There are numerous ways of looking at 1983's Dune: a commercial flop, the great mistake in filmmaker David Lynch's career, an underappreciated sci-fi adaptation and the movie where Sting wears a blue thong are just a few of the takes. But up until now no-one has thought of the expansive production in terms of an adventure abroad. Yet that's what it was for actress Sean Young, who at the age of 23 reported to the Mexico City set with her Super-8 camera in hand.
This week Young put online six minutes of her home movies from the set of Dune, edited together and bearing a decidedly odd narration.
The first shot is of a young, confident Lynch (he was coming off Eraserhead and The Elephant Man) in the back of a car, complete with trademark button up shirt collar. Young starts talking about her director, but her voiceover cuts off mid-sentence as she's referring to his angst over the making of the intended blockbuster.
The familiar grain and handheld aesthetic wipe away the formality of Hollywood filmmaking – crew members and co-stars smile for Young's camera (there's a wonderful twinkle in the eyes of the great Jose Ferrer) and there's an endearing quality to the lack of pretence. Everyone is full of vitality and three decades younger than we know them now: Max von Sydow smoothly enters a waiting car, while Kyle MacLachlan, about to begin a decade as Lynch's muse, is a pimply, mop-haired schoolboy.
There's the odd revelation. Young captured the brief appearance on set of a crumpled, puffy Aldo Ray and his face tells you what her narration makes explicit (“alcoholism claimed him”) as you see an assistant director leading the 1950s tough guy away, his casting revoked.
But mainly the engorged production's members lounge around in elaborate costume or casually eat together in the hotel breakfast bar. Various scale models of spaceships are sighted, reminding you that Dune (set in the future on a valuable, desolate desert planet) was made without a preponderance of digital effects. Instead of anonymous compositors it relied on the likes of the gifted Freddie Francis as cinematographer and Tony Masters, Stanley Kubrick's long-time collaborator, as art director.
At the end Young returns to Lynch and offers a telling insight about why he might have disowned Dune. “He was a little spoiled in that he'd only made great movies up to then,” she suggests, her experience replacing the young woman seen frolicking in a few shots. Hopefully she has Stripes and Blade Runner home movies on the way.