Finally caught up with Kent Jones’ HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT which is excellent, as you’d expect. I probably suffer a bit from overfamiliarity with the subject, but there were still new things to notice, and Fiona threw at me a hitherto unknown fact too — “Mrs. Bates,” upon ripping open the shower curtain, is in blackface, since it was the only way to make the silhouette dark enough. A blackface Mrs. Bates is an even more terrifying thought!
(At this point, Fiona looks over my shoulder as I’m typing and says, “You’d better check. I *think* that’s correct.”)We also saw LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, a documentary by David Gregory which paints a sympathetic, even-handed portrait of the eccentric Brit’s attempt to make an extreme but faithful-to-the-spirit adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Famously, Stanley was fired by New Line after just a couple of days’ shooting, and John Frankenheimer finished the film in typically combative style, wrangling Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and pissing off everyone else.
The best-known stories are all present and correct, though weirdly there’s no mention of David Thewlis and how he came to replace Rob Morrow in the lead, though we hear all about the near-miss involvement of Bruce Willis and James Woods. Thewlis doesn’t take part, though he’s spoken about the film in the past (“I just hated, hated, hated the director,” he said, meaning JF nor RS, who he probably never even got to meet). Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and various Aussie cast and crew make very affable guides to the madness, along with the now quite phlegmatic Stanley. Fiona went on a night out with friends once which included Stanley, who she thought was a very nice chap, and one can’t escape the feeling that he was rather shat on by this production.
My trouble is I like the resulting farrago a lot more than I like any version of Stanley’s HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL, which have nice things in them but also truly terrible things in them which seem wired deeply into the sensibility behind them. So I’m not sure I’d have preferred his version of MOREAU, even though it sounds like it had some really nifty ideas.
The MOREAU we have lacks key elements like the House of Pain, but it does have —
The Smallest Man in the World playing a tiny grand piano (can something be tiny and grand at the same time? Well, the SMITW can…) on top of a full-size grand piano played by an identically dressed Marlon Brando, in a moment designer Graham “Grace” Walker justifiably claims as one of the greatest in all cinema. he’s laughing when he says it… does that matter?
Val Kilmer dries, corpses, and walks off camera without finishing his line. I think he was in the midst of explaining how Moreau invented Velcro, a promising story angle left undeveloped…
Brando is sitting next to the SMITW when the SMITW puts his feet on the table. Brando breaks off in mid-line to say “No no no,” to the little fellow, and you can see the SMITW’s shoulders SHAKING in helpless mirth at this unexpected ad-lib.
David Thewlis has a fight with genetically-enhanced mice. Fiona also met one of the army of scriptwriters helicoptered in to vivisect Stanley’s material. “I *told* them that was a bad idea,” he said.
Thewlis has decided, according to his mood, to read every line with passionate intensity, or else completely flatly, as if off the plate in front of him (that dinner scene again).
Brando has decided to play it as the naughty vicar from The Dick Emery Show, only fat and painted chalk-white. When Thewlis asks for an explanation of the inhuman manimals surrounding him, Brando’s Moreau thinks he’s talking about his own alabaster features and launches into an explanation of his sun-block. “Look at these people!” clarifies Thewlis at the top of his voice. “Look at HIM!” he cries, voice rising to a hysterical falsetto as he gestures at the inoffensive SMITW.
It’s not surprising that Thewlis, Balk and Hofschneider had a terrible time, since Frankenheimer evidently decided his job was to indulge Brando, Kilmer and the SMITW in their madness while venting his frustrations on everyone else. Brando et al could have fun mucking about, and those who felt a responsibility to embody their characters struggled to maintain credibility. Brando flat-out refused to discuss character with Balk. It’s not in the film, but Fiona got an anecdote from her screenwriter contact — when he wanted to talk to Brando about the film, Marlon responded with, “It’s NOT a film, it’s a PAGEANT.” Which it became, in truth.
The thing flat-out can’t survive the disappearance of Brando midway, and kind of lumbers to a halt like a speared mammoth, though without making the earth shake.
Frankenheimer used it to get a three-picture deal, then died two films later.