Is there anything more pointless than writing a review of a documentary about a film that was never made?
Probably not, but we’re going to do it anyway, as rather than just spend time talking about the film that never saw the light of day, this documentary spends a large proportion of its time discussing the career and trials of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the man that had a vision, brutally (if you choose to believe him) curtailed by the Hollywood monster that refused to divvy up the cash required to get it made. To this day, the reasons for this will vary depending on who you speak to, but you can rely on us, as usual, to take everything with the relevant pinch of salt and see it for the spade that we shall end up calling it, for that is what it is.
For Pavich, the very documentary itself must have a been a tricky concoction of biography and one-dimensional opinion. I suggest this as if you consider the film is about a complete non-event, it makes expanding the story into a feature of any interest a little bit demanding. As magnetic and passionate a personality Jodorowsky appears to be, his presence and opinion are not enough to carry this through to conclusion. At least, not with any weight.
So, interspersed with a broad and pointed talking head from Jodorowsky, we are afforded the opinions of others that had some degree of participation in either the production of this non-film or the subsequent furore that surrounded its failure to appear, not to mention the after-effects on the industry, a point Jodorowsky is not the least bit shy to claim he was at least partly responsible for.
The documentary does not involve itself totally with Dune, however. As if we needed a backfiller to place Jodorowsky as some kind of cinematic revolutionary or silver-screen urban terrorist, Pavich chooses to tell us about Jodorowsky’s previous work whilst the man himself waxes lyrical about the successes he has enjoyed when making his earlier works. With the likes of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky had already become notorious for challenging and artistic cinema and so might rightly have imagined himself capable of taking on Frank Herbert’s mind-bending science-fiction space opera that others believed was entirely impossible to commit to film at the time.
Well, he may have believed it, but practically nobody outside his sphere of financial influence agreed, which shows either a completely blinkered narcissism on the part of Jodorowsky or potentially, an overly cautious approach to budgetary expenditure by a couple of guys in suits in Los Angeles, who entirely unwittingly, may have changed the face of cinema without even realising it.
Either way, Pavich is not the least bit bothered about appearing just about as partisan as it is possible to be bar actually being filmed kissing Jodorowsky’s feet. Now this will either please or grate on you, depending on firstly what you think about the man himself and secondly, how you like your documentary features as a general principle. Personally, I like a documentary that allows the viewer to decide their own opinion, rather than having its message rammed down the viewers’ throat, like it or lump it. As such, I mentally recoiled at this gushing ‘almost autobiography’ that clearly had Jodorowsky’s final cut all over it. I didn’t want to be told, repeatedly, about how great the man is/was, how his vision was the right one and everyone that disagreed with him was wrong. I wanted to tot up the pros and cons, from the evidence presented, and then decide for myself. Pavich’s approach just put my back up, frankly. So much so that I began to question almost everything I was being told as potentially luvvied gushing appreciation for a man that I knew little to nothing about beforehand and appreciated only a little more afterwards.
So in short, a horribly one-sided documentary that does indeed reveal the passion Jodorowsky had for this particular project, doomed though it inevitably was. If you want a real picture of the man, however, listen to how he revels in the perceived failure of David Lynch’s subsequent version of the story, rather than humbly admitting that maybe he just wasn’t up to it and how many of his choices were not only impractical, but altogether selfish. Afforded the luxury of too much freedom by Pavich, you might suggest that the director was merely reeling in the object of his film, giving him enough rope to hang himself. I would agree with this theory, save only for the amount of time only one opinion is ever truly investigated. Whether you believe his claims about the extent of his legacy (O’Bannon, Alien etc) is up to you, but it is hard to argue that the man did indeed have some influence, albeit accidentally, on many subsequent science-fiction projects.
Personally, I really enjoyed Lynch’s version of Herbert’s opus, but had not read the book by the time I first saw it. This may have gone some way to explain my negative reaction as a viewer to Jodorowsky’s seemingly toothless claims to brilliance. Either way, this may reveal some unknowns to the faithful, but to those less enamoured or completely ignorant to begin with, this is a fruitless exercise in bitterness.