Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lost Soul (2015) Movie Thoughts

The more one spends around me, the more they discover my own personal fascination with filmmakers and best laid plains gone awry. From Cimino to Jodorowsky, there is just something very telling and deeply resonant about the always dicey promise of a large art project. And the pitfalls that can often derail even the most confidently assembled team embarking on something that on the surface feels surefire. Even when talking future cult favorites like Apocalypse Now, or Blade Runner, there leak tales of botched production concepts, personality clashes, and prolonged schedules that could render any studio nervous, desperate for damage control before the film even reaches screens. Often, the things that often trip up such projects can lead to what many might consider industry lore. But few personal apocalypses can possibly rival the endless tunnel of misfortune that seemed determined to dog the major studio debut of one Richard Stanley, and his proposed version of HG Wells' The Island Of Doctor Moreau. And with Lost Soul, David Gregory, in almost tall tale fashion, gives us one of the most crushing tales of art undone by cosmic forces imaginable.

Before sharing any further thoughts on Gregory's work here, let's just delve a tiny bit into my thoughts on the early work of the film's main subject. Like many film fans of the 1990s, I was introduced to the rogue stylings of director Stanley through my first viewing of the brilliant dystopian-horror hybrid HARDWARE(1990). To this day, his mini-budgeted indie dynamo remains one of the most consistently textured science fiction films in the post Blade Runner age. Pitting the denizens of a futuristic slum against a resurrected top secret cybernetic killing machine, the film is an inventive overdose of latter-Reagan era rage, fueled by an international cast, and some impressive puppetry.  Made on virtually crumbs, and jam-packed with enough used future and oppressive atmosphere for an entire goth-industrial club scene, HARDWARE remains an important footnote in the annals of independent genre cinema. My familiarity with his work with bands such as Fields Of The Nephilim, and others, it was clear that this was a filmmaker with an affinity for the fringe, and esoteric notions layered in a nihilism that was frankly refreshing in an era where risk was often shunned, and edge often flattened out before camera even roll..

So when Dust Devil died kind of a quiet death, and talks of a Moreau update were in the air, hopes were high.

Flash forward to 1996, and my shock when Stanley's name didn't appear on any of the finished film's ad campaign. Soon after, I had heard of tensions leading to his ousting, as well as stories of weirdness on the set as Stanley and crew sought to film in an isolated beachside section of Cairns in Australia. But what Lost Soul presents to us, is a creative spark, that slowly builds into a tire fire of incredible proportion. One might almost want to cry fake. It simply seems too horrible to be true. And soon after that, it dissolves into something worse. One after another, the film makes strides to remind you of the human toll, and of how real all of this is, even when chronicling the erstwhile director's clearly deteriorating mental state. There is even a chapter detailing Stanley's alleged retreat into one of the beach's highest tree, refusing to come down. Yet despite all of this, the piece remains quite empathetic to the plight of Stanley, as he is forced to walk away from his ambitious project, and then the surreality of the journey truly begins.

Packed with testimonials from numerous major players including Fairuza Balk, Edward R. Pressman, Rob Morrow, and others reveal more about the doomed project than many might have ever wanted to know. Also very painful are the stories of what came of the final main cast, and how that arc of fate only served to worsen the film. Given what many have read or heard about stars Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, little prepares one for what is revealed here. And even former New Line head, Robert Shaye, long distanced from "the house that Freddy built", doles out some impressive insight into the whole sordid affair. But largely, it's Balk who provides a great deal of the film's tether to what was truly lost in all the madness. A friend of Stanley's throughout the entire ordeal, and someone who's career never truly rebounded in lieu of this, Lost Soul is also a tear-stained love letter to all creators who arrived on the landscape without many of the same philosophical ambitions of your atypical commercial asset. It's a whirlwind of a film documentary, and one of the most eye-opening ones of its kind since Hearts Of Darkness.

Only in Hollyweird.  

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