Sunday, October 11, 2015


And now time for another documentary - this one is about just one movie instead of, like, all of them.  And what a.... beast of a movie.  ::Badumptish::  Ok, on to the review. 

I remember seeing the trailer/commercials for the Island of Dr. Moreau around the time it came out.  I was too young to go see it by myself, and didn't, frankly, have much interest in rushing out to see it either; it would've been a right time, as it was just in that period where I was either just about to start or was getting already into horror movies.  Some of them were just your standard, franchise-slashers (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers), but I also got into zombie stuff (the Romero world) and From Dusk till Dawn - basically anything that looked good and gory was fine. 

With this, I just wasn't sure what to think of it, and this documentary about its sort of unmaking (the firing of Richard Stanley) and then its disastrous remaking with a different director, is worth it that the movie got made in the first place.  Well, almost; Dr. Moreau itself isn't a very good movie, as it's so bugfuck insane and yet by turns still another horror-action movie from the Hollywood machine (with one or two truly WTF scenes, mostly thanks to Brando with a head full of ice cubes and Kilmer doing a Brando imitation). But those reasons may or may not be answered by this documenary.

But who is Richard Stanley?  This is something that Lost Soul is out to inquire about, and for the first half we get to know roughly who he is - in large part through his love of the original HG Wells story, that he presented it to New Line Cinema through producer Edward R. Pressman and got excited "like a kid in a candy store" in the pre-production process.  This is contrary to what I thought that it was just another property Hollywood was looking to cash in on, which is what makes Stanley's fate extra tragic.  Who is he exactly?  Well... kind of an odd dude, to the very conventional (typical) Hollywood type of moviemaker or crew person or executive... actually, not to the crew, at last for the most part.

 What's so good and credible about the approach that David Gregory takes is that Stanley doesn't come off, from the testimonies from the interviews assembled - i.e. cast member Fairuza Balk, studio head Robert Shaye, members of the Stan Winston make-up group, other cast, Pressman - as just one thing.  He is stand-offish and unable to communicate with people on the set one moment, and the next he is very nice, approachable, and able to express his vision to people who need to get his direction.  Stanley certainly gives the impression that he was passionate about this (basically, his career of two previous independent horror films lead up to this as his studio breakthrough), though also... odd, but in a way that's, shall one say, quirky (?)  What else to explain for how seriously he takes (or took) a "wizard" who did some sort of spell on the other side of the world while Stanley met for the first time Marlon Brando, and because he said yes it validated his effectiveness at wizardry (and, on the flip-side, when the wizard dies in the midst of pre-production due to a freak illness, the production goes south). 

One may remember seeing Stanley last year in the great documentary on Alejandro Jodorowsky's saga of (not) making an adaptation of Herbert's Dune; he gives some interesting commentary on the artistic process, not least of which about Jodorowsky himself, and I was reminded without him saying it that he, too, came from a troubled production at one time.  And in the intervening years I've read about the story of Moreau's misbegotten state of how-it-became (thanks to IMDb and the book 'The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made" by David Hughes). 

But what will grab your attention about this movie is that, for a long stretch in the second half, Stanley disappears.  For good reason, as he got fired from the production after 4 days - one suspects, given some of the testimony, they found Stanley's designs too weird and 'off', but the official reason was that the footage wasn't suitable - and yet for other reasons that were not his fault (Brando's daughter died, a hurricane came in just as the production got started and messed up any outdoor shooting plans, Kilmer was a prep-school-bully asshole hot off Batman).

Brando's look of consternation is actually him holding in a really big poop...
If I missed anything it was Stanley in the 2nd half as the sort of 'star' of the movie.  What compensates is that the story of the full, physical production of Dr. Moreau is, really, one of those 'Nuts' stories, in ways that are typical and not so much.  In a massive, extraordinary and 'That-Makes-Total-Sense' coincidence, Brando played Kurtz in the troubled production of Apocalypse Now (which at least had the grace to, you know, become one of the great films), and the writers of both these books - Wells of Moreau and Conrad of Hearts of Darkness - were friends and had a falling out when Conrad wrote 'Hearts' after Moreau, which Wells took to be a rip-off (i.e. a Madman in the jungle, with the point of view of the outsider coming to see him, and the 'natives' all around him, though in Wells that's not really the case).  For Kurtz I actually get it for Brando, contrary to some opinion out there who hate that part of the movie, but I wonder still if someone else would've been a better fit for Dr. Moreau.  But, needless to say, Brando definitely takes over (with, uh, some other cats), in the second half of this movie.  And... goddamn.

(I think the moment where I lost it is the anecdote where Robert Shaye, in giving an example as to why Brando was the most difficult actor to ever work with in a lifetime, mentioned an anecdote where Brando was talking to one of the producers or an actor and suggested shutting down the set, reworking the script, all in the purpose of reshooting his scenes so that he would spend the whole movie wearing hats... and at the end of the movie it's revealed, when he takes off his hat, that he has the head of a dolphin!  Just.... I can't even... ok, back to the review).

It's not that money ran out or that the conditions with the weather got/stayed bad after the hurricane.  No, what makes the production go crazy are the things, chiefly, that can make a production kind of suck: a director who is a total asshole (John Frankenheimer), not to mention a hired gun who doesn't even really like the script (one of the actors, by the way, recalls asking the director what his vision of the movie is, and he responds, "Ugh, who needs a vision, I'm telling a *story*, plus I have my own writer"); two stars who were basically, in no uncertain terms, looking to sabotage the production, one (Brando) being that he kind of hated acting and saw it as a lark anyway, and only took it seriously insasmuch (at that point for sure) for the bucks, and another (Kilmer) who would do things like (dear God) setting the focus puller's hair on fire just as a shot is about to get set up. 

This is all to say that Brando, Kilmer and Frankenheimer, who all hated each other to the point where the actors wouldn't leave their trailers one day until the other came out first, made the made-up actors and crew become aimless and party recklessly and, at best, stay pissed off and bewildered in make-up that would take hours to put on and take off on just the off change they would come to set.

Actual concept art from Stanley's vision; there was go be a scene - and Stanley saw him as Dr. Beard - as women birthing human-animal hybrids with dog-men as nurses... which is one of the many awesomely wild ideas here.
In other words, Lost Soul is about, perhaps, the 'Lost Soul' of the Moreau movie itself, as it got taken over by other writers, new actors who were given direction but not very clearly by the beleaguered if professional Frankenheimer, (David Thewlis who, ironically according to IMDb, was a choice by Stanley but turned down initially), and more conventional bat-shit crazy ideas (i.e. the Spanish actor, who was cast by Stanley, given the mega-prominent role as Brando's side-kick - a choice by Brando made iconic in South Park and Austin Powers parodies).  Or, plain and simple, as Fairuza Balk says, it all comes down to fucking money.  Why does a production like Island of Dr. Moreau get finished while Gilliam's Don Quixote gets abandoned after five days of shooting (re: Lost in La Mancha)?  Does the studio matter in these cases?  Pretty bloody well likely, one would think.  And what about Mr. Stanley, and how he views it? 

Ultimately, Richard Stanley, after basically thinking he'd never direct again, said he went to live in the mountains somewhere, far away from Hollywood, where he could avoid doing things like, say, dressing up as one of the extras after being fired and sneaking on to set (he appears, one is shown in the doc, *on film* behind one of the dog masked-beasts).  He actually HAS made more movies since Moreau, but all under-the-radar stuff, shorts and documentaries.  What one comes away with is a man who went through a nightmare - a director who was inexperienced at a level of filmmaking at this mega-budgeted studio level ($35 million in 1995 dollars) - and is now philosophical about it, at least to a degree. 

So, in short, you get a lot of different takes, the 'what ifs' of Stanley's vision, and the reality of what Hollywood does when ideas can't be corralled and artists don't get the backing and bad luck rears its ugly head.  Though it's not the best of these 'perfect storm disaster' type of movies-about-movies docs, and is missing some people that should've participated (Michael DeLuca for one, but also actors Ron Perlman and David Thewlis are sorely missed), it's a very good one, and you may be intrigued enough to seek out his other films, Hardware and Dust Devil.  I know I am now...


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