Featuring: Richard Stanley, Marco Hofscneider, Fairuza Balk, Robert Shaye, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker, Rob Morrow and Edward R Pressman.
Director: David Gregory.
Screening at the 2014 A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival. Session details to be annouced soon.
A riveting, rollicking study of counter-culture creativity clashing with the early days of Hollywood’s corporatization, David Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau transcends the standard ‘making-of’ format and emerges more an ‘undoing-of’ study in psychological torment and film sector hubris.
Gregory’s filmography cites over 100 DVD-extra snapshots of the directorial mind at work, as well as the highly-acclaimed features, Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre (2011) and What’s in the Basket (2012), a retrospective study of Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case trilogy. This vast experience has clearly proven to be the perfect training ground, as his latest ranks alongside Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1999) and Lost in La Mancha (2002) as an acutely penetrative account of film artistry in turmoil.
Documentaries that chart the hurdles faced by ambitious film projects have been plentiful of late. Like Frank Pavich’s excellent Jodorowsky’s Dune, Lost Soul… is afforded the good grace and fortune of having a truly eccentric visionary at its core – underground artist/philosopher/academic/author and film director Richard Stanley, a brilliant, enigmatic presence whose plummy accent and intelligent gaze emerge from beneath the broad brim of his trademark Stetson.
Stanley found favour with some of the more adventurous LA executives after his 1990 sci-fi metal-noir oddity Hardware and trippy serial-killer western Dust Devil. He boldly pitched a fresh version of his lifelong obsession– H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, the nightmarish tale of man’s inner beast becoming externalized. Given a surprising degree of free rein for a newcomer to Hollywood, Stanley’s small, dark vision was soon spiralling out of control, the self-serving influence of boardroom bullies to the harsh physical realities of shooting in the Queensland rainforest proving to be just two of the elements that led to Stanley’s descent into his own heart of darkness.
Present is the undeniably dark pleasure one derives from watching a slow-motion train wreck take shape. Cast (Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, one-time lead Rob Morrow and several Australian support players) and crew (from LA maven Robert Shaye to legendary Aussie production designer Graham ‘Grace’ Walker) flesh out the reality of events that have long since formed into legend. Thoroughly entertaining are the accounts of Marlon Brando’s grand eccentricity, replacement director John Frankenheimer’s methodical boorishness and Val Kilmer’s utter dick-ishness.
But it is the broader insight that Gregory explores in Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr Moreau that proves most satisfying. Stanley’s planned film was perhaps the last of its kind – a wild, unsafe gamble on a director’s mad, complex, thematically rich studio tent-pole. It shares a pedigree with the likes of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Jeunet’s & Caro’s The City of Lost Children - expensive visions left bloodied by horrible births that clawed their way to cult status. To Hollywood’s great shame, Richard Stanley’s vision of Wells’ hellish utopia never materialized, but its legacy makes for an appropriately insane real-life narrative every bit as brilliantly mad and maddening as the fiction promised to be.