don’t get the material, so they say no. Then a year or two later, STAR WARS is released, which is a film that 20th Century FOX was not high on anyway. They thought it was dumb, they thought it wasn’t going to make any money. They were barely support of it. Little did they know, little did anyone know, what a huge blockbuster that would be, basically starting the blockbuster movement more or less. Then suddenly every studio wanted to make science fiction. There were sequels, they were bringing back STAR TREK onto the big screen, they were doing everything they could, anything in space, green lighting, “Go! Go! Go! Make money!” Then a couple years later, they decide to go back to the DUNE project, and who do they get but essentially a director very similar and very much in the vein of Jodorowsky himself. They didn’t get Spielberg to direct it, they didn’t get the Michael Bay of that time, whomever that might be, they got somebody very similar to Jodorowsky [one David Lynch]. In ’76, they thought it was stupid and “Oh, how could someone who made EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN make something like this?” But then in ’84, they get the guy who made ELEPHANT MAN and ERASERHEAD, to direct the biggest movie of its time. It cost $60 million. It was the biggest budgeted film yet. So suddenly they thought, oh we’re going to make money with this, they started preparing Paul Atreides action figures, and TOPPS trading cards, and coloring books, for children? This is not a kid’s movie. This is not a story for children, by any stretch. I don’t know who in the studio had read the script, had read the book, had been on set, had seen David Lynch’s films, but this is not aimed at kids. It’s a really weird thing that they tried to do. I don’t know who was not paying attention or what was going on over there. But it’s strange, because the studios came around and oh yes, we’ll do it now. It’s really bizarre. Really bizarre.
GREENE: The whole thing is bizarre. There’s even an element to it all that makes you angry. The movie is engrossing, entertaining, but it also drove me to fury. I kept flashing back to the scene in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, when the archaeologists find a fossilized Creature claw and handle it like it’s any other rock you might find on the beach. You just shiver. The whole thing makes you feel a little dirty.
PAVICH: That’s interesting. That’s really interesting. Yeah, wow.
GREENE: Because of Hollywood’s treatment of Jodorowsky’s project. You mentioned you hoped Hollywood execs wouldn’t have thrown the bibles in the trash, but they kind of threw away this beautiful project away. Was this rage or frustration part of why you took on the film or was it a conscience effort in making it?
PAVICH: Before we started working, I was just more fascinated by it. How did such a thing happen? How did it get so far along? And it’s just so incredible. But the anger or frustration or whatever it is quickly dissipates, because when you spend time with Jodorowsky, you start to see how he feels about it. He feels that it worked out wonderfully. He has no regrets. He says he doesn’t feel that it’s a failure. He says it’s a great success. He did his version of DUNE, and here it is in the book and everything is completely realized, ready to go, and it’s wonderful. He wanted to change the world with his film as he said, he wanted to change history, and he basically did. His spiritual warriors went out into the world and took those ideas with them, and other ideas of his just somehow ended up in other films. He feels vindicated. He sees exactly what happened. Yes, I was right. My spiritual warriors, my team, were the best people. Their careers were made better. [As Jodorowsky] “My career went wonderfully, and I used my ideas, and put them in books, and put them in other films.” He has zero animosity toward any of it. Once you spend time with him, and you get that sense, you kind of agree with him. Why does it have to be negative? You don’t have spend your years crouched over, you can open yourself up to everything. As he said, “Yes we did not make DUNE. Yes, we did not make DUNE.” It’s beautiful. He has a beautiful outlook on everything.
GREENE: It’s inspirational. What others would qualify as a failure he doesn’t, and his spiritual warriors, like H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Dan O’Bannon, they blew up.
PAVICH: Yeah, those people had never done movies before. That’s what so interesting. He wasn’t picking people based on movies; he was picking people based on their pure art. Giger had never done movies. Chris Foss had never done movies. Moebius had never done movies. They all went off to go make movies, and work in films, but he saw something special and unique in them. And he sought them out. They weren’t looking to get into the movie business, but he just saw their art, and was like “Oh, I want to work with this person.” They have incredible vision and we get to be together in this endeavor.
GREENE: It’s rare, because most directors that are making passion projects, they’re almost the opposite of Jodorowsky. They want what they want, and that’s that. Whereas Jodorowsky wants them to just play, go with what it is in their hearts and it’ll all work out, essentially.
PAVICH: He’s not trying to crush anybody, he’s trying to inspire them. To do great art. Chris Foss says that his only regret working on DUNE was that he didn’t realize what he had. He didn’t realize that working on a movie could be that free and that beautiful and that wonderful. Because the movies he did afterwards, he said were not like that. Working on ALIEN was very difficult. Working with Steven Spielberg on AI he found very difficult. He didn’t have that freedom that Jodorowsky provided.
GREENE: I know that it’s not really the point, and that you and he think he succeeded in his goal, and you’ve convinced me. But Jodorowsky actually says at the end of the film that he hopes someone takes his vision and makes his DUNE. I practically wanted to start a Kickstarter before I left the movie theatre.
GREENE: Do you think his vision of DUNE will ever come to life?
PAVICH: I don’t know if anybody will be able to make an animated version. I don’t know if a book of art would ever be able to be published. Who knows, that also comes down to the Frank Herbert estate, I would assume, because the underlying story is very obviously Frank Herbert’s. So, you’d have to get their permission and option it again, if they even wanted something like that. Time will tell, I guess we’ll see what happens with this documentary. If enough people get inspired, that could change the course of events.
GREENE: Speaking of changing the course of events, playing the “what-if” game is always fun with these projects. If Jodorowsky’s Dune had been made exactly how he wanted it, what do you think the impact of the film would’ve been? Would it have been STAR WARS before STAR WARS?
PAVICH: It’s interesting. If you look at the concept of a multiverse, there’s all the different parallel timelines you can look at. We know what happens when Jodorowsky got as far as he got and the film is not complete, and not made into an actual feature film. We know how this universe looks, and this timeline looks. But let’s say that he had successfully completed the film, and it was a success. Let’s say it’s the biggest success in the world and everybody was lining up around the block to see it and it was incredible. I wonder where movies would be now, because that would tell the executives, the financiers, the studios, that these kinds of bizarre, avant-garde Jodorowsky-ian, David Lynch-ian films are worthwhile. And maybe we would see more pure artistic visions, as opposed to moneymaking schemes, reboots, franchises, the kinds of stuff we get now. Maybe we would see more independent voices being allowed to really speak their minds. On the flip side, let’s say Jodorowsky’s vision of DUNE had been completed, and it was a disaster. Let’s say it was the biggest flop in the history of mankind. Only seven tickets were sold and it collapsed an entire studio. And it was the worst thing ever, nobody believed in it. Then where would we be? Because already at that point, George Lucas was working on STAR WARS, and he was at 20th Century Fox, and 20th Century Fox did not believe in STAR WARS. They thought it was a silly idea, “Who would want to see a space movie? This is ridiculous.” And of course we know what happened, STAR WARS came out and it was this mega-blockbuster and perhaps started this whole science fiction renaissance almost. Everybody was making science fiction movies. How many billions of dollars have the STAR WARS movies made? But if Jodorowsky’s DUNE had been a flop and seeing as FOX hadn’t believed in STAR WARS, they probably would’ve used that as their first excuse to pull the plug on STAR WARS. There wouldn’t be STAR WARS, there wouldn’t be the film landscape that we’re in now, for better or for worse. If that was the case, what would the big tentpole movies be every summer? They wouldn’t be STAR WARS type movies, probably wouldn’t be the AVENGERS or superhero films, it might be something completely different. Maybe it’d be Merchant Ivory films. Maybe everybody would be lining up to see period romances. Who knows? We’d be living in a different landscape, so it’s really interesting to imagine those.
GREENE: Oh yeah. You could just go for hours debating the possibilities or charting it like it’s TRUE DETECTIVE or something.
PAVICH: Yeah, exactly. And looking at the movies that DUNE is directly responsible for, obviously it brought the people together who made ALIEN. Which, in itself, transforms film history. If you look at the ALIEN sequels, that’s where James Cameron got his start. That’s where David Fincher got his start. All these voices got their starts in those films. If you look at Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER, that changed science fiction history in another way. BLADE RUNNER never would’ve happened without Jodorowsky’s DUNE. Because Dan O’Bannon and Moebius met on DUNE and together they wrote a comic book called THE LONG TOMORROW. THE LONG TOMORROW is exactly the world of BLADE RUNNER. If you look at the designs in the book, it’s exactly what Sydney [Syd Mead, “visual futurist”] and Ridley Scott put up on the screens for BLADE RUNNER. There are so many things where the lines of history go back to this project. It’s astounding.
GREENE: Clearly, Jodorowsky was this seed of sci-fi, and it was going to spring forth, whether he made the movie or not.
GREENE: It’s great that this documentary exists because of that. I was with you, I hadn’t read Frank Herbert’s DUNE when I walked into the documentary. While I was well aware of DUNE, and had seen Lynch’s version, I had no idea about this lost film, and I think many people are in the same boat. That’s what makes this film and all its “what-if” scenarios and bringing to light all of its influences, so necessary. Especially for sci-fi fans.
PAVICH: I think so.
GREENE: Alright, now I have two very serious questions for you.
PAVICH: Excellent. Bring it on.
GREENE: Did you do LSD with Alejandro Jodorowsky?
PAVICH: You know, he lives a completely dry life. He doesn’t drink alcohol, he doesn’t do anything like that. He claims that he’s only done LSD one time in his life, that he paid $17,000 to a shaman in New York City to dye him on his trip. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s what he claims. Actually I saw him last night, he’s in New York, and we spent a little time together. We sat in his hotel room and drank pineapple juice. That’s how he lives so long. If he was a drug-fueled madman, I don’t think he’d be with us today. He lives a very clean, very pure life. It’s very interesting.
GREENE: It’s not what you’d expect. But it’s another one of those things to admire about him. He can be so bizarre without having to rely on drugs.
PAVICH: Exactly. He is what he is. He has these spiritual visions with his projects, and that somehow just comes naturally to him. It’s amazing. But good question, I haven’t been asked that one before. Fantastic.
GREENE: Speaking of drug-fueled madmen, did you approach Mick Jagger to talk about the film?
PAVICH: You know, we didn’t, because he was such a minor player in this whole story, that it would’ve felt too much like stunt casting. If Mick Jagger was going to play the lead role in the film, that would’ve been different. If David Carradine was still alive, then we definitely would’ve approached him, or had him involved, or Orson Welles, or Salvador Dali. But I think Mick Jagger was such a minor thing, that it just would’ve felt false. I never appreciate documentaries that had that kind of stunt casting. “What is this famous person doing here that really has no connection to anything?” I went for a limited number of voices, which let’s you get to know each one of them on a deeper level.
GREENE: I totally agree, I was just curious.
PAVICH: Of course.
GREENE: We’ve kind of touched on it previously, but seeing Moebius, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger’s artwork come to life on film were some of my favorite parts. It’s just so beautiful. I got the sense that you could fill another 90 minutes of all the concept art produced by these guys.
PAVICH: If we had filmed Jodorowsky’s entire bible, the movie would’ve gone for over 20 hours like Jodorowsky wanted!
GREENE & PAVICH: [laughs]
GREENE: I think that covers most of it. I’ll make us both sound more intelligent, mostly me.
PAVICH: Excellent. [laughter]