Frank Pavich, director/producer
“What is the goal of life? It’s to create yourself a soul.”
Trouble at the first words, the quote above refuses humanity to anyone unwilling to put in the effort to “make” a soul. The hidden lie, of course, is: which totalitarian regime judges what work is soulful? And such is needed; something as ad omnibus as the pre-Revolutionary Roman Church which, after all, threw in the soul gratis with the flesh but held a proprietary accompt over how you treated it.
I have not seen El Topo or The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky but I will, because I wish to see what his Dune might have been like. That being said, any person who pauses to think should thank their lucky stars that Jodorowsky was stopped before he could make this film and destroy dozens of lives and untold wealth in the desert of Algiers.
Simply put: no man who could do what Jodorowsky did to his own son should have any position of authority ever. Those old silent films were not worth running cattle off of cliffs to their deaths; this film would have been no different.
Lots of charming stories are told by the would-be crew, most are quite entertaining and informative, painting Jodorowsky as an even more driven Steve Jobs. H.R. Giger sounds like a precocious prepubescent boy with a frog in his throat here; this dashes one’s expectations of a gravel-voiced necromantic cyberneticist but a surprising disconnect between a non-performing artist and his work is hardly new, just as Nicolas Winding Refn’s raging paranoia is not shocking but still unpleasant.
Indeed, as quirky as Jodorowsky is, with his expressive hands and onomatopoeia, the most threatening figures in this documentary are the rabid fanboys. Refn quietly seethes over the damage done by Star Wars and the “megabucks blockbuster structure,” ignoring that Jaws started that two years prior, and blames the same big American film corporations that funded 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, both science fiction films with oddly spiritual takes, as out to destroy higher consciousness once and for all.
(Oddly, no one blames Michel Seydoux, who had never produced any film, let alone with a Chilean megalomaniac, before 1973, the year Seydoux distributed The Holy Mountain in Europe and offered, and failed, to fund said maniac’s next.)
The fanboys peg Frank Herbert’s spice melange as a consciousness-expanding drug, which makes a little sense since Jodorowsky’s idea was to create a cinematic, drug-free ‘60s LSD vision. But they also compare Arrakis to Afghanistan as a place of supreme geopolitical importance, so we may ignore them.
In story, melange has the following effects:
- life extension
- expanded consciousness and awareness
- precognition, which only allows safe use of
- the faster-than-light Holtzman drive
I say “comparatively” because it is the sin of critics who know nothing of Renaissance England to babble about how William Shakespeare understood power and politics, who knew nothing of the sort. Shakespeare lived not too long after Agincourt, when men at arms did all the fighting as a disorganized mob, when authority end law extended as far as your mailed fist or naked voice could project. (When you read a Shakespearean king and his words suddenly shift into hyperdrive, the tingle up your spine is exactly this projection.)
Hippie visions need not apply, Alejandro. Melange, and its relation, the water of life, offer access to past lives but this becomes nothing more than another examination of power, as we learn from the character Alia in the sequel Children of Dune. Expanded consciousness only leads to a more careful examination of temporal power.
Another point of the documentary is the effect of this film on future movies. Some are quite direct: Dan O'Bannon, post-Jodo, hired Giger to design the Xenomorph for Alien. But how many other films did this affect? They mention the Terminator’s computer readout vision as a legacy of the unmade Dune’s storyboards, but by 1973 we had already seen Westworld through Yul Brynner’s infrared vision.
As I watch, at some point, El Topo, I will not like it. Messianic, religio-political Latin/Catholic visions always leave me cold. But I hope to be impressed, as I was by this documentary.