Archive for Richard Stanley

The Animal Kingdom

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h34m55s114Finally 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.”)vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h35m16s708We 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.

Hand-Puppets Across the Water

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2008 by dcairns

Aloysius T. Cracklepuss.

From my puppet-making phase. Or, to be more accurate, my phase as the Frankenstein of charity shop stuffed toys. I would carve them up, collage them together, and insert orifices up their backs so I could manipulate them from within, just like Von Sternberg did to Dietrich.

Bratislav Thunderpouch III.

This guy is a patchwork of several of the Seven Dwarfs, with the thalydomidian arms of a much small puppet. Despite his apparently jubilant visage, he’s intensely bitter and twisted because he can’t wank.

Lobo Croissant, Seductress Third Class.

The body and legs are actually the head and antenna of an inverted and decapitated creature from some kids’ show. Hence the confused expression. Fiona just reminded me that the original impetus behind these guys was a kids’ show about a martial-arts monkey. The company involved spent eight grand making a state-of-the-art glove puppet (I know…) for a pilot, and then had no money to make him any opponents. So I started making them. We shot one three minute piece (postponed from summer due to executive indecision and corporate baloney, so that we ended up filming in a SEVEN SAMURAI downpour, me flat on my back in the mud operating a teddy bear in a pirate hat) and then the whole project fell apart. But somehow I was now on a puppet-making kick and, thus obsessed, didn’t stop for some months. Kind of like when Richard Stanley got fired from THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU but came back to haunt the production, disguised as a dog (this really happened).

Wee Mosie MacMalbaff.

Note the strange, brown, suede-like hands. Brrrr.

Erik “Hambone” Buttinski.

He’s wearing a baby’s cardigan, also from a charity shop. His ears come from a toy dog. Joke shop teeth. Tends to spew foam whenever he’s moved, which can be distressing. If anyone ever wants to hire me to remake THE YOUNG LIONS, I have him in mind for the Brando part.

Mad Tam McSavage.

I keep telling him that his Michael Hutchence impersonation is in diabolical bad taste, but the little scunner won’t listen.

These are just a few of the dozen or so creatures I fashioned, Dr. Moreau-style, in my Puppet House of Pain. I had no particular plan for how to use them, but assumed a project would present itself in some hitherto vacant section of my mind.


One of them came in handy for entertaining a three-year-old one time, and apart from that, the whole sick crew languish beneath the bed in our spare room. Something for guests to think about when they bed down there.

The Chills #2: Insect Politics

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2008 by dcairns

undone by the fly 

This clip is from a horror movie, but that’s not actually the kind of chills I’m talking about. What this is, is a collection of those film scenes that rend the veil of mundanity and make you feel hooked into the Great Beyonderness of Things, that bring a poetic, indefinable insight to bear and open up possibilities undreamed-of, and make you feel awe and panicky joy and the exact physical sensations you felt that time Hervé Villachaise caressed your spine with an icicle.

[Spoilsports at Fox don’t want me promoting their film so they’ve removed the clip.]

Here’s Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis and John Getz in Cronenberg’s THE FLY. I would have to say this sequence, which GETS ME every damn time, is a compendium of many different emotions produced by many different things.

Howard Shore’s music is a huge part of it — if you watch a string of early Cronenbergs you get to hear Shore go from barely adequate to really, really good, quite rapidly. THE BROOD is kinda bland. SCANNERS is a rather weak PSYCHO riff, then VIDEODROME starts to get better and then THE FLY arrives and kicks ass.

And the performances are lovely, especially Goldblum, who’s perfectly cast and has perfect counterpart in Davis. John Getz properly comes into his own in THE FLY II, which is a pretty bad film but his single scene is TERRIFIC.

It’s really the dialogue that’s the core of it for me. The script is by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg, one of the few times Cronenberg adapted another writer’s script. Pogue has been very complimentary about the results, which is rare with screenwriters — we’re so used to having people trample our work with hobnailed boots while jabbering inanely like a Barbary macaque. It’s humbling when somebody comes along and actually IMPROVES what we’ve written, and is SENSITIVE to what we were trying to do with the thing in the first place.

Back in 1986 it probably couldn’t be predicted that Cronenberg would soon be concentrating more on adaptations than on originals, subtly Cronenbergerizing them while remaining very true to the values of the source material. He’d already made THE DEAD ZONE, one of the very few decent Stephen King adaptations (the key would seem to be excavating the valuable stuff that touches chords and makes King’s work so popular, and finding a new shape for it once you’ve removed the buckets of MATTER that fill out King’s doorstop volumes — perhaps exploiting the lacunae created by swinging cuts to create mystery, the way Kubrick did in THE SHINING) and was about to bring us NAKED LUNCH and M. BUTTERFLY and CRASH…

this bed was made for Walken

Dialogue often gets short shrift in discussion of cinema. I take the view that great cinema is that which uses its tools to create a unified effect that is either powerful or complex or both, and dialogue can as well be a part of that as anything else. It can’t totally dominate, but then to get a unified effect from cinema, which is kind of a fusion of many art forms, no one part can completely dominate. If it’s JUST cool photography or great editing, that doesn’t make great cinema either. I heard Richard Stanley say the other day that cinema “doesn’t LIKE dialogue,” which struck me as, well, WRONG, and certainly out of keeping with my experience of cinema. Stanley, like his idol Argento, doesn’t write good dialogue, or film it particularly well, or get very good performances, so maybe it’s a matter of being attuned to the virtues of screen talk. It’s true that cinema started off without the ability to talk, but it started without precisely synchronised music and sound effects too, and I know of few purists who think those are a burden on film art (though there are certainly people who choose not to use them, which is just fine).

Beam me up

So, the dialogue, the score, also the lighting, the rather lovely creature make-up, the way Goldblum’s eyes move (and when he looks UP and his eyes roll, he’s strangely reminiscent of Michael Anderson, the Man from Another Place in TWIN PEAKS — something about the cheekbones, I think) and when Goldblum is on the roof, he’s suddenly Lon Chaney in our memories of both THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and the film we’re watching suddenly seems not only thematically super-rich (disease, aging, love, death, rebirth) but hooked into a whole rich history of monster movies.

What we’ve got here is SCREEN POETRY my friends. And what I’ve got is the chills.

(More chills soon. And I would LOVE for you to nominate your own examples.)