This is an excerpt (clumsily translated by me) from Les mystères de l'Incal by Jean Annestay. This excerpt was written by Alexandro Jodorowsky, and it's about his involvement in the film version of Dune:
In a lucid dream God told me: "Your next film will be Dune." I hadn't read the book. I woke up at 6:00 in the morning, and like an alcoholic waiting for the bar to open, I waited for the bookstore to open so I could buy the book. I read it without pausing to eat or drink. I finished reading it at exactly midnight on the same day. One minute after midnight I called, from New York, Michel Seydoux in Paris... He would be the first of the seven samurais I would need for this huge project. For me, Michel was a young man (26) with no film experience but his Camera One society had bought the rights to The Holy Mountain, my last film, and he had distributed it. He told me: "I would like to make a film with you." I didn't know much about him, but with an intuition that surprises me today, I recognized in him, despite his youth, the biggest producer of the time... Why? A mystery. And I wasn't mistaken. When I told him that I wanted him to buy the rights to Dune and that the film should be international because it would go over ten million dollars, (a huge sum at the time: even Hollywood didn't believe in science-fiction films, 2001 would be unique and unsurpassable), he didn't blink: "OK. We'll go to Los Angeles in two days to buy the rights." He hadn't read the book... I think that he didn't read it because Herbert's prose bothered him. And we could buy the rights - easily because Hollywood thought the book was unfilmable and not commercial. Michel Seydoux gave me carte-blanche and enormous financial support: I could create my team without any money troubles.
I needed a precise script... I wanted to realize the film on paper before filming... Now all special effect films are made like that, but at the time this technique was not used. I wanted a comic book artist who had genius and speed, who could act as my camera and who could give a visual style at the same time... By chance I found myself with my warrior: Jean Giraud alias Moebius (at the time he hadn't yet made The Airtight Garage). I told him: "If you accept this job, you must abandon everything and leave tomorrow with me for Los Angeles to speak with Douglas Trumbull (2001 A Space Odyssey)". Moebius asked me for a few hours to think about it. The next day, we left for the US. This is a long story... Our collaboration, our meetings in America with foreign luminaries and our conversations at 7:00 in the morning in the little cafe that was our home base and that by "chance" was called "Universe Cafe". Giraud made more than 3 000 marvellous drawings... Thanks to his talent, the script for Dune is a masterpiece. We could see the characters live, we followed the camera's movements. We visualized the editing, the design, the costumes... All of that with a few pencil strokes every time. I was behind his shoulders and asking him for different viewpoints... directing the actors, etc. We filmed...
For the third warrior I needed an ingenious dreamer who could draw the spaceships in the style of American films.
That's why I wrote to Christopher Foss, an English artist who illustrated science fiction novel covers. Like Giraud, he had never thought about film... Very enthusiastically, he left London and moved to Paris. This artist, with the ships that he drew for Dune, made a mark on cinema. He could draw semi-living machines that could metamorphosize into the colour of space rocks. He could draw "thirsty breastplates dying century after century in a desert of stars waiting for the living body that will fill their empty vessels with subtle secretions of its soul..."
After that I found Giger, the Swiss painter whose catalogue Dali showed me... His decadent, sick, suicidal, genius art was perfect for realizing the planet Harkonnen... He made a project of the castle and the planet that really touched on metaphysical horror. (Later he designed the sets and the monster for Alien.)
For the special effects, thanks to the power given me by Michel Seydoux, I could refuse Douglas Trumbull. I couldn't take his vanity, his patronizing airs and his exorbitant prices. Like a good American, he played at despising the project and tried to give us a complex by making us wait for everything by speaking with us at the same time as with a dozen people on the phone, and finally showing us suberb machines that he was trying to perfect. (?) Tired of all this comedy, I dumped him and started looking for a young talent. I was told that in LA it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I saw a cheap film at a small amateur science fiction film festival, and I thought it was marvellous: Dark Star.
I contacted the guy who did the special effects: Dan O'Bannon. I discovered almost a wolf-child. Completely outside conventional reality, O'Bannon was for me a real genius. He couldn't believe that I could entrust him with such an important project as Dune. He was obliged to believe it when he received his plane ticket for Paris. I was not mistaken: Dan O'Bannon later wrote the script for Alien and many other very successful films.
With Jean-Paul Gibon, the executive producer of Camera One and who loved the project as much as we did, we left for England to find the musician. A vital aspect for me: each planet had its own musical style, for example a group like Magma would be very good at realizing the rhythms of the Harkonnen warriors and who could crystallize the planet's beautiful sands with its mystery and implacable strength, the strange symphony of the rings of the green giants.
Virgin Records received us and offered us Gong, Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream. That's when I said: "And why not Pink Floyd?" At that time the group was so successful that almost everyone would consider that an impossible idea. I was lucky, thanks to my film El Topo, to be known by these musicians. They condescended to meet with us in their London Abbey Road studios where the Beatles had had their success. Jean-Paul Gibon was very happily surprised that the group met with us. At that time I myself had already lost my individual awareness. I was the instrument of sacred, miraculous work, where everything could happen. Dune was not working for me, I, like the samurais that I had found, was working for it. They were recording Dark Side of the Moon. When we arrived I did not see a group of great musicians realizing their masterpiece, but four young guys devouring steaks and fries. Jean-Paul and me, standing before them, had to wait until their voracity was satisfied. At the mention of Dune I was taken by a holy wrath and I left slamming the door. I wanted artists who knew how to respect a work of such importance to human consciousness. I don't think they were expecting that. Surprised, David Gilmour ran behind us, making excuses, and had us attend the final mixing of their public concert where thousands of fans cheered them. They wanted to see The Holy Mountain. They saw it in Canada. They decided to participate in the film by producing a two-disc album that was going to be called Dune. They went to Paris to discuss the finances and after an intense discussion, we reached an agreement. Pink Floyd would make almost all the film's music.
With the best music on our side, I started looking for the actors. I had seen Charlotte Rampling in Zardoz. I wanted her for Jessica. She refused the role. At that time she wanted to make two or three commercial films, her love life interested her more than art. David Carradine went to Paris, interested by the role of Leto.
The actor I wanted most was Dali: for the small role of the crazy Emperor... What a story!
Dali accepts the idea of playing the Emperor of the galaxy with a lot of enthusiasm. He wants to film in Cadaquès and to use a toilet made of two intertwined dolphins as a throne. Their tails would form the steps and their two open mouths would function by one receiving "pipi", and the other receiving "caca". Dali thinks that it's in horribly bad taste to mix "pipi" and "caca".
We tell him that we will need him for seven days... Dali answers that God made the universe in seven days and that Dali, not being less than God, must cost a fortune: 100 000 dollars an hour. Maybe, after arriving on set, he will decide to film one more hour each day at the same price.
The Daliesque happening will cost us 700 000 dollars. We ask him for some time, one night, to make a decision, and we part. That night, I tear out a page from a book on the tarot: there is a card: the Hanged Man. I write him a letter telling him that the film cannot pay him 700 000 dollars.
For 150 000 dollars, I want three days and not an hour and a half of filming. I'd also like to have his replica as a polyethlyene puppet, to use as his double in the film. Dali is enraged. He cries: "I will have you like rats! I am going to film in Paris, but the set will cost you more than the Cadaquès countryside and my museum's executive. Dali costs 100 000 dollars an hour!"
Bitterly, he calms down and accepts the idea of having himself reproduced in plastic if the sculpture is given to his museum after the film. We decide to definitely close his contract the next day. I talk with Jean-Paul Gibon and we arrive at the conclusion that it is impossible to haggle with Dali. I meditate for a long time and I make this final decision: I reduce Dali's role to a page and a half in the script. I accept his price: 100 000 dollars an hour, but I only use him for one hour. The rest I will film with his robot double. Dali cannot allow himself to go back on his price. We go to see him. I give him the small page and a half and Dali accepts the proposition because his honour is safe. He will be the most expensively paid actor in the history of cinema. He will earn more than Greta Garbo.
Dali enthusiastically shows me his wooden bed with the dolphin sculpture. A workman is there already taking an imprint of the dolphin for the toilet.
As much as for Dali as for me, the Hanged Man on which we wrote a few words serves as the contract.
Dali loves the aristocracy and like all men of noble spirit, he keeps his word.
I myself loved fighting for Dune. We won a lot of battles, but we lost the war. The project was sabotaged by Hollywood. It was French and unAmerican. Its message wasn't Hollywood enough. There were intrigues and robberies. The story-board circulated among all the big studios. Later, the visual aspect of Star Wars strangely ressembled our style. To make Alien, they called Moebius, Foss, Giger, O'Bannon, etc. To the Americans, the project signals the possibility of making big-spectacle science fiction films outside the scientific rigour of 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Dune changed our lives.
Everyone who participated in Dune's rise and fall learned to fall once and a million times with a wild stubbornness, before learning to stand upright. I remember my old father who, in dying happy, told me: "My son, in my life, I have triumphed because I have failed."