Richard Stanley on Blu: Lost Soul (2014) + Hardware (1990)

August 19, 2015 | By

LostSoul_BRI might be remembering the year wrong, but back in 1998 I shrugged off an opportunity to catch John Carpenter’s Vampires because I was making soup. I mean, if the pot’s on the stove and the broth is simmering and the ingredients are chopped and ready to go, you can’t just dump it, or attempt to reheat and finish the job after a few hours. (Well, actually, you could, but had I gone to the screening, I wouldn’t have made it back until very late.)

It turns out after the screening, a few friends huddled together at a house party or something of a local hack producer, and chatted up one of the guests, filmmaker Richard Stanley, who’d just been dumped as director off The Island of Dr. Moreau and replaced by John Frankenheimer.

He’d nurtured the film for four years, writing the script, getting interested producers, and eventually the financing from indie New Line Cinema for what should’ve been his first American studio picture.

It was at the party where one friend chatted up Stanley and heard the bizarre story in which the dismissed director snuck back onto the set in make-up as one of the creatures just to see Marlon Brando, because as he supposedly said, ‘There’s no way I was going to miss a chance to be near Brando.’

The film, when released, was a dud, but wasn’t a full-on disaster because it’s cast of Brando, Val Kilmer, and David Thewlis are very interesting, plus the film was shot by William Fraker, and featured an outstanding score by Gary Chang (not to mention a great main title sequence). It’s still not a good film, but it’s watchable as a fascinating oddity, although we’ll never know how H.G. Wells’ tale would’ve been as interpreted by Stanley.

Sometimes the story of a movie never quite realized is more interesting as a documentary than the intended fiction film, and David Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014), new on Blu from Severin, manages to convey loads of drama, humour, tragedy, and insanity without showing a single clip from the Frankenheimer film. There are production stills and drawings, but the whole narrative of Stanley’s doomed vision comes from recollections and opinions, proving a good story can be told when the words are more powerful than comparative clips.

One of the best examples of mining memories and surviving documents to create a thrilling making-of-a-movie drama is Das Leben Geht Weiter / Life Goes On, a 2002 Emmy Award-winning documentary about what would’ve been the last film produced by the Nazi regime as they were losing the war. There are no film clips – what exists are something like 3 or 4 production sketches – but filmmakers Mark Cairns and Carl Schmitt did huge research that paid off with a crazy story of delusion and follow during the waning months of WWII.

Gregory similarly relies on memories and accounts to detail the sad end of Stanley’s dream, and it’s a great doc on egos, delusions, and studio overlords hoping somehow everything will work and make back its cost if the damned film is finished.

Hardware1990_BRI’ve posted reviews of the doc, and Stanley’s first film, Hardware (1990), which holds its own as a fun post-apocalyptic punk shocker and was similarly released on Blu by Severin (although it’s apparently gone out of print).

I’ll eventually review Dust Devil (1992), the film that preceded the Moreau project, and it’ll be the limited (and now long out of print) multi-disc set which also houses several documentaries Stanley directed.

As for the soup I was making in 1998, I presume it turned out fine, but I doubt it would’ve been as tantalizing than hearing the director recount in person the crazy making of his dream project.

Coming next: reviews of the cycling / coming-of-age classic Breaking Away (1979) from Twilight Time + its lesser cousin American Flyers (1985) from Warner Home Video.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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