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Doc Director Frank Pavich Explores "Jodorowsky's Dune"

jodorowsky-in-lincoln-centerWhen the recent Entertainment Weekly appeared near the end of March featuring a cover theme, The Criminally Underrated, it also included a spread on Holy Grails — legendary projects that never were quite finished or appeared for public consumption. One project missing from that list was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version of Frank Herbert epic science fiction novel, the very influential Dune — a prescient book that appeared in 1966. The arch-psychedelic, mystical film director was going to make a film based on this novel and it was to include such legendary figures as Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd and Jodorowsky himself.

Ultra influential artists such as Moebius and H. R. Giger were going to contribute design ideas and the idea of it was ambitious as Herbert’s novel was voluminous. To develop the film Jodo created an amazing Bible for it which was a mix of storyboard, concept art, script and continuity ideas. This book was an aesthetic legend, occasionally seen by various eyes after the original project fell apart from lack of funding and creative conflicts.

Though it has never been published in its complete form it has been referred to for years by fans of Dune and Jodo. But it wasn’t this March, basically during the same week of the magazine’s release that Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune hit theaters and various distribution circuits. Now the story of the film has been both told by many of those who were involved and are still alive including Jodo himself.
Seeing Jodo’s El Topo as an 18 year-old kid was revelatory. I went to Cincinnati’s film society and got to see movies like Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the BourgeoisieFellini’s Satyricon, and El Top. All these movies warped my psyche along similar lines that underground comics, science fiction and the post Beat writings emerging in America at the time were doing to the culture in general.

That film, among many other youthful bohemian influences, led me along a strange winding path that's produced a fascination with the cutting edge of pop culture. I have done many things as a result -- from buying a case of the original Alien figures that I still (well, two of them) to this day to interviewing Jodorowsky myself.

All these experiences have added up to a strange philosophy and career path -- something that has affected Pavich as well. This one on one interview is a result of our dialog on Jodo and what he has discovered about the 85-year old director.

Q: Where did this come from? Did you wake up one day and… There must’ve been something you had seen…

FP: I don’t know! It’s just that when you learn about the story. When you’re familiar with Jodorowsky’s films… It’s just...

Q: And you met him?

FP: No, I came from zero. I had no connection to him or to anybody in the film. This is all completely from scratch. I just came completely blank, like, let me just go in completely blind, find these people and just talk to them.

Q: With Jodorowsky, it’s beyond science fiction. He is science fiction.

FP: Yeah, he’s way… Dune takes place in the year 10,000 and something, but Jodo’s in 12 or 13,000. He’s beyond everything.

duneQ: How many hours did you spend with him?

FP: Hours? I mean, we spent three years with him. We shot in 2011, 2012, and 2013, going back and forth.

Q: How many years?

FP: We started filming in February 2011. So we filmed through ‘11 ‘12 and then the earlier part of ‘13 before we locked it and shipped it off to France.

Q: At least it has a finitude to it. Because a lot of people when they make documentaries, you could be there for the rest of your life.

FP: Exactly. This story has an ending, more or less. So I guess we were kind of lucky with that.

Q: When did you know to quit?

FP: When the Cannes deadline was coming up and we had to submit the film. We just made it by a good 10 minutes.

Q: So is that the final cut or do you see an extended version?

FP: This is the final cut. It has changed from Cannes because we were really racing then.

Q: Was that longer?

FP: No, it was actually a couple minutes shorter. There was a couple structural changes that we fixed and the artwork wasn’t quite there but it’s essentially the same.

Q: On one level, you’re trying to give a sense of the movie he would have made, and on another, you’re trying to give us the sense through this documentary about how this is one of the greatest movies that was never made. There’s a lot of people you weren’t able to get because a lot of them are dead from Dalí to…

FP: Yeah, that was the price. Once we started thinking, “Oh wouldn’t this be a great movie, wouldn’t this be a great documentary? How would we ever do such a thing?”

Then, oh my god, Dan O’Bannon passed away, like, “Oh shit. Oh man, that really sucks.”

Then David Carradine passed away. So it’s like, “Okay, now we need to get moving.”

We realized that if we really wanted to make this movie, we needed to get serious. These guys are not getting younger, all of us are getting older. I would’ve done something drastic to myself had I woke up and seen [Jodo’s] obituary on the cover of the New York Times.

Q: It’s hard to believe he’ll ever go.

FP: I don’t think he will. I think when he says he’s going to live to 300, he will be 300. If he wants to do it, he’s going to do it.

Q: He has amazing energy,

FP: He’s the greatest.

Q: What did you know about science fiction, fantasy and horror and this genre universe?

FP: I know like, the average… I’m not buying a case of alien figures.

Q: Obviously, you’ve read Dune. Have you’ve seen all the movies?

FP: I’ve never seen the version  that ran on Syfy. Of course, I’ve seen Lynch’s Dune 10 or 15 years ago, and I didn’t want to revisit it while I was working on this. I want to think of Pink Floyd, not Toto’s music in this film. I want to think of Mick Jagger, not Sting. I want to think of Jodorowsky’s version of Dune.

Q: Really, Toto? David Lynch should have known better!

FP: But it’s not a David Lynch movie though.

Q: Yeah, they took it away from him…

FP: You line up all of Lynch’s films and like, which one is not like the others? Dune.

Q: Wouldn’t you like to get them to cut the way he really would have?

FP: I think he’s so over it, I don’t think he gives a crap, to be honest. He wants to tell his stories. People always ask too, “Do you think Jodorowsky wants to go back and make Dune?” And it’s like, no. He’s made it. He’s done. He’s created his film, and Lynch made his. Thirty years later they don’t want to go back and do it. They’re on to the next thing.

Q: What did you think about doing in terms of filling in the gap for Dalí? Did you have ideas of people you needed to reach who you did or didn’t get?

Dune posterFP: I don’t like documentaries that have too many voices in them. I see so many that are 90 minutes with 90 people interviewed and I can’t follow who the hell is who. So if we can’t get Dalí we just needed to get a voice, just needed to get someone who was there at the time. And that was Amanda Lear. She was there for all these meetings, she was there the whole route. She was the perfect voice to speak on his behalf.

Q: Your film was amazing. First film that I’ve seen that compiles all these people together. The important thing is that it resonates with the science fiction that’s behind it. Because we see comic book heroes but I don’t think we see enough that really represents the science fiction of it. So anyway, you were saying something more about Dalí. Dalí and Refn. How did you pick Nicholas Winding Refn?

FP: Well, Refn we chose. Jodorowsky has christened him as his spiritual filmmaking godson. Jodorowsky considers him to be the greatest living director and they have a relationship. He’s someone that I like a lot, so let’s get someone that can speak about Jodorowsky in the present, as having a present relationship with him. That was kind of a no-brainer.

Richard Stanley was interesting choice because his experience with The Island of Dr. Moreau is so similar to Jodorowsky’s. He developed that film for a bunch of years, and after two days of shooting he was fired. They brought in John Frankenheimer to take his place, and he went off to go live in the woods, put on an animal costume, and was an extra in his own film without anyone knowing so he could watch how his dream was being destroyed. He loves Jodorowsky, he’s kind of a Jodorowsky acolyte, but without specifically stating it, he can speak to that pain, that experience, and what that must feel like.

Q: Have you read The Incal and some of the shorter… Airtight Garage…

FP: Oh, sure. Eyes of the Cat, I think is my favorite.

Q: Amazing stuff, and the artwork is just incredible. I mentioned Enki Bilal, is because Bilal is of course an heir to Moebius, stylistically.

FP: It had something to do with Giger, right?

Q: I believe so. Well, you know Enki Bilal did a movie, he did a animated digital movie. It was very early on, so it was kind of rough but it’s interesting to see. How did you decide how to animate this? There’s so many key things to this. How you structured it, deciding to animate it.

FP: It was tough. We went through many different layouts and structures behind it.

Q: Did you always know Jodorowsky had the book with all the art?

FP: I saw it a couple years ago, there was a documentary called [La constellation Jodorowsky]. It’s pretty interesting, and there’s a good three or four minute section where he talks about Dune. He pulls out that book, and I think that’s what solidified the fact that we wanted to make the movie. Like, “Wow, that really does exist. That’s the movie. That book! How do we get into that?”

The structure became, with any documentary, especially with a topic like this, with a person like Jodorowsky, there’s a million amazing anecdotes, other things we could’ve animated, and different people, and all sorts of great things. But that just kind of drags things down a little bit. The film is a clean 90 minutes. And it goes by like that, but everything leads to something else. Any bit of animation is not just like, “Hey, look at this cool thing,” but it has a purpose.

Every person interviewed has a purpose to move that story forward. Because it is a story. It starts with, “I had a dream.” He made Holy Mountain, he made the greatest movie of all time, and then [his] ambition grew.

Q: He hadn’t really read the book at the time that he decided to make the movie.

FP: Correct. He had not read the book when he decided to make it.

Q: Now, what made him think Dune?

FP: He wanted to get out of New York. He was living in New York, didn’t have any money, and was working with Allen Klein, who had produced Holy Mountain. Allen Klein wanted Alejandro to direct Story of O. Jodorowsky did not want to direct The Story of O, and he was looking for an excuse to get the hell out. He had no money, nothing to his name, got on the phone with Michel Seydoux, who had released Jodorowsky’s films in France.

Q: Is that the father of the actress Léa Seydoux?

FP: Michel’s brother is Léa Seydoux’s grandfather. So I don’t know what that makes him… He is the… Uncle, grand uncle or something.

Q: Does Michel know Luc Besson?

FP: I’m sure. Don’t all these guys in France know each other?

Q: But we were talking about how he hadn’t read [Dune]. How did he know of Dune?

FP: A friend of his said it was great. That’s how the idea popped into his head. He could’ve said Hamlet, he could’ve said Don Quixote, he could’ve said Oedipus, he could have said Romeo & Juliet. But he said Dune.

Q: And once he read it... Has he fully read it?

FP: Yeah, because he fully adapted the screenplay. He says Michel Seydoux put him in this castle for two months, and he adapted it. As he says in the movie, it’s a very dense book, the first 100 pages you don’t even know what’s going on. There’s a lot to follow.

Q: Did you know Dune before you did this as well or did you read it as you did this film?

FP: I followed the same path as Jodorowsky and did not read Dune until I was on the plane to Paris to do the first interview with Jodorowsky. I think part of me didn’t want to jinx it by reading it too far in advance, and then after awhile I [realized] I was following his methodology, that kept me in line with him. So I waited until then.

Q: And ironically, the mystical qualities of everything permeated…

FP: You need a 50-page glossary at the back. When Lynch made his movie, you went to the theater and you were given a glossary.

Q: At that point, had you seen any of his movies? When did it dawned on you to make this?

FP: I knew Jodorowsky, I knew his films, I was familiar with them. So I came to it from the Jodorowsky side of things, as opposed to the Dune side of things, originally.

Q: When you saw Jodorowsky’s films, how did you see them? Did you view them as part of a certain grand tradition?

FP: I came to Jodorowsky during the drought. During the drought when nothing was out there, you could see like, a fifth-generation VHS tape with horrible resolution. Or a Japanese laser disc, if you were lucky you had a friend who had both a laser disc player and the actual disc.

Q:  Who were the biggest challenges to get? You have the Stones, you’ve got Pink Floyd…

FP: Really nobody! Everybody that we wanted, we got because they all love Jodorowsky. He was the first person I approached, and once I had him on board, everybody else fell into place because they all love him so much.

Q: Talking about the musicians you managed to get, did you try for someone from Pink Floyd?

FP: We didn’t get anybody from Pink Floyd. We were thinking about reaching out to them, but it really just didn’t work out. And the main guy from Magma was the other group. I love ‘em. They’re great. They played in Geneva last year and I missed it because I was here, I think. Down the block from my house, literally two blocks away. My wife got me a tee-shirt!

Q: Looking as normal as you look, you must be a very warped person deep down inside. Or not. Were you scared normal?

FP: I don’t know if you really have to be warped to appreciate these things. Maybe I just always stood out wherever I was. If I’m at a New York hardcore show, like which one of these guys is not like the other? That guy would be me.

Q: What turned you onto hardcore?

FP: I just love it. I love the energy of it, I love the music.

Q: Did you see the hardcore movie that Paul Rachman made that Sony released?

FP: I hated it. It’s offensive. The whole conceit is a lie, which is that hardcore died in1986. That’s not true. Maybe it died for him, but I’m living proof. It’s also just so poorly shot, half the people are sitting in front of windows, you can’t even see them, they’re just silhouettes, there’s microphones clipped on the fronts of shirts and dangling. Like, you couldn’t do this a little bit better?

The sound quality  of all the live music is horrible. They’re showing old video footage with the released EP or whatever. I don’t get it. When it came out I saw posters everywhere, I was like, “What the hell is this?”

Q: You have a very interesting résumé! Which bands did you feature in your film, New York Hardcore? I used to be a music journalist so I knew everybody in there.

FP: We focused on what was happening in the summer of ‘95. So it was Madball, which is Roger from Agnostic Front’s brother, it was 25 to Life, it was Vision of Disorder, it was No Redeeming Social Value, 108 which was a hare krishna band. They were great, they were amazing.

Q: You hardly look like the hardcore movie-making type!

FP: Weird! Yeah, we had Roger from Agnostic Front, we had John from the Cro-Mags, Jimmy from Murphy’s Law.

Q: I know all those guys, I love Murphy’s Law.  I guess I can see a connection between New York Hardcore and this. And what was Die Mommy Die — a horror film?

FP: You know who Charles Busch is?

Q: Oh, that’s the Charles Busch movie! I met Charles Busch, but I never really knew him.

FP: That was the Charles Busch movie.

Q: you have a gap between Die Mommy Die, you were working for other people in development and all that? Were you directing? Were you producing? TV in New York? In LA?

FP: Yeah, development, working in TV. I did a lot of crap in TV. I worked for the E! channel for way too long in LA. Then I worked for like, MTV, that kind of thing.

Q: Who released your films?

FP: Die Mommy Die was Sundance. It was their first time distributing anything and they basically buried it, because they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

Q: How do you draw people in?

FP: I think that’s the majesty of it, the beautiful qualities of it. We made a movie where you don’t have to know or be familiar with Jodorowsky, you don’t have to be familiar with Dune, you don’t have to be a science fiction fan or anything. It’s not about his history necessarily, it’s about something else. It’s about his personality. He’s so fantastic on screen, he’s such an amazing natural storyteller.

Q: Why didn’t other people cast him?

FP: I don’t know. I found that he had an agent in Spain. He’s not Spanish, but he has an agent in Spain, which is weird. She’s an agent for him for acting, and I didn’t realize that he had acted in anybody else’s films. So I don’t know what kind of relationship they have or what she does, but that’s how I found him. I wish he would be in everything. He’s the best.

Q: Did he sign some things for you?

FP: Oh, the best story. I went to Paris to go meet with him by myself, after that we exchanged a bunch of emails, spoke on the phone, then I went back with my team. We shot for three weeks, a bunch of times with him, for Michel Seydoux, went to London for Chris, Switzerland for Giger, went back to Jodo three or four times, reunited him with Michel Seydoux, shot all that, and on the last day of shooting with him, the team and I each pulled something out for him to sign.

My other guys had him sign DVD covers or something, I pulled out this giant Incal in the slip cover, it was 500 made or a thousand made, something like that. So I had him sign that. So he takes out his pen, and goes, “What was your name again?” I was like, “Frank, my name is Frank.”

And after all this time working together, seeing my name in all those emails. Great. That’s where I belong in the universe! But he meant it so honestly, it was great. It was so hilarious, but it just crushed me. It absolutely crushed me at the time.

Q: At least it’s signed!

FP: It is, absolutely. And I didn’t know if I would ever see him again, if we’d go back.

Q: Did you bring him into New York for the premiere?

FP: He’s actually now just stopping over here because he’s going to SXSW. His film has its US premiere there. Dance of Reality. You knew everything I thought! I’ve found a crack! It’s a new film, it premiered at Cannes.

Q: So he did finish that new film he was talking about?

FP: Yeah. At the very end of Dune, we mention it. During the documentary they got back together and Michel produced Jodo’s first film in 23 years, which also stars his son Brontis, so it’s this weird thing all over again. And we premiered at Cannes together. We were both at Directors’ Fortnight, on premiere night -- we were on at seven and his was on at nine.

Q: And where is he right now?

FP: He’s in the city, we’re going to try to have dinner.

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