Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Lost Soul

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau ~ A friend had recommended this documentary to me, and realizing this writer/director's body of work consisted of a movie I remembered loving, and two I had not seen, I did a bit of homework first. Hardware stood the test of time. Dust Devil was very pretty, but unwatchable. And The Island of Dr. Moreau was, wow, just terrible.

Now it was time to take a journey into the madness of the man's movie-making. There is a solid Jodorowsky's Dune vibe going on throughout. Stanley had/has a big vision powered principally by the source material of the original novel. He felt there had never been a faithful adaptation, but weirdly enough he took the tact of modernizing it, bringing it into the present day. That was one thing I disliked about the finished product. Stanley's ideas and storyboards are stunning however, and might have convinced me otherwise.

One thing I was happy that was brought up, and something I talked about in my review of The Island of Dr. Moreau, was the similarity to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Stanley wanted to pay homage to the connection rather than shy away from it, pulling characters and situations from Conrad and putting them into Moreau. Of course casting Marlon Brando, who played Kurtz and would play Moreau, brought it all home.

Of course that's not what this documentary is really about though. As the film moved into pre-production, we watch the revolving door of the lead actors, the make-up process, and the gradual isolation and edging out of the project of Richard Stanley. The writer/director wasn't all that together either. His belief in witchcraft and superstition made it clear, to him at least, that forces were aligned against him.

Stanley, in the best of possibilities, was in over his head with this film. Everyone on the set knew it. He had a problem communicating with the cast, didn't attend meetings, and was getting more paranoid by the moment. There was a death in Brando's family, and the set was hit by a hurricane. What else could go wrong?

Richard Stanley was fired as director, probably had a bit of a mental breakdown, and was put on a plane off location. John Frankenheimer was brought in, contemptuous of what came before, and basically just got the job done - no vision, just get it done. No one was happy, especially in the end, the audience.

The last third of the doc chronicles the film as a Frankenheimer production, the dueling egos of Brando and Val Kilmer, the parties of the crew and extras, and the eventual destruction of what could have been at least an interesting movie. The ironic part is that apparently Richard Stanley has found his way back to the set as an extra, a perfect end to the doc.

I really dig this, an incisive look at how Hollywood works, how it doesn't work, and how it destroys people and ideas. Definitely worth seeing.

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