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The Dune that never was … but might have been

The RiverRun International Film Festival and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art have teamed up again to present a special “Madmen and Masters” screening of Frank Pavich’s acclaimed, award-winning feature documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) on Aug. 25 at SECCA, in Winston-Salem.

Since its publication in 1965, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction saga Dune was hot property in Hollywood. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs (of Planet of the Apes fame) wanted to make it but died in 1973 before pre-production could commence.

It wasn’t until 1984, and after director Ridley Scott had passed on the project, that producer Dino De Laurentiis finally brought Dune to the big screen, with David Lynch directing an all-star cast. Although the film had its supporters – Herbert among them – it was, at the time, a critical and financial disappointment. In editing the film to feature length, Lynch was quoted as saying: “I died a death on Dune” – although he remained friendly with De Laurentiis and later directed the 1986 classic Blue Velvet under his auspices, earning Lynch an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

In the mid-1970s, however, shortly after Jacobs’ death, cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) made his bid to make Dune, and he came tantalizingly close to making it happen. Although his window of opportunity passed – there was enough material to make a full-length, and frequently fascinating, documentary about the Dune that never was, one that would supposedly have been true to both Herbert’s vision and Jodorowsky’s cinematic sensibilities.

To that end, Jodorowsky had interested an eclectic cast to appear in the film, including Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Udo Kier, Gloria Swanson and even Salvador Dali, and planned to cast his 12-year-own son Brontis in the pivotal role of Paul Atreides. Jodorowsky was negotiating with Pink Floyd to provide the score and lined up an array of production talent that included Gary Kurtz, Dan O’Bannon, and H.R. Giger.

Not only did the latter trio go on to bigger things – Kurtz would produce Star Wars (1977) and O’Bannon and Giger collaborated on Alien (1979) — but they also brought some of the very same ideas and elements from the aborted Dune to those later films, which are divulged and discussed in great detail throughout the documentary. Many of the principals involved with Jodorowsky’s Dune relate their involvement, including Giger (who died a year after the documentary’s release).

The Dune dynasty has continued over the years. In 2000, Syfy’s mini-series Frank Herbert’s Dune received good reviews, won two Emmy Awards, and was successful enough to spawn Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune was aired in 2003 and was likewise well-received, also winning an Emmy Award. Earlier this year, it was announced that acclaimed, Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) was signed to a big-screen remake of Dune.

The “Madmen and Masters” screening of Jodorowsky’s Dune will be introduced by David Spencer, assistant professor of cinema studies and the senior curator of the Moving Image Archives at the UNCSA School of Filmmaking.

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