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Entries in Making of (2)

Tuesday
Sep262017

HORROR MOVIE: A LOW BUDGET NIGHTMARE

Featuring: Craig Anderson, Gerard Odwyer, Bryan Moses, Robert Anderson and Dee Wallace.
Director: Gary Doust

Rating: 4/5

Eighteen years after the soul-crushing realities of self-funded film production were exposed in Chris Smith’s landmark documentary American Movie, director Gary Doust puts a warm but no less anxiety-inducing Australian spin on the tribulations faced by the next-to-no-budget auteur in Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare.

Craig Anderson had runs on the board after the TV comedy success Double the Fist (he earned a 2015 AACTA Award for Best Comedy Directing), but the dream was to helm his horror feature script Red Christmas. Nearing 40, Anderson’s life was moribund, reduced to sleeping on the floor of his small office studio surrounded by his VHS tapes and (admittedly impressive) collection of Stephen Pearson prints. Existence hits a low point when a painful condition demands mature-age circumcision. Anderson is frank and funny about the increasingly dire state of his life, which bottoms out with the pathetic reality of having to have his adult foreskin removed while still on his mother’s Medicare card.

Doust had exhibited a natural talent for capturing the torment of a low budget shoot as far back as 2002 with his own award winner, the terrific Making Venus. His affinity for and incisive understanding of the filmmaker’s experience, nurtured during his tenure as head of the film collective Popcorn Taxi and in his doco series Next Stop Hollywood, affords him a sweet and trustful rapport with his subject. Footage inside the Anderson family home, where the desperate director asks his financially stable brother for a loan, provide for a rare kind of awkward intimacy; Anderson’s snowballing anguish over budget/crewing/schedule/union conditions make for some truly stomach-tightening and heart-tugging moments of factual filmmaking.

By the time the Red Christmas shoot gets underway in regional New South Wales, Doust and his camera are deeply embedded within the on-set dynamic. Personalities emerge that bring Anderson into sharper, deeper focus – actor Gerard Odwyer, a Down Syndrome sufferer who proves to be accomplished actor and strong emotional core, for both productions; first AD Bryan Moses, often the voice of reason amidst the madness (he and Anderson co-directed the 1999 Tropfest winning short, Life in a Datsun). Not for the first time in her career, leading lady Dee Wallace (pictured, above) proves a winning (and suprisingly sweary) presence and inspires her director to stretch his talents.

The final stages of Anderson’s Red Christmas journey provide insight into the end-to-end process of envisioning, realising and selling your work (including a post-production stretch on a cruise ship that seems slightly incongruous given the penny-pinching woes that make up so much of the film). In practical terms, Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare should be required viewing in film schools nationwide for its matter-of-factness. The film truly soars as an endearing character study; an examination into the determination and borderline delusion it takes to make one’s vision a reality. In Craig Anderson, Gary Doust honours the archetypal passion-fuelled dreamer of great cinematic lore.

HORROR MOVIE: A LOW BUDGET NIGHTMARE will have its World Premiere at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival. Session and ticket information can be found at the event's official website.

(Footnote: SCREEN-SPACE attended 2016 Sydney Film Festival screening of Red Christmas, but did not publish a review. We did provide a 2.5 star rating on our Letterboxd page.)

Wednesday
Oct152014

LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU

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. 

Rating: 4.5/5

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.