TIFF 2013 – What is to Give Light, Must Endure Burning: Frank Pavich’s JODOROWSKY’S DUNE


JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is so much more than a documentary about the cult filmmaker’s infamously ambitious attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s about more than the pitfalls of the Hollywood system, or about its tendency towards stifling creativity. It’s about what it means to put your heart and soul into a piece of art, only to have it taken away from you and never properly realized. As Richard Stanley – one of the guest filmmakers featured in the film – describes it, it is the inability to exorcise a project which you’ve allowed to live under your skin for so long.

And that’s really what is at the core of Pavich’s exploration of the failed project: this lack of closure and release. Though the film is packed full of amazing interviews, images and ideas from the project, the entire affair is overshadowed by the fact that all of this work, all this passion, was eventually all for naught. Sure, it’s fun to hear Jodorowsky wax nostalgic about the film (some of his stories are downright hilarious), but it’s hard to forget that the intensity and depth of the project will eventually amount to nothing. It definitely lends a more sinister and saddening subtext to the film.

But it also happens to be what gives the film its emotional weight. Any artist who has ever had a project – one which they’d invested so much of themselves into – fall apart knows the feeling: that crippling disappointment, that knowledge that this thing you wanted more than anything to bring into the world will probably never see the light of day. It’s a heavy burden for some, though maybe not for others – some artists may find that they are simply able to move onto the next project without any emotional devastation. Jodorowsky is not one of these people, and it’s evident over the course of the film that he still has deep, emotional ties to DUNE.

Pavich’s documentary is blanketed with this feeling of disappointment, and even in spite of all the fun, all the wonder, all the general good vibes, there is still a longing underneath it all. So when the titular filmmaker finally explodes at the end of the film, when he finally lets out his anger and his rage at the almighty dollar for killing his dream, it’s a deeply satisfying moment.

Jodorowsky makes for a wonderful subject, and Pavich and co. do a terrific job of capturing the filmmaker’s humanity, his idiosyncrasies and his joyful nature. Though they briefly contextualize his career, they wisely devote the bulk of the film to the titular project; it is, after all, a deeply compelling “what-if” film that could have had serious ramifications for the genre and Hollywood as a whole. It includes interviews with contemporary filmmakers (like the aforementioned Stanley, as well as Nicolas Winding Refn), critics (Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci) and several of the artists involved (H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, Amanda Lear and Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontis), painting a vivid picture of what the film meant at the time of its inception, as well as in the many decades since.

Giving unprecedented access to the project’s storyboards, concept art, script decisions, casting stories and more, this is the definitive resource for fans of the filmmaker, the franchise and for cinema historians as a whole.


d.a. garabedian