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A Filmmaker’s ‘Apocalypse Completed’: Lost Soul

In the past couple years or so, I have found much fascination in the moviemaking documentary: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. This documentary is, I think, useful viewing for today, in addition to being intriguing. What happens when a sensitive, earnest, somewhat odd, true artist without guile, is met with a ‘red in tooth and claw’, unabashedly money- and ego-driven reality?

Unceremoniously removed director Richard Stanley is just now—after approximately 25 years—returning to higher-profile directing, with a production of a ‘weird fiction’ classic by H.P. Lovecraft (The Color Out of Space). Apparently, it has gone well, and a Lovecraft trilogy is planned.

By the way, my title utilizes another incredible documentary, that one about Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. There are striking similarities. However, there the events had a quite different ending than those reported in Lost Soul

What Happened?

In the mid-1990s, during production, Director Stanley was removed from Island, a most personal vision rooted in his childhood. He was replaced by old-school John Frankenheimer. It was an intrigue-filled, weirdly Machiavellian, money-driven coup. After the lead-up, creative efforts, and removal, Stanley reportedly said he did not know if he would ever make another film, because it made him feel like screaming.

The rationale was, per the statements of at least a few in the doc, preserving the egos of those who could assure at least some return on investment, even if the work (due to bad luck and production politics) was turning into a stinker. Please read that last sentence several times…what do you think of? This process occurs repeatedly in our world, and not just in film. Keep the title in mind, too…


Now, first I must admit. It does appear, based upon several interviewed in the documentary, that Stanley was having some difficulty with confidence, social savvy, and practicality. Reports implied that, at least then, he was a rather sensitive and high-strung soul and not good at the politics, the glad-handing, choosing of a location, or following the Hollywood routine. Also, as execs apparently feared, Stanley’s vision was indeed subversive and would certainly be upsetting to uptight, self-righteous individuals everywhere.

Caveat to the Caveat

But subversion and disturbance was the point! Anyway, anyone, even a consummate artist-plus-politician-plus-psychologist, would have trouble dealing with what is reported in this documentary. How do you think an introverted, artistic auteur (Stanley) is going to do? Those who saw his weaknesses smelled the blood in the water…and struck rather quickly. As one actor put it, “nobody helped him”.

An Outside Visionary

From the beginning, Stanley is ‘not one of the club’. Taking four sugars in his coffee at a meeting supposedly made him “goofy” or “not a solid citizen” (yes, seriously). It is also reflected in the more polite, politically correct, awkward statements of several other powerful figures regarding Stanley.

Stanley says he relied on Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando, to stand up for him if needed. By this time, Brando was regarded as completely impossible to work with. If you see even the small clips of his work provided in this documentary, Don Corleone and Col. Kurtz were not in the building and apparently could or would not help…

The original casting—which was incredible: Brando, Bruce Willis, James Woods—disintegrated (except for Brando) due to Willis’s divorce, the rapid substitution of Val Kilmer, and Kilmer’s pre-production demands. Kilmer was huge at the time but began a (reputed) string of terrible behavior.

And more. Even when Frankenheimer takes over, the outrageousness continues and—for the ongoing production, at least—escalates. And Stanley, removed from the production, is still somehow there…

The Coda

If you watch this film, keep in mind that a film set can be—socially, at least—like a high school class, a Facebook circle, or a state. What comes to mind? This is an intriguing and entertaining documentary, but also see if you can extract a message for our times, 25 years after the events documented. In my view, the documentary is an example of what not to do, what not to allow to be done, and how not to foster development of the young talent that must sustain our world. Thus, it could be a guide for remedying some of our challenges.

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