The legacy of the Greatest Film Never Made: Director Frank Pavich on Jodorowsky's Dune
Some things are just too good to be true, like a Dune film starring Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles and David Carradine, directed by cult-film legend Alejandro Jodorowsky, with effects and art by Mœbius, H.R. Giger and Dan O'Bannon. Such a thing is clearly too awesome to exist, but in reality, this adaptation of Frank Herbert's cult novel almost made it to the screen, thanks to the incredible talent and will of Jodorowsky. The near-miss at what would have been one of the most insane sci-fi epics of all time is the subject of Jodorowsky's Dune, a new documentary from director Frank Pavich that delves deep into what's possibly the greatest movie never made. Before the film opens tonight at the Sie FilmCenter, we spoke with Pavich about the challenges of making the movie, getting H.R. Giger's last on-camera interview and the enduring legacy of a film that never existed.
Westword: How did you come to make a documentary about Jodorowsky's failed Dune project?
Frank Pavich: I've known about the story for a while. It's kind of floated around in the ether, little articles on it here and there in science fiction magazines or on different websites. There's a couple of those "Fifty Greatest Movies Never made" books, and I think it was in one of those where I first kind of came across it. I came across it from the Jodorowsky side of things. I was a fan of his. I wasn't that familiar with Dune, certainly not with the novel, and only peripherally knowledgeable and interested in the Lynch film.
But being a fan of Jodorowsky, being a fan of El Topo and The Holy Mountain and learning, "Oh, his followup to the great Holy Mountain was going to be an adaptation of Dune" just sounded too crazy. The more I learned about it -- all the wild people he had involved, how much work he actually did on it, how fully realized this unrealized film is -- and the time period, pre-Star Wars, he was really trudging in new territory. It was too wild of a story. It seemed shocking that nobody had officially told the story yet. We took it upon ourselves to do it. [Laughs].
That's interesting that you would say that about not being a Dune fan -- Jodorowsky mentions that he had never read the book when he took on the project, and I remember reading that David Lynch had never read it, either, before he started his adaptation. Am I crazy to think that's an odd coincidence that these films adapting Dune, or about adapting Dune, are done by non-fans, given how big the book's fanbase is?
Certain types of things come to you. It's like [Jodorowsky] says, he hadn't read the book when he got the idea to make the movie. A few things kind of conspired, by something greater than him. Consciously or unconsciously, I approached it the same way. I didn't read the book myself until i was on the plane, flying from New York to Paris to do our very first interview with Alejandro. Maybe partially I wanted to approach it the same way he did, and maybe partially I didn't want to jinx the film by reading it too soon. I have a feeling that was in the back of my head. It is kind of weird. I never knew that about Lynch. It is really interesting. It's pretty wild -- history repeating itself over and over again.
Having gone through the process of making your movie and now that you've read the book, what do you think of Dune now?
It's amazing and beautiful and incredible. And it's huge! It's just such a massive book and it's next to impossible to make it into a normal size movie, for sure. We all know Alejandro had his troubles, and we know David Lynch had his troubles. It's an amazing world, that at this point has been taken from so many times and used in so many other films. How much direct influence comes from Frank Herbert's Dune that goes into Star Wars? Do you think Star Wars would have opened up on a desert planet if Dune wasn't set on a desert planet? In fact, those planets have two suns -- all these things come from the mind of Frank Herbert for sure.
Sometimes you even hear still, up until a couple years ago, there were people trying to make the definitive feature film version of Dune, and I wonder if anyone can do it at this point. It's been attempted so many times, and I don't think they ever got it quite right. I've never seen the SyFy miniseries, but some people really feel it captured the book perfectly, and other people feel it wasn't so great, that it was limited by budgetary constraints. In order to make Dune, it would have to be a really long movie, or a trilogy or a quadrilogy or whatever it would be. It would not be your standard, two-hour feature film. I can't even imagine such a thing.
Keep reading for more from Frank Pavich.