Saturday 18 July 2015

Review: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

Year: 2014
Director: David Gregory
Starring: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Hugh Dickson, Oli Dickson, Robert Shaye, Marco Hofschneider

Comparisons to Lost Soul, which details the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau, could easily be made to like football club Fulham FC’s recent history. What looks to be a decent project on paper slides descends too rapidly into relative obscurity after being abused with a multitude of poor decisions. At one point, both film and football team as a maniacal but proven manager take over, yet his old school ways do little to stop what is now a situation in free fall. Suddenly oblivion.

From a technical standpoint, Lost Soul says very little. It’s a standard T.V budget documentary with the usual set up of talking heads and archival footage. Nothing is too out of the ordinary. But the story. Oh, how the narrative unravels. The most fascinating things about documentaries about films that fall apart, is how they fall apart. Despite being made, The Island of Dr Moreau is almost like a group of people looking to purposely build a dilapidated household to live in. The worse thing is, we see the cracks appearing from the off.

The film sells Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) as a once up and coming genre director, whose brush with Hollywood left him burnt. The film sets up a lot of time in displaying Stanley’s intelligence and eccentricities. It’s quick to make Stanley out as an unfortunate, yet likable soul who is nastily shoved out of his own mind bending creation. Despite this, the films set up belies not only the frustrations and anxieties of a studio, but also the difficult balance between art and commerce.

For sure New Line President Robert Shaye is a tad wrong to lump assumptions of Stanley’s love for sugary coffee as a warning sign for trouble ahead (has he not considered Hollywood’s illegal drug problems?). But it’s clear for all to see that Stanley’s outrageously creative ambitions would pose a difficult issue, once New Line actually saw an avenue for decent business. Seriously,  the concept art features a human-dog hybrid licking afterbirth from a genetically mutated human/animal baby. We’ve only now just got around to the idea of a Human Centipede and that’s clearly pretty niche.

Such documentaries become illuminating in the same way as soaps and reality TV. It’s easy to become engrossed in the gossip. And why not. Val Kilmar (at the peak of his stardom) is likened to a preppy high school bully. Fairuza Balk sets upon cross country trip away from production once she finds out about how Stanley is being treated. The reasoning for the trip being cross country? Her lack of geographical knowledge of Australia. We have Brando taking the art of trolling a production to Jupitar sized proportions. The piece de resistance? Well, just because Stanley was fired from production, doesn’t mean he left.

In watching Lost Soul, you realise just how plain some of our filmmakers come across now. The PR stranglehold over productions makes films like this a certain succulence. It’s clear to see that mavericks like Stanley (interest in witchcraft aside) are often considered best avoided by Hollywood. A quick look at the Marvel production line right now, highlights just how much a studio wants their creatives to toe the line (I write this on Ant-man’s opening weekend).

But when an eccentric slips through the ropes, and an inmate gets a chance to take over the asylum, it’s easy to see how they can become lost in a world where power plays and bottom lines become everything and your enemies may be the guys smiling for the camera. Stanley shows throughout that his creativity is in abundance, but his personality is one that simply doesn’t meld with the playboys of LA. Unlike Terry Gilliam, Stanley doesn’t show himself to be a director who wishes to defeat extreme weather.   

What Stanley does give us, though, is an unbelievably rich texture to a deeply unfortunate hot mess.  Unlike Troy Duffy’s aggressive bluster in Overnight (2003), Richard Stanley’s offbeat wit and creative prowess only makes one wish that he was able to stay in the game longer to see what he could have come up with. Sweet tooth or no.