Movie Interviews
5:00 am
Sat March 22, 2014

Doomed 'Dune' Was Generations Ahead Of Its Time

Originally published on Sat March 22, 2014 11:18 am

Dune, by Alejandro Jodorowsky, was an ambitious and expensive film that was going to change cinema — and, the filmmaker imagined, the world.

Jodorowsky had already made a name for himself with El Topo in 1970 and The Holy Mountain in 1973, two movies that more or less invented the "midnight movie" phenomenon back when that was a euphemism for tripping.

The story for Dune came from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel, the bestselling science fiction book of all-time. It's a story that features other worlds, dauntless desert warriors and even a hallucinogenic spice. Jodorowsky's film version was set to star David Carradine, Orson Welles and even Salvador Dali, with music by Pink Floyd.

But Jodorowsky's Dune never got made. In fact, it never really made it off of a few pieces of paper. Well, a few thousand.

Now the legend of what's been called the Greatest Film Never Made is recounted by Frank Pavich in his new documentary, Jodorowsky's Dune. NPR's Scott Simon spoke with Pavich about a story that he says was screaming to be told.


Interview Highlights

On Jodorowsky's inspiration for Dune

He says it was kind of like divine inspiration. His producer said to him, "What do you want to do?" And he just said, "Dune." And he hadn't read it at that time, but a friend of his had told him that it was a good book. So it kind of came to him from the heavens.

On the team Jodorowsky gathered for the film

He had a team of artists, which he dubbed his "spiritual warriors." [There] was a French comic book artist named Moebius [the pseudonym of Jean Giraud] ... a British sci-fi artist named Chris Foss ... the Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger ... and there was a gentleman named Dan O'Bannon who was going to come in and do special effects. And this team of spiritual warriors worked with Jodorowsky for a good two years in Paris. And all the costumes were designed — all the vehicles — everything was created. Everything was storyboarded: every camera movement, every bit of dialogue, everything that you would see in the picture was completely drawn out and fully realized on paper. And it was all put together into this giant, 30-pound book ... that they took around with them, trying to get the final financing.

On the actors slated to participate in the project

David Carradine was attached to play Duke Leto, who is one of the main characters of the film. Jodorowsky had seen Kung Fu and was quite taken with Carradine as a personality. And he invited Carradine to come meet him at his hotel. And [Jodorowsky] had a big bottle of vitamin E, which was just, as he says, "To take one pill every day, in order to have the strength." And so he just had this sitting on the table. And he said that Carradine came over, opened the door, and said, "'Oh, vitamin E!'" And just unscrewed the top and ate the entire bottle of vitamin E. To which Jodorowsky says, "It was like a monstrosity!" And then he turned to him and said, "You are the person I am searching for."

[Dali] was the hardest one for him to get. They had to kind of chase Dali — as Jodorowsky says, seduce Dali — all over the world, essentially, until they could finally get him to commit to play this role. After many, many demands, his final demand was that he be paid $100,000 an hour. So he wanted to be able to scream from the rooftops that he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

On why the film ultimately was not made

He was literally ahead of the time. He was trying to make his big-budget science-fiction space opera at a time when Hollywood didn't understand that. Didn't understand that that was marketable, that that was a smart idea financially. This is pre-Star Wars, pre-science fiction revolution. So I think he was literally generations ahead of the audiences and the people with the money.

On the impact that Jodorowsky's Dune had on film, even though it was never made

I think without Jodorowsky hiring these individuals, and without them all coming together in Paris for that two-year period and creating all of this artwork, and coming up with all of these ideas, I think the landscape of film today would be very different. Starting with the obvious one which we speak about in the film, which is Alien. Everybody from that team went on to go make Alien with Ridley Scott. I think it's pretty indisputable as to how influential Alien is, and so on down the line.

If you ask Alejandro, or if you ask me, I'll definitely take his side and say that the world has seen his film, especially now, with this documentary. His film exists. His film exists within Alien and within Raiders of the Lost Ark, and within Prometheus, and within Contact, and with all these films that have come after it. His film is very well represented. So it didn't exist in the way he thought it did, but it certainly does exist in the world.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Dune," a movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky, is an ambitious and expensive film that was going to change cinema and the world. The story was drawn from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel. That's the best-selling science fiction book of all time, a story that featured other worlds, warriors, and a hallucinogenic spice. The film would star David Carradine, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles with music by Pink Floyd and it would be directed by the man who made "El Topo," and "The Holy Mountain" in the 1970s, two movies that had more or less invented what was called the midnight movie phenomenon when that was a euphemism for tripping.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "JODOROWSKY'S DUNE")

ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY: For me, it was not to make a picture...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JODOROWSKY: ...it was something different. I wanted to make something sacred, free, open the mind. And I start the fight to make "Dune."

SIMON: But Jodorowsky's "Dune" never got made, in fact, it never really made it off a few pieces of paper. The story of what's been called the greatest film never made is told now by Frank Pavich, the director of the new film, "Jodorowsky's Dune." Thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK PAVICH: Thank you so much.

SIMON: So, what got you so intrigued you decided to devote a couple of years of your own life to a film that never got made?

(LAUGHTER)

PAVICH: Well, you know, I've been a fan Jodorowsky's films for years. And once you've kind of taken that trip with him, so to speak, down the road of "El Topo" and "Holy Mountain" and then you learn that there was this unrealized film, which actually, in his opinion, was completely realized. He had completely designed everything, drawn everything out. He'd spent two years with an entire team. It was just a story that was screaming to be told.

SIMON: He said he wanted to make a film that would make people who weren't on LSD see the world like they were.

PAVICH: That is true. He also wanted his film to be a prophet, to change the young minds of all the world. So, he certainly had some high expectations for his art.

SIMON: How high - boy, this is a verbal landmine, wasn't it? How elevated was his reputation in the 1970s after he'd made "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain?"

PAVICH: I think that within a certain circle he was certainly a guru.

SIMON: But was he considered - forgive the expression - bankable after those two successes?

PAVICH: No, I don't think so. I think if you watch those films, you could understand that he was not exactly bankable, no.

SIMON: And he said he wanted to do "Dune" even though he hadn't read the book.

PAVICH: He says it was kind of like divine inspiration. His producer said to him what do you want to do? And he just said "Dune." And he hadn't read it at that time, but a friend of his had told him that it was a good book. So, it kind of came to him from the heavens.

SIMON: So, Jodorowsky laid out "Dune" over more than 3,000 storyboards.

PAVICH: Yes. He had a team of artists, which he dubbed his spiritual warriors. And this team of spiritual warriors worked with Jodorowsky for a good two years in Paris. And all the costumes were designed, all the vehicles, everything was created. Everything was storyboarded - every camera movement, every bit of dialogue, everything that you would see in the picture was completely drawn out and fully realized on paper. And it was all put together into this giant, you know, 30-pound book essentially that they took around with them, trying to get the final financing.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the names people would recognize even today that at least were verbally attached to the project. David Carradine, who, I guess, forever, now that he's gone, will be best known for "Kung Fu" in this country.

PAVICH: Yes, absolutely. David Carradine was attached to play the Duke Leto, who is one of the main characters of the film.

SIMON: Tell me, as Jodorowsky told you, in the film the vitamin E story.

PAVICH: Jodorowsky had seen "Kung Fu" and was quite taken with Carradine as a personality. And he invited Carradine to come meet him at his hotel. And, as Jodorowsky said, he had a big bottle of vitamin E, which was just, as he says, to take one pill every day, in order to have the strength. And so he just had this sitting on the table. And he said that Carradine came over, opened the door, and said, oh, vitamin E, and just unscrewed the top and ate the entire bottle of vitamin E. To which Jodorowsky says it was like a monstrosity. And then he turned to him and said you are the person I am searching for.

SIMON: And he got some kind of verbal assent from, of course, the great surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, to play the emperor.

PAVICH: Absolutely. That was the hardest one for him to get. They had to kind of chase Dali, and as Jodorowsky says, seduce Dali, all over the world, essentially, until they could finally get him to commit to play this role.

SIMON: He had some, it sound like, outrageous demands.

PAVICH: After many, many demands, his final demand was that he be paid $100,000 an hour. So, he wanted to be able to scream from the rooftops that he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

SIMON: What does it boil down to as an answer when you're asked why couldn't they make this film?

PAVICH: I think that he could not fully realize this film because he was literally ahead of the time. You know, he was trying to make his big-budget science-fiction space opera at a time where Hollywood didn't understand that, didn't understand that that was marketable, that that was a smart idea financially. This is pre-"Star Wars," pre-science fiction revolution.

SIMON: Well, he did think it had to be 20 hours long, didn't he?

PAVICH: But that's what interesting. You know, people kind of rolled their eyes when he says in the film they wanted me to make a film that was two hours, but it would be 12 hours or 20 hours or whatever I want it to be. And you kind of think, well, who's going to sit through a 12-hour or a 20-hour movie? But I meet people every day who will happily take an entire weekend and binge-watch an entire series on Netflix.

SIMON: This film didn't get made but you still see ripples that it sent out in its failure, that maybe we can see in films even to this day.

PAVICH: Oh, absolutely. I think without Jodorowsky hiring these individuals, and without them all coming together in Paris for that two-year period and creating all of this artwork, and coming up with all of these ideas, I think the landscape of film today would be very different. You know, starting with, you know, the obvious one which we speak about in the film, which is "Alien." Everybody from that team went on to go make "Alien" with Ridley Scott. I think it's pretty indisputable as to how influential "Alien" is, and so on down the line.

SIMON: Mr. Pavich, I have to ask you: did the world, when Jodorowsky's "Dune" did not get made, miss out on a masterpiece or perhaps just a colossal banality. And in a way, is its reputation higher for the fact that nobody ever had to really see it?

PAVICH: Well, I suppose that's the interesting question. And if you ask Alejandro, or if you ask me, I'll definitely take his side and say that the world has seen his film, especially now, with this documentary. His film exists. His film exists within "Alien" and within "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and within "Prometheus," and within "Contact," and with all these films that have come after it. His film is very well represented. So, it didn't exist in the way he thought it did, but it certainly does exist in the world.

SIMON: Frank Pavich. He directed the new documentary, "Jodorowsky's Dune," which is out to New York and Los Angeles this weekend and across the country over the next two weeks. Mr. Pavich, thanks so much for being with us.

PAVICH: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.