One of my favorite subjects of documentaries is movies themselves. Being a lover of movies, it has always fascinated me how they are made and I love watching behind the scenes stuff on DVD’s. However, videos like that always show the good side of things. We all know that making movies is not a walk in the park and sometimes the stories that emerge from the sets pass into legend and we are all left wondering if that’s what really happened. Sometimes we hear of stories and the movies themselves survive the turmoil and end up being enjoyable and, in the case of American History X, good. Other times the productions suffer so many problems and setbacks they are abandoned all together, as in the case of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Movie documentaries are fun in the fact that it turns the camera around for a change and gives a usually unbiased tale of what really happened during the production of some of our favorite movies. Some of these documentaries even turn out as good or better than the actual movies they are documenting. Regardless of your feelings on The Boondock Saints, I happen to like it, I would watch Overnight over the movie any day. I also happen to like movie documentaries that focus on movies that could have been or how they could have been very different. Lost in La Mancha or Jodorowsky’s Dune are just two of those. You can even get into the rare studio endorsed ones like Dangerous Days or Shadows of the Bat, which goes into rare and intimate detail why the Batman franchise fizzled in the last two entries. Lost Soul, as its obviously titled, tells the tale of the doomed journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Seriously, that’s the title.
When watching movies I always like to dive into Wikipedia or IMDb or scour the internet for little tidbits of how the production went, maybe that’s why I like movie documentaries so much. There is a little bit online about the shake up on set, but it is has no bearing on how awful it really was. Lost Soul follows the story from the original books inception to the film’s disastrous production and subsequent fall out. The Island of Dr. Moreau actually draws many parallels with Heart of Darkness, which was the basis for Apocalypse Now. The authors of the two books were actually friends until H.G. Wells accused Conrad of stealing his themes for Heart of Darkness. Both movie adaptations suffered troubled productions and, coincidentally, a hard-nosed Marlon Brando. They also both have very compelling documentaries about their productions.
Lost Soul is one of those rare documentaries that gets both sides of the story, most everyone was on the same page when it came to events and timelines and feelings toward the production, but it was nice to see the director, the actors, studio heads, and executive producers all weigh in on the movie. The only two curiously absent were Val Kilmer and David Thewlis. My guess is that based on the stories from the set, Kilmer probably refused to even talk to them and Thewlis didn’t want to relive his terrible experience. We’re also, of course, missing Brando and director Frankenheimer, but they have both since passed.
I happen to like The Island of Dr. Moreau itself and all of Brando’s ice bucket hat wearing nonsense. It truly has some tense moments and if done right probably would have gone down in history as a revered movie. Unfortunately the good luck curses (I’m not joking) ran out on this one. My hope is that this documentary serves as a warning for up and coming filmmakers, and not in a negative sense. It takes a lot of heart and guts to go out there into the world and try to put something like this together, especially if you are passionate about the project. No one sets out to make bad movies, or books, or video games, or TV shows, but sometimes you have other more powerful forces working against you. Some have the strength to carry on, others are so wounded by the experience that it’s hard to pick yourself back up, and to be clear there is nothing wrong about that. I’ve put some of my so called babies out into the world and some do well, but when they don’t I take it personal. Richard Stanley happened to be in the latter part of that and never fully bounced back from his experience on the movie. He even had the courage to sneak back on to the set as one of the extras to check on the production. I say courage because he did not try to sabotage the production in anyway, whereas I would have done the exact opposite.
The documentary itself only suffers from the fact that most of it is talking heads, but the subject matter is interesting and informative. I would rank this among the upper echelon of movie documentaries. The director was supposedly at the film festival and I was hoping for a great Q&A after the flick, but unfortunately he never showed.
This was a good way to wrap up our coverage of the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival. We hope that you enjoyed our few reviews and tune in next year when we are sure to return.