by Alejandro Jodorowsky
There is a Hebraic legend which says: "the Messiah will not be a man but one day: the day when all the human beings will be illuminated "Kabbalists speak about a conscience collective, cosmic, a species of méta-Universe. And here are what for me all the DUNE project was.
To show the process of illumination of a hero, then a people, then a whole planet (which in its turn is the Messiah of the Universe since by giving up its orbit, the holy planet leaves to spread its light throughout all the galaxies)...
I did not want to respect the novel, I wanted to recreate it. For me Dune did not belong to Herbert as Don Quixote did not belong to Cervantes, nor Edipo with Esquilo.
There is an artist, only one in the medium of a million other artists, which only once in his life, by a species of divine grace, receives an immortal topic, an MYTH... I say "receives" and not "creates" because the works of art it's received in a state of mediumism directly of the unconscious collective. Work exceeds the artist and to some extent, it kills it because of humanity, by receiving the impact of the Myth, has a major need to erase the individual who received it and transmitted: its individual personality obstructs, stains the purity of the message which, of its base, requires to be anonymous... We know who created the cathedral of Notre-Dame, neither the Aztec solar calendar, neither the tarot of Marseilles nor the myth of Don Juan, etc.
One feels that Cervantes gave HIS version of Quixote - of course, incomplete and that we carry in the heart the total character... Christ belongs not to Mark, neither to Luke, neither to Matthew nor to John... There are many other Gospels known as apocryphal books and there are as many lives of Christ as there are believers. Each one of us has their own version of Dune, its Jessica, their Paul... I felt in enthusiastic admiration towards Herbert and at the same time in conflict (I think that the same thing occurred to him)... He obstructed me... I did not want him as a technical adviser ... I did everything to move him away from the project... I had received a version of Dune and I wanted to transmit it: the Myth was to give up the literary form and to become Image...
In film, the Duke Leto (father of Paul) would be a man castrated in a ritual combat in the arenas during a bullfight (emblem of the Atreides house being a crowned bull...) Jessica - nun of the Bene Gesserit -, sent as concubine at the Duke to create a girl which would be the mother of a Messiah, becomes so in love with Leto that she decides to jump a chain link and to create a son, Kwisatz Haderach, the saviour. By using her capacities of Bene Gesserit - once that the Duke, insanely in love with her, entrusts her with his sad secret - Jessica is inseminated by a drop of blood of this sterile man... The camera followed (in script) the red drop through the ovaries of the woman and sees its meeting with the ovule where, by a miraculous explosion, it fertilises it. Paul had been born from a virgin; and not of the sperm of his father but of his blood...
In my version of Dune, the Emperor of the galaxy is insane. He lives on an artificial gold planet, in a gold palace built according to not-laws of antilogical. He lives in symbiosis with a robot identical to him. The resemblance is so perfect that the citizens never know if they are opposite the man or the machine...
In my version, the spice is a blue drug with spongy consistency filled with a vegetable-animal life endowed with consciousness, the highest level of consciousness. It does not stop taking all kinds of forms, while stirring up unceasingly. The spice continuously produces the creation of the innumerable universes.
The Baron Harkonnen is an immense man of 300 kilogrammes. he is so fatty and heavy that, to move, he must make continuous use of antigravitational bubbles attached at his limbs... His delusion of grandeur does not have limits: he lives in a palace built like a portrait of itself... This immense sculpture is drawn up on a sordid and marshy planet... To enter the palace, one must wait until the colossus opens the mouth and draws a tongue from steel (landing strip...).
At the end of the film, the wife of the Count Fenring leaps towards Paul, who has already become Fremen, and she slices his throat. Paul while dying says: "Too late, one cannot kill me... because...
- Because, Jessica with the voice of Paul continues, to kill the Kwisatz Haderach, you would have to also have killed me... "And each Fremen, each Atreides speaks now with the voice of Paul: "I am the collective man. He who shows the way "
Reality changes quickly. Three columns of light spout out of the planet. They mix. Plunge in the sand of planet: "I am the Earth which awaits the seed!" the spice is desiccated. The ground trembles. Water drops form a pillar surrounded by fire.
Silver filaments emerge from spice. Create a rainbow. They form in a water cloud, produce a red "lava". Then vapour. Clouds. Rain. Rivers. Grass. Forests. Dune becomes green. A blue ring surrounds planet now. It is divided. It produces more and more rings. Dune is now a world illuminated, which crosses the galaxy, which leaves it, which gives it lightly - which is Consciousness - to all the universe.
To conceive this final sequence of transmutation of the matter, I was likely to come into contact with true alchemists... Mysterious beings (one of them seemed to be more than one hundred of years, an advanced age which however enabled him to move with an energy of young teenager) which approached me because Dune could be a philosopher stone, the stone which changes into gold all other metals... In this sequence, they described what really occurs when they manage to transform, in their alchemical furnaces, the matter...
For the "guerrilla" war that Paul and Fremen carry out against the imperial army, I had been lucky to contact a guerrilla expert from South America... He had fought in Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Center-America... His invaluable experience brought to the scenario a martial reality...
When Jessica becomes the supreme Mother of the Fremen and must pass through ceremonies of initiation, learn medicine from the wizards and contact other dimensions of reality, I knew the magic medicine of gipsies through Paul of Dune, already deceased... And the ceremonial of the mushrooms hallucinogens and miraculous operations by the Pachita witch, a being who had much more capacities than so-called Filipinos surgeons.
My son Brontis, who was to play Paul, was initiated at nine years of age by a legendary bodyguard - Jean-Pierre Vigneau - to the combat with the knife (of real engagements), karate, the art of archery... He received lessons from an almost true mental - Michel de Roisin - who had an encyclopaedic brain... I remember to have seen him give to Brontis a lesson on the fable the Cicada and the Ant which lasted more than fifteen days... Through the verses, he described a whole time and its civilisations.
With the production, I crossed the Sahara. I wanted to film Dune in Tassili while facing with the actors, the thousands of extra and the technical teams, torrid heats and the dryness to obtain true lunar landscapes... The Algerian government was very interested in the project.
Once, the Divinity agreed to say to me in a lucid dream: "Your next film must be Dune." I had not read the novel. I lifted myself to a height of six o'clock in the morning and as an alcoholic who awaits the opening of the bar, I waited until someone opens the bookshop to buy the book. I read it off a feature without me stopping for drinking or eating. At midnight exactly, the very same day, I finish the reading. At one minute past midnight, I called from New York, Michel Seydoux in Paris... He would be the first of the seven samurai that it was necessary for me to have for the immense project. Michel was for me a young man (26 years) without experience in the cinema, but his company Camera One had bought the rights for the Holy Mountain, my last film and had distributed very well it... He had said to me: "I will want to produce a film with you". I did not know much about him but by an intuition which today surprises me, by seeing it, in spite of his youth, I see in him the largest producer of the time... Why? Mystery... And I was not mistaken. When I say to him that I wanted that he buys the rights for Dune and that the film should be international because it would exceed the ten million dollars (fabulous sum for the time: even Hollywood did not believe in science fiction films, 2001 would be unique and unpassable), he did not stumble: "OK. We'll be in Los Angeles in two days to buy the rights ".
He had not read the book... I think that he did not read it yet because the prose of Herbert annoyed him... And one could buy the rights - easily because Hollywood found the book unrealizable with the screen and non-commercial... Michel Seydoux gave me unlimited power and an enormous financial support: I could create my team without an economic problem.
I needed a precise script... I wanted to carry out the film on paper before filming it... These days all films with special effect are done as that, but at the time this technique was not used. I wanted a draughtsman of comic strips who has the genius and the speed, who can be used to me as a camera and who gives at the same time a visual style... I was by chance with my second warrior: Jean Giraud alias Moebius (at the time he had not made Arzach, nor The Airtight Garage). I say to him: "If you accept this work, you must all give up and leave tomorrow with me to Los Angeles to speak with Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey)". Moebius asked for a few hours of think about it.
The following day, we left for the United States. It would take too a long time to tell... Our collaboration, our meetings in America with the strange ones illuminated and our conversations at seven o'clock in the morning in the small coffee which was in the bottom of our workshops and which by "chance" was called Café the Universe. Giraud made 3000 drawings, all marvellous... The script of Dune, thanks to his talent, is a masterpiece. One can see living the characters, one follows the movements of the camera. One visualises cutting, the decorations, the costumes... All that with, each time, some features of the pencil... I was behind his shoulders by asking him for the various points of view... By putting in a scene the "actors", etc One filmed...
For the third warrior I required a clever dreamer who can draw the space ships in a different way than that of American films:
"I do not want that the man conquers space
In the ships of NASA
These concentration camps of the spirit
These gigantic freezers vomiting the imperialism
These slaughter of plundering and plunder
This arrogance of bronze and thirst
This eunuchoid science
Not the dribble of transistorised and riveted hulls
The divine one
The delirious one
The superb one
I want magical entities, vibrating vehicles
To prolong to be to it abyss
Like fish of a timeless ocean. I want
Jewels, mechanics as perfect as the heart
Rebirth into other dimensions
I want whore-ships driven
By the sperm of passionate ejaculations
In an engine of flesh
I want rockets complex and secret,
Sipping the thousand-year-old nectar of dwarf stars... "
This is why I wrote to Christopher Foss, an English draughtsman who illustrated covers of science fiction books... Like Giraud, he had never thought of the cinema... With a great enthusiasm, he left London and settled in Paris... This artist, with the ships which he produced for Dune, marked the cinema. He could produce semi-alive machines which could be metamorphosed with the colour of the stones of space... He could produce "thirsty battleships dying century after century in a star desert awaiting the alive body which will fill their empty tanks of subtle secretions of its heart..."
After I found Giger, a Swiss painter whose catalogue Dalí had shown me... His art declining, sick, suicidal, brilliant, was perfect to carry out the Harkonnen planet... He made a project of castle and planet which really touched with the metaphysical horror. (later, he carried out the sets and the monster of Alien.)
For the special effects, thanks to the capacity which Michel Seydoux gave me, I was able to refuse Douglas Trumbull... I was unable to swallow his vanity, his airs of business leader and his exorbitant prices. Like a good American, he played to scorn the project and tried to complexes while making us wait while speaking with us at the same time as with ten people on the telephone and finally by showing us superb machines which he tried to improve. Tired of all this comedy, I left to research a young talent. It is said to me that in L.A. it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I saw in a modest festival of cinema by science fiction amateurs, a film made without means that I found marvellous: Dark Star.
I contacted the boy who had made the special effects: Dan O' Bannon. I was almost with a wolf child. Completely out of conventional reality, O'Bannon was for me a real genius. He could not believe that I can entrust a project as significant as Dune to him. He was obliged to believe it when he received his plane ticket for Paris. I was not mistaken: Dan O'Bannon wrote later the scenario of Alien and a good number of other films with great success.
With Jean-Paul Gibon, who was the executive producer of Camera-One and who liked the project as much as us, we left for England to seek the musician. A vital aspect for me: each planet had its style of music, for example, a group as Magma could carry out very well the warlike rates/rhythms of Harkonnens which would be able to crystallize the beauty of planet of sands with its mystery and its relentless forces, the strange symphony of the rings of the giant worms.
Virgin Records accepted us and offered Gong, Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream to us. At this time, I say: "And why not Pink Floyd?" The group at that time had such success that almost all regarded that as an unrealizable idea. I had the chance, thanks to my film El Topo, known by these musicians. They happily agreed to receive us in London with the Abbey Road studios where Beatles had recorded their success. Jean-Paul Gibon was very agreeably surprised that the group would see us. Me, at that time, I had already almost lost my individual conscience. I was the instrument of a miraculous work, where all could be done. Dune was not with my service, I was, as the samurai that I had found, with the service of the work. They were recording Dark Side of the Moon. While arriving, I did not see a group of large musicians realising its masterpiece, I see four young people guys devouring steak and chips. Jean-Paul and me, standing in front of them, were to wait until their voracity is satisfied.
In the name of Dune, I was taken of a holy anger and I left while slamming the door. I wanted artists who can respect a work of such an importance for the human conscience. I think that they did not expect that. Surprised, David Gilmour ran behind us by giving excuses and made us attend the last mixing of its disc. Which ecstasy!... After one attended their last public concert where thousands of fanatics acclaimed them. They wanted to see The Holy Mountain. They saw it in Canada. They decided to take part in the film by producing an album which was going to be called Dune made up of two discs. They came to Paris to discuss the economic part and, after an intense discussion, one arrived at an agreement. Pink Floyd would make almost all the music of the film.
100,000 Dollars An Hour
With the best music on our side, I started to seek the actors. I had seen Charlotte Rampling in Zardoz. I wanted her for Jessica. She refused the role. She wanted at that time to make two or three commercial films, the love of life interesting her more than art. David Carradine came to Paris, interested by the role of Leto.
The actor that I wished for most was Dalí: for the role of the insane Emperor... Which adventure!... The Emperor buffoon, seemed to me it, could be played only by one man of the great delirious personality of Dalí. To New York, with Michel Seydoux and Jean-Paul Gibon, I arrived at our hotel, San Régis and in the hall, I see cited El Salvador Dalí. I guess that it is indelicate to approach him immediately and the following day I called him by telephone. I speak Spanish. Dalí had not seen my films but friends spoke to him about them with enthusiasm. He invites me to a very private surrealist exposure and promises to leave me the invitation under the door.
At six o'clock in the evening, I found the invitation for two people. Dalí said to me to be there to 7 O'clock exactly. I arrive with Michel Seydoux five minutes late. At seven hours five, Dalí is not there anymore. He came, he got out of its car, made a one minute circuit in the room then left.
A taxi is travelled by and when arriving at the hotel, by chance, I am with Dalí again in the hall. I take an appointment for the following day in the bar of the hotel and I leave.
This night, I choose to dine at a French restaurant and by chance, I find a few steps from of our table is El Salvador Dalí who dines with his friend Amanda Lear, I say to him: "It is the objective chance". He answers me: "It is more than that. One will speak tomorrow!" the following day, I find him in the bar of the hotel San Régis.
Dalí agrees with much enthusiasm the idea to play the Emperor of the galaxy. He wants to film in Cadaquès and to use as throne a toilet made up of two intersected dolphins. The tails will form the feet and the two open mouths will be used one to receive the "wee", the other to receive the "excrement". Dalí thinks that it is of terrible bad taste to mix the "wee" and the "excrement".
It is said to him that I will need him for seven days... Dalí answers that God made the universe in seven days and that Dalí, while not being less than God, must cost a fortune: 100,000 dollars an hour. Perhaps that while arriving at the set he will decide to film each day more than one hour for the same price.
The only condition is to have the Emperor on the throne scatological. He does not want to read the script: "My ideas are better than yours". He wants to choose his court among his friends, wants to say what he wants and moreover, at the time to sign the contract, will condescend to make my gift of three ideas that I will have the right to use or not.
The Daliesque happening will cost us 700,000 dollars. I ask him for a time, one night, to make a decision and I leave. That night, I tear off a page of a book on the tarot; there is a reproduced card: Hanged Man. I write a letter to him by saying to him that the film cannot pay him 700 000 dollars, but which I will try to convince my producer to use him three days for 300,000 dollars.
The following day, I send the letter to Dalí. He will give us his response in Paris.
In Paris, Dalí invites us by telephone to meet it with the Meurice hotel. There is the surprise of not being alone with him: there is a score of people, merchants, models, fine young men, a lady which one calls the King and who is virile, an enormous Dutchwoman who will pose so that Dalí combs her sex, a character who claims to be the grandson of the pétomane (the man which, in 1900, played in the music-halls, and whom Dalí says to us that he did with his bottom what Tino Rossi could not do with his throat).
I do not have the chance of speaking with the painter because he takes us along to a dinner and it is at this dinner that Dalí wants to speak to me about a film. In a way, I prepare a small questionnaire: how does an Emperor die? How is his palace? How does he get dressed? Etc.
In the festival where I find Mick Jagger, Nathalie Delon, Johnny Hallyday and other celebrities, Dalí shows its enthusiasm for the role of the Emperor and when I give him my questionnaire while saying to him: "I came prepared". It answers me: "Me also". From a pocket he pulls the drawing of the toilet made with the two dolphins: "It is completely necessary to see the Emperor making wee and excrement". I ask him whether it is ready to show his sex and his anus and he says to me that not and that he would like to be doubled, that he wants only that he is seen situated.
Dalí was known as to regard my card as a contract. He was touched by the image of the Hanged Man and said: "I see the Hanged Man with his hair like roots in the ground and outgoing, by the bottom, a column of sh*t with a capital linking it with the sky". A few days later, the grandson of the pétomane invites us to give us the appointment in Barcelona. But Dalí calls me before again inviting me to lunch and speak about his role. He does not want to be directed (put in a scene). He wants to do what he wants. I ask him: "If I were a rich person owner and that I said to paint me what you would like yourself, but in the octagonal shape of the table, you would do it? "
Me: "Then, it is possible to work together, I will direct you while asking you questions (the form) and you will answer me as you want with actions".
Dalí accepts. Me, I think that the battle will be formidable. It will be necessary that I find questions which have only one answer. And, it will be necessary that I envisage his answers as failures.
For example, if I ask how will be equipped the Emperor, it is quite possible that he answers me: "In the 20 century, Dalí will be regarded as God, as today is Christ. The Padishah Emperor will be equipped like Dalí ".
If I ask him how will be his palace, he could answer me: "Like a reproduction of the old station of Perpignan". If he gives me these two answers, it could kill Dune and it should be said to him that there is a limit: Dalí cannot interpret Dalí.
The idea of a similar play authentically seems to me surrealist and I am more than ever ready to work with the painter without taking account of the words of Amanda Lear who, in an aside with the dinner, tempted by the idea to play Irulan, the daughter of the emperor, says to me that the Master is a saboteur by masochism, that finally he always likes the things which fail.
A screenplay writer who made a film for the TV with Dalí said to me that he is unpredictable up to the point to choosing to be filmed in obscure corners, although have spent all the day to light sets, he refuses at the last second to put his feet there.
That gives me the idea to light the day of filming with Dalí not only the set but also the corridors, the toilets, the roofs, all. If I do not have dark corners, this battle will be gained. It says to me that for him, my card with the image of the Hanged Man is his contract.
To Barcelona, we arrive one late hour. Before going to see him, I decide to face the problem by telephone. I speak with the descendant about the pétomane: "Listen to Sir, do not waste time, we cannot offer Dalí 300,000 dollars. We have 150,000 dollars. If he is not interested, I set out again to Paris. If the business interests him, call us in ten minutes ".
At the end of ten minutes, the small pétomane calls us: "Come, Dalí awaits you".
Dalí, this time, is relatively alone. Amanda Lear is there with two secretaries. who starts by playfully scorning him, saying: "Dalí is like a taxi, as time passes the more expensive it is, and you, as time passes, the less you want to pay". I have finally time to introduce Jean-Paul Gibon to him who will defend the interests of Michel Seydoux. I try to reason him. It is difficult and for us almost impossible to film in Cadaquès, that must be done in Paris.
For 150,000 dollars, I want three days and not an hour and half of filming. I would like to also make a polyethene puppet, his counterpart, to use it like his double in the film. Dalí is put in anger: "I will have you like rats! I will film in Paris, but the set will cost you more than the landscapes of Cadaquès and the framework of my museum. Dalí costs 100,000 dollars the hour! "
He is calmed and agreed to the idea of being reproduced out of plastic if after the film I give this sculpture to his museum. I decide to definitively finish the contract the following day. I discuss it with Jean-Paul Gibon and I conclude that it is impossible to haggle with Dalí. I meditate lengthily and I make this final decision: I reduce the role of Dalí to a page and half of script. I accept his price, 100,000 dollars the hour, but I take it only for only one hour. The remainder, I will film it with his double robot. Dalí cannot be allowed either to reconsider its price. I went to see him. I give him the small page and half, and Dalí accepts the proposal because his honour is secure. He will be the most expensive paid actor in the history of cinema. He will earn more than Greta Garbo.
Dalí, with enthusiasm, shows me his bed with the sculpture of a dolphin. A workman is already there taking the design of the dolphin to make the toilet.
As much for Dalí as for me, the tarot card of the Hanged Man, on which I wrote some words acted as the contract.
Dalí likes the aristocracy and like any man of noble spirit, he respects his word.
With the signature of the contract, I celebrate with a great dinner where Dalí is named Chevalier of Crayfish. He makes me sit by his side and, likewise, he makes sit Pasolini. During all the dinner, he introduces food on the end of his fingers into the mouth of Pasolini.
I worry because I want to be the first to have Dalí as actor and I were astonished to discover with us another director.
Amanda Lear says to me: "You should not worry. Pasolini is only here to request the permission to use a tableau of Dalí for the poster of his film Les Cent-Vingt Journées de Sodome. Dalí requires 100,000 dollars from him. Dalí likes that one fights for him ".
Not Enough Hollywood
Me, I liked to fight for Dune. Almost all the battles were won, but the war was lost. The project was sabotaged in Hollywood. It was French and not American. Its message was not "enough Hollywood". There were intrigues, plundering. The storyboard circulated among all the large studios. Later, the visual aspect of Star Wars resembled our style. To make Alien, they invited Moebius, Foss, Giger, O'Bannon, etc. The project announced to American the possibility of carrying out science fiction films to large spectacle and out of the scientific rigour of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Dune project changed our life. When it was over, O'Bannon entered a psychiatric hospital. Afterwards, he returned to the fight with rage and wrote twelve scripts which were refused. The thirteenth one was Alien.
Like him, all those who took part in the rise and fall of the Dune project learned how to fall one and one thousand times with savage obstinacy until learning how to stand. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, said to me: "My son, in my life, I triumphed because I learned how to fail".
Translated from the supplement "DUNE LE FILM QUE VOUS NE VERREZ JAMAIS" in Métal Hurlant 107.