“We want him killed. I did not say this. I am not here.”
David Lynch . 1984
“When they called me about it,”
I thought they said June.”
That’s David Lynch in his Jimmy Stewart manner. No science fiction fan, Lynch had never heard of Frank Herbert's 1965 book (starting in the year 10,091). It was been described as the literary lodestar for the 60s, a life-affirming metaphor in an extraordinary universe, the desert planet of Arrakis, known as Dune - where positive human potential prevails over deeply entrenched evil. The fifth book in the series had leapt atop the New York Times best-sellers by the time the film was ready to open. As Universal publicity put it: "A film has long been awaited."
For a dozen years. At least.
In 1972, producer Alexander Jacobs annouced his version and cameraman Haskell Wexler chose Dune for his second film as a director (after Medium Cool, 1969). Shooting was planned in London in 1972 with a predominantly British cast: Patrick McGoohan, the dyslexic Susan Hampshire, John Neville as Paul, Jessica and Harkonnen.
Three years later, the El Topo maker Alexandro Jodorowsky was preparing a definitive and hallucinatory version, French but with the world in mind - “like a Cecil B De Mille freesco.” Plus music by Pink Floyd.
“We won all the battles but not the war,” said Jodo in 2013. “We had Pink Floyd, Magma, Salvador Dali as the mad Emperor of the Galaxy (he wanted $100,000 per minute). I met with Moebius, HR Giger, Christopher Foss, Dan O’Bannion - they all went on to Hollywood. Giger made Alien, O’Bannion participated in Blade Runner, Moebius did the Tron story-boards…”
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn called it
“probably the greatest film never made.”
Five volumes of 500 pages collated all the graphic work and was shown to Warner, Paramount, Universal, MGM. “They were scared of Jodorowsky,” said Winding Refn. “Too visionary, too poetic, too free, too much in advance.” And he added: "What happened was very painful then - and now," Jodo told me much earlier in Paris. "I've tried to put it out of my mind, wipe it from my memory." For once, it was not a question of money. "We had all of it, about $25million. [Variety reported a mere $3m]. But we never had the distribution. My producer, Michel Seydoux, needed the security of a distribution deal. We were already deep into production when he went to Hollywood - and, frankly, no one was interested."
The Hollywood view was simple. The hell you say? A big science fiction film...? Get outta here!
Despite a lot of noise about Dexter Fletcher, Val Kilmer, Rob Lowe, and Christopher Reeve, it was - surprise, surprise! - Jodo Jr, Jodo’s son, Brontis Jodorowsky, chosen for for the heroic Paul, the Kwisatz Haderach, "the one who will bridge space and time" and lead the fight against the Harkonnen dynasty. The son, in fact, of Duke Leto Atreides and his concubine Jessica. Impressed with Kung Fu on TV, Jodorowsky asked David Carradine to be Carradine the Imperial ecologist Dr Kynes - and later to substitute Jodo, himself, as Leto. "He jumped at it," said Alexandro. "But when I offered Lady Jessica to Charlotte Rampling, she refused."
Jack Nicholson passed on Gurney Halleck. Jack was turning everyone down in ’76 - Polanski, Spielberg, even Orson Welles - because he saw his future among them. As a director. He was fine tuning a handful of pet projects from “the real Howard Hughes” (dropped when pal Warren Beatty almost started his version, never made until 2015) and.... “I was very attracted to Dune for a long time but it’d be a huge job for me to approach.”
Fast-forward a dozen years… Francesca Annis and the German actor Jurgen Prochnow (after Robert Duvall passed) played the parents of David Lynch's Paul - Kyle MacLachan, chosen from the final ten of some 100 video-tests of actors, known and unknown.
Claiming to have read the book annually since 14,
MacLachan continued as Lynch’s alter-ego
in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks
- matching the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood's description of Paul Atreides: "something different, something unexpected."
With typical bravura, Jodorowsky has persuaded Salvador Dali to be the Padishah Emperor (José Ferrer in 1984) and his daughter, Princess Irulan, was set for Dali’s muse for 15 years, the blonde beauty with the masculine voiced French disco singer, lyricist, painter, TV presenter (in Italy and France), actress, Paco Rabane model and alleged transexual… Amanda Lear.
“In my version, the emperor of the galaxy is mad. He lives on an artificial planet of gold, in a palace of gold constructed according to the non-laws of anti-logic. He lives in symbiosis with a robot identical to him. The resemblance is so perfect that the citizens never know if they are facing the man or the machine.” Perfect he felt for Dali who had never seen a Jodo film but heard good reports about them and yes, but as for money… He would be required for seven days. Ah, yes, God had made the universe in seven days and Dali not being less than God, must cost a fortune. $100,000 an hour.” But as soon as Jodo heard Dali speaking in a favour of Franco, that was the end, Well, goodbye, Dali.
Following dicusssions with, or about, Kim Basinger, Helena Bonham Carter, Bridget Fonda, Jodie Foster, Melanie Griffith, Anne-Louise Lambert (The Draughtman’s Contract find), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kristy McNichol, Tatum O’Neal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, Brooke Shields, Lynch opened his film opon Virginia Madsen as Irulan. And, indeed, on Sylvana Mangano's Reverend Mother intoning the prophecy that "One will come, bringing the Holy War, the Jihad, which will cleanse the Universe and bring us out of darkness..." Gloria Swanson had promised to be this high-priest once Alexandro was ready for her close-up.
Jodo’s other plans… Paul's arch-enemy Baron Vladimir Harkonnen - Orson Welles (Kenneth McMillan)… Andrea Ferroel - as a man - Sting’s later Feyd-Rautha. Mick Jagger as the baron’s doctor (Brad Dourif). Pierre Clementi for Dr Yueh, the traitor (Dean Stockwell, after John Hurt passed), Laurent Terzieff for Beast Rabban, chief of the Harkonnen army (Paul Smith) and Alain Delon, also for Feyd-Rautha.
“The project was sabotaged in Hollywood,”
Jodorowsky believed, “because it was French.
Not American... and not Hollywood enough.”
"There was intrigue, plunder. The storyboard was circulated among all the big studios. Later, the visual aspect of Star Wars strangely resembled our style. To make Alien, they called Foss, Giger, Moebius, O'Bannon, etc. The project signaled to Americans the possibility of making a big show of science-fiction films, outside of the scientific rigor of 2001. The project changed our lives."
When Dino De Laurentiis became a Dune believer in 1980, who else did he first turn to but Alien's Ridley Scott. He chose Alien's John Hurt for Dr Wellington Yueh, before quitting after the death of his older brother and turned, of course, to Blade Runner, 1982.
David Lynch did not have things all his way, either. He also wanted the unavailable Hurt, his Elephant Man. Glenn Close was not keen on playing Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis), "the girl who is always running and falling down behind the men".
Until Patrick Stewart started his LA sf career with it, Lynch wanted the somewhat British-sounding Gurney Helleck to be played by Aldo Ray. (His son, Eric Da Rae, was starring in Lynch's Twin Peaks when his father died in 1991).
Lynch spent three years on the $40m project - 18 months writing the script, 23 weeks shooting on 65 sets on all eight soundstages of Mexico City's Churubusco Studios.
Dino said: “It’s not only the greatest motion picture of my career,
it is one of the greatest motion pictures... ever made.”
The public did not agree, killing Lynch's contract for, at least, two more movies - he'd already scripted Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Something close to Lynch's full version was finally seen on LA’s KTLA Channel 5 in 1988. Harry Tatleman, in charge of MCA special projects, re-edited the film from the raw takes and the original editor's notes - adding 50 minutes and two new credits. Screenplay by Judas Booth and... "An Alan Smithee Film."
At 84 (and vowing to live until 120), Jodorowsky was at the 2013 Cannes festival with his twelth movie, La danza de la realidad/The Dance of Reality. Same director. Same star (Brontis, of course). Same producer Michel Seydoux. But not, alas, their Dune.