For those wanting a bit of eccentric film history, “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” by David Gregory is lively and entertaining. The film is an account of the dysfunctional adaptation of the H.G. Wells film. The documentary is notable for the portrait of Stanley himself, a passionate, excitable force.
Stanley is an independent director known for his cult hits “Hardware” and “Dust Devil.” With his tall stature, black hat and pale features, he resembles a shaman or a warlock to some. Known for his Lovecraftian visions, he was approached by New Line Cinema to helm the Wells classic. As the Moreau novel was a favorite of his, Stanley did countless psychedelic story sketches and conjured a sensitive script on the novel. He wanted to make Moreau into a Christ figure. The concept caused friction straight off.
The start of the odyssey began with Marlon Brando cast as lead, but who was rumored to detest the script. Panicking, Stanley goes to a sorcerer to hopefully soothe emotions as this is the director’s first big film.
Things get stranger and stranger during the unwieldy production. One feels more and more for Stanley who, like the Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a person of vision with a respect for nature in all forms.
But Stanley is fired from the film without warning, and New Line brings in John Frankenheimer. He who behaves like a drill sergeant barking orders and disrespecting the sacred Aboriginal instrument, the digeridoo.
Odd it certainly is to see Brando white faced and freakish wearing an ice bucket on his head like a fez and treating the 2’ 4” late actor Nelson de la Rosa as a “mini me” before “Austin Powers.” Among the studio circle the film is seen as a spectacle given tensions on set between the second lead Val Kilmer and Brando, not to mention a hurricane that ruins the set.
Actor Marco Hofschneider from “Europa Europa” is clearly mystified by Brando, recounting that Brando insisted he was speaking German to him when by all appearances, it was nonsense speech. Brando exhibited the same behavior to de la Rosa who did not mind at all.
Kilmer for his part was known as a bully as we see in the documentary, touching a burning cigarette to a crew member’s ear.
Richard Stanley had the best of intentions. After he was fired, he fled to a jungle outside the shooting location in Cairn (in Queensland, Australia) and eventually found his way back onto the set as a heavily disguised extra. He now lives in rural France making films, away from prying eyes.
“Lost Soul” is a companion of sorts to the documentary “Hearts of Darkness” about the making of “Apocalypse Now.” In both films, Marlon Brando is a troublesome figure: half jester and half gremlin.
While the Frankenheimer/Stanley film flopped and is labeled by Roger Ebert as Brando’s worst film, this documentary garners a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Lost Soul” is part of the Tropic’s Online Film Club Streaming Series.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org