R.I.P. H.R. Giger: A Review of Jodorowsky’s Dune
by Benton Rooks
“A medicine man shouldn’t be a saint. He should experience and feel all the ups and downs, the despair and the joy, the magic and the reality, the courage and fear of his people…You have to be God and the devil, both of them. Being a good medicine man means experiencing life in all its phases. It means not being afraid of cutting up and playing the fool now and then. That’s sacred too.”—Alejandro Jodorowsky from Psychomagic
In a recent piece I did for my website called “What is Entheodelic Storytelling” I propose that Alejandro Jodorowsky is the veritable proto-Entheodelic wizard. This is a term I co-coined with Graham Hancock, Jeremy Johnson, and Rak Razam.
I first had my soul permanently seared by the original cult midnight film The Holy Mountain in the proper setting, at a theater in NYC where I used to work, at the tender age of 18. I thought serving popcorn to Gandalf and looking into the hyper stoned eyes of the munchy loving Dave Chappelle would have been enough to add to my accomplishment lists for the time period—I was attending film school at the time and very much caught up in the 2-D avataric world—but this was almost an initiation into modern shamanism itself.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is a must see high-budget documentary that reminds one of how visionary artists can be shut down by a studio only to have serious intellectual copyright infringement follow thereafter. Outside of the slick editing and the perfect lively narrative that accompanies the film set to the tune of Jodorowsky’s undying enthusiasm, the filmmakers should be seriously commended for giving justice in providing solid proof of exact frames that were completely ripped off by Hollywood execs, of course with all of the dense metaphysical inquiry completely stripped bare.
With the recent passing of the legendary visionary artist H.R. Giger, we are also treated to the last glimpse of the clearly haunted man on film, as he describes his early conceptual involvement with Dune. We find out that nearly all of the team that Jodorowsky initially assembled was later taken from him without permission, for various other projects as Hollywood saw fit (such as Giger’s involvement with Alien, and more recently Prometheus). Another central highlight is hearing the major relief Jodorowsky feels when finally watching David Lynch’s now infamous mega-mistake run itself quietly into the ground in the theater at the premiere.
But more than these measured injustices, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a serious look into a mind that was far ahead of it’s time, and as one of the commentators remarks in the film itself, it is really one of the few film scripts that warrants this oft repeated phrase.
Another highlight for me was seeing the actual conceptual comic script for the film (illustrated by the french comic artist Moebius). It is a medieval looking tome that appears to be close to 900 epic pages. Apparently only two versions still exist, a sort of Holy Grail of psychedelic sci-fi that the viewer is treated to (though still too briefly!). One may hope that this fantastic relic will eventually be released, along with the financial support to actually manifest this version of Dune into reality, though it would unfortunately now have to be filmed without Salvador Dali as the mad emperor of the galaxy, and without Giger’s help.
While much has been said about Jodorowsky’s films, (I eagerly await the sequel to El Topo, called Abel Cain, and the new film Dance of Reality as much as the next geek) the proto-Entheodelic founder’s comic books were one of the central inspirations for my own work with my epic graphic novel trilogy KALI-YUGA. When I first stumbled upon his work I marveled; here is an author with a thoroughly European mindset on art, one that utilized sci-fi and fantasy tropes as a jump off point for some insanely awesome mystical ideas, with influences from techno-shamanism, magick, the tarot and the good ol’ psychedelia from the visionary plant world. Jodorowsky’s work in comics also introduced me to the fantastic French artists Enki Bilal and Philippe Druillett, each of them equally underrated and underappreciated as masterful epic storytellers.
The non-fiction version of these heady intellectual influences can perhaps best be understood by reading his excellent book Psychomagic, where Jodorowsky details his ideas on shamanism and how they can be applied for modern psychotherapeutic practices.
But part of the reason his comics are not as well known is also due to a lack of proper English translation. Much of the stuff that has made it into a version Americans can digest is downright verbally clunky, and in need of a desperate re-work. Nonetheless, The Incal is a comic equally at home with space-opera metaphysics and careful satire. In many ways, it was a kind of test run for the more refined Metabarons, a prequel of sorts which even contains a sly reference to the Yoga of Sound (Surat Shabd Yoga), when one of the main characters undergoes an initiation that rips off an ear to be replaced by a cyborg implant, a not-so subtle remark on the hallmarks of the Iron Age.
The gorgeous art by Juan Giménez also lends Metabarons a more serious and cinematic tone that can’t quite be captured by the slightly more cartoony work that Moebius did for The Incal. The epic story includes the typical subject matter; worlds made of pure marble, cybernetic weaponry allowing for psychic prowess, hermaphrodites, disembodied heads spouting off futuristic philosophy, samurai influence from the Bushido code, androgynous cyber shamans and other typical zaniness that is equally at home with the alchemical mixture of sacred and profane, an unconscious response to Mircea Eliade’s closet-Catholic mindset on the subject.
It’s incredible that it takes a full length documentary to prove that there is still a huge audience for such a daring artist, but hopefully Jodorowsky’s entheodelic storytelling prowess will continue to pave the way for many future artists inspired by stories that are informed by visionary transhuman states and the return of the sacred healing narrative that is often induced by shamanic medicine.
Larry Pearce says
I love Jodorowsky with all my heart, but he had no goddamned idea of what makes Dune so special and amazing to begin with. Dune IS NOT about “becoming God” as Jodorowsky so infamously and criminally wanted to transform it into. It’s about a boy with God-like powers becoming a man who as an adult realizes he’s not a god at all, but, given his position, must pretend to be one to keep the social, economic, and political framework of the universe from unraveling. It’s about learning the difficult skill of wielding the facade of power and knowing when to use your actual power: a very human dilemma, even if you can read minds and see into the future. This cruel and totally ingenious ironic and cynical quality of Frank Herbert’s story simply could not be grasped by Jodorowsky’s hysterical, heart-gushing romanticism. So instead, Jodorowsky turned it into another one of his kooky things about rape, castration, blood, semen, crucification, midgets, and loads of anti-American symbolism. All of that is cool and makes Jodorowsky “Jodorowsky,” but it ain’t Dune. At least Lynch stuck to the basic story pretty much in his not-as-awful-as-everyone-says version. And that whole part at the end of the documentary with the montage of later films “inspired by” Jodorowsky’s unfilmed Dune is a total joke. Everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to the shitty 1980s He-Man movie was inspired by Jodorowsky’s Dune??? Hahahaha! Give me a fuckin’ break! What’s sad isn’t that his Dune wasn’t made. What’s sad is that the Dune debacle completely killed Jodorowsky’s chances of being The Fellini of The Drug Age that everyone expected from him. Other than Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky pretty much gave up filmmaking in favor of being a new agey Castaneda-style guru and writing comic books: a medium which revealed a funnier (and more fun) and perhaps deeper side to his imagination, but no less baroque and wild-eyed as his Jesuses and dwarves and bleeding eyeball midnight cult epics. Speaking of comic books, Moebius could out-draw Gimenez any day of the week, any hour of the day. Jimenez has one style. Moebius had a million and counting.