Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Jodorowsky's Dune" (2013): Netflixin 12/16/14

I remember being eight or nine years old and occasionally going with my mom or grandmother to a local drug store.  We would sometimes buy my Halloween costumes there (the boxed "Ben Cooper" plastic and vinyl smock-and-mask variety, very popular when I was little) but it was to me otherwise a pretty boring place.

Except for the periodicals section.

I spent most of my time there.  It was stocked with enough magazines and comic books to keep any kid occupied for hours.  My favorites were "Mad" and "Cracked", along with "Dynamite" and "Hot Dog".  Then there were the more "adult" items, higher up so kids couldn't reach them.  I remember seeing "National Lampoon" but don't think I ever looked at it.

One forbidden magazine that did catch my eye, however, was "The Savage Sword of Conan".  Sometimes somebody would leave a copy down low where I could see it.  I must have still been afraid to look inside one, though, since all I really remember were the covers.  They reminded me thematically of the sword-and-sorcery fantasy of "He-Man" (which I was really into at the time) but with a darker, more grown-up edge.  Grim-faced muscle men grappling with various monsters and bad guys, swords and battle axes dripping with blood, nubile women alternately cowering in the background or actively participating in the mahem.  Images that have stuck in my head to this day...just on the border between scary and cool.

On a recent flight back from Japan in September, I was flipping through the in-flight movies.  I had already exhausted "In-Flight Trivia" and watched the latest "Godzilla" and the "Robocop" remake.  The last movie I put on was "Jodorowsky's Dune".  I remember the David Lynch version (which, incidentally, came out right around the time of my interludes at the drug store magazine rack) coming on TV once, miniseries-like, with its impenetrable weirdness ("you'd have to be a genius to keep up with it," I remember Mom saying).  I got back into it during my college days, picking up the first book at a used bookstore.  Today that work sits on my shelf, the bookmark on page 97, right where I left it almost 20 years ago.  I have the DVD, but it functions more as a collection of images and set-pieces than a cohesive movie.

So finally to the movie at hand, a documentary about the failed attempt by the Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky to make his own version of the book in the mid-70s, ten years before Lynch's version came out.  Jodorowsky is known for "El Topo", a bizarro cult movie from 1970 that I can best describe as a metaphysical western.  I'm sure his "Dune" would have been similarly strange, although I'm conflicted about whether he could have out-weirded the director of "Eraserhead".

Consisting mostly of interview footage of Jodorowsky himself and various other people involved in the project, certain parts of the movie unearthed an old sense of wonder in me, activating that part of my nine-year-old brain that tingled when I looked at those "Conan" covers.  In order to pitch the movie to various studios, Jodorowsky assembled a doorstop of a book -- several inches thick -- with practically the entire film storyboarded, along with costume and set illustrations.  The best parts of the documentary (apart from Jodorowsky's charmingly erratic English syntax and effusive "mad artiste" persona) are when these storyboards come to life through modern animation effects, haunting old-school sci-fi synth music thrumming in the background...a glimpse of the great epic that wasn't to be.  And when he talks about the all-star cast he had ready (Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, etc.) it's hard not to feel that the world is culturally poorer for the movie having never been made.               


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