By 1974, Mexican film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky had become a cult figure among film aficionados. His first two pictures, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, had blended surrealist, psychedelic imagery with madcap plots and arcane religious symbolism, establishing him as one of the most prominent names in underground cinema.
His next job was to be his biggest yet. A French consortium had purchased the rights to Dune, Frank Herbert’s much loved science fiction novel (and recently brought to the big screen), and asked Jodorowsky to direct it. He went to town on the project. Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger and Orson Welles were mooted as cast members, Pink Floyd were to do the soundtrack, and the final script came in at 14 hours. Unsurprisingly, no studio would stump up the cash to finance it. The project collapsed.
Yet a fascination with the project’s mind-bendingly ambitious vision remained, so much so that a documentary was made about it in 2014, and a rare book on the unmade film — containing the script, concept art and other pre-production materials — has become a collector’s items among Dune-heads.
So in-demand in fact, that every now and then one of the estimated 20 surfaces for sale gets purchased for big bucks. And so it was in late November, when Christies sold one of the copies for €2.66m — almost 100 times its estimate.
Which brings us neatly to this announcement from Spice DAO on Sunday:
We won the auction for €2.66M. Now our mission is to:
1. Make the book public (to the extent permitted by law)
2. Produce an original animated limited series inspired by the book and sell it to a streaming service
3. Support derivative projects from the community pic.twitter.com/g4QnF6YZBp
— Spice DAO (🏜,🏜) (@TheSpiceDAO) January 15, 2022
If you don’t know what a DAO, or decentralised anonymous organisation, is, let us explain. In effect, it’s a governance structure where each member of the organisation — a membership often granted by simply buying a cryptocurrency tied to it (in this case, named SPICE) — becomes a decision maker in the organisation’s governance. The governance rules are set in smart contracts drafted beforehand by the original organisers, but after that, every decision of the entity is decided by the tokenholders. Presented as an antidote to the centralised governance of modern tech companies, it’s like being a shareholder in a crowd-funded project, but without being able to defer any decision-making to a chief executive or management team. (And that, arguably, is the least of the model’s problems. Do read Izzy or Stephen Diehl for more.)
Yet the problem with Spice DAO isn’t so much a philosophical one but a legal one.
We don’t know why we have to state this, but by buying a copy of something doesn’t give you exclusive rights to monetise its content. It’s literally the bedrock of intellectual property law and therefore, large swaths of capitalism.
So, have SpiceDAO resolved this? The copyrights of the book’s script and illustrations, according to BuzzFeed, are owned by Jodorowsky himself, and artists Jean Giraud and HR Geiger. Both of whom died over the past decade. So without their estate’s sign-off, SpiceDAO is Spice dead in the water.
Even then, Spice DAO’s first stated action — to “make the book public” — has already been rendered pointless as Jodorowsky’s Dune was made available to browse on Google Photos before the auction closed. Oops.
So, in effect, the buyers of the SPICE token are, at the moment, bagholding a $3m book that last sold for $42,500 in March 2019. It’s perhaps not the maddest thing we’ve heard of in the deep, murky annals of kingdom crypto. But it’s definitely up there.