Later in life Marlon Brando seem determined to actively destroy his legacy. Firstly by appearing in sub standard films, then by bullying the directors to allow him to mumble incoherently and appear in ridiculous costumes lacking any kind of context. Later in life Brando was walking performance art and nowhere is this more apparent than in 1996’s ill-fated The Island of Dr Moreau.
The documentary of this doomed films trajectory isn’t about Brando per se, but his cameo is priceless. Arriving late on set he inexplicably painted his face white for all outside shots, looking like a long since deceased kabuki grandmother, suggested his character needed an ice bucket on his head (due to the heat) and demanded that the 71cm tall Dominican Republic actor Nelson De la Rosa be rewritten to be included in all his scenes. Why? Because Brando liked him. And yes, it’s true Brando created ‘mini me.’
Why would Brando act like this? The more charitable might suggest that it’s due to the way the film’s director Richard Stanley was treated. But more than likely it’s because by this stage Brando had little interest in the art form that had canonised him – but he kind’ve enjoyed the ridiculous amounts of money people would pay him, and plus it was fun to mess with people.
But back to Stanley. In 1990 he made his debut feature Hardware, a sci fi thriller about a murderous robot on the loose, slicing and dicing to an industrial gothic soundtrack. While PIL’s caustic anthem “The Order of Death” is one of the film’s lasting memories, as well as Iggy Pop as the radio DJ “Angry Bob, the man with an industrial dick,” it was an inventive film that marked Stanley as a super cool filmmaker to watch. He of course followed it up with the near incomprehensible Dust Devil, before being handed the keys to Hollywood.
Before we continue it’s probably best to note that Stanley is an eccentric character. Somewhat of an oddball. You can see it in the interviews here with statements like “knowing that the odds were stacked against me I resorted to witchcraft.” But Moreau was his dream project. He spent four years on pre production, painstakingly drawing the Moreau’s cast of freaks and mutants, envisaging a kind of Hollywood arthouse project. When he met Brando for the first time the two of them not surprisingly hit it off. Yet by the time Brando appeared on set Stanley was gone.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau is about a train wreck, about Stanley’s eccentricity exploding against the Hollywood machine, about a series of poor decisions that explode in Stanley’s face. It’s frequently hilarious, absurd and ridiculous, yet like Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune project it’s tinged with what could’ve been.
One such mistake was hiring Val Kilmer who’s ego and diva antics, fresh from the success of Top Gun inevitably, along with more than a few other missteps (including his own very strange and paranoid behaviour) secured Stanley’s fate, being fired after only a few days and replaced with the autocratic John Frankenheimer (the original The Manchurian Candidate). Frankenheimer cared less about the film than Brando, and Brando gave him hell. Frankenheimer in turn gave everyone else hell. The shoot blew out, the budget escalated and Stanley’s vision was destroyed. Stanley meanwhile never quite made it to the plane out, and rumours started circulating about a mad character roaming the Queensland bush swearing about Kilmer and New Line cinema.
This is a doco that keeps on giving. Just when you think its ridiculous it escalates. It’s possibly the most ill fated film ever made. It’s funny because it’s not happening to you. If this film seems far-fetched however just watch the finished product. There’s a reason it’s voted one of the worst films ever made. Lost Soul explains why.