Machines, Nazis, Witchcraft, Science & Religion
Translated from an interview by Tuomas Riskala, originally appeared in Hohto Magazine 2/2004
Interview conducted at the Brussels International Festival Of Fantastic Film in September, 2003.
South Africa / Film school / Short films
- RS tells he was booted from Cape Town film school after a very short period, which is something he now finds amusing as it was in fact his film, Rites of Passage, that brought the school, then-called Young Film-makers Workshop, considerable monetary gain in the form of various awards and helped them to launch a full-time tertiary course. RS says the film features cavemen and real-life mountain climbing, the latter of which he felt was a bit too much for the tutors. They had developed a camera on a wire and had sent it flying through the air, which produced some quite nice aerial shots of people climbing. RS believes this footage was central to the film's success in different contests. He later received a letter from the school principal, who tried to justify his decision of ousting RS: "When Richard told me that he was going to make a good film whatever the price, his attitude was like a slap in the face for me. Should any other alumni follow this example, the rest are sure to follow. If he won't be dealt with, a chaos will ensue!" RS framed the said letter and put in on his wall.
- Upon moving to England, RS got jobs as a music video director because he had spent time making dance videos / documentaries with different South African tribes. He even made friends with John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols-fame) upon directing The Body -video for his band, Public Image Ltd.
- RS still feels Hardware was basically a student movie of sorts, as several crew members were at a such a tender age during the production, no one being paid all that much. Even the visual FX were made at a high school student's computer! RS didn't think the film would even get a theatrical release, as he felt it was so insanely cheap and quite honestly dumb story-wise. He tried to do the best he could with the material given, though, constantly looking for solutions out of the ordinary. The filming begun around the middle part of the script, after which the beginning and the end were shot in rush, only in some days. He still likes the middle part of the film most, because he had time to get it right.
- RS wanted John Lydon to play Angry Bob, but Lydon had a feud with his record company and moved to LA. He was replaced by Iggy Pop, whom RS thought ended up doing a good job. The soundtrack consisted mainly of music RS listened to during the 80's; PIL, Ministry, Mark Pauline & Survival Research Laboratories, Gwar, and Lemmy among others. He would've liked to make a longer film, if only to add in more stuff from his record shelf! Lydon's Order of Death was constantly played in the background when RS was watching Hardware's dailies. He really got kick out of 'This is what you want, this is what you get' during that period. Simon Boswell, the composer, turned out to be a fortunate discovery, as he had prior experience in licesing previously recorded music for motion pictures.
- RS tells that Dust Devil is basically a short film expanded into a feature. The original, never-completed short film only had a cast of three, the Wendy character, the devil and presumably Ben Mukurob. The woman picks up a hitchhiker, who murders her and burns her car, walking away nonchalantly. RS wanted it to be his first feature, produced entirely in South Africa. Hardware producer Paul Trijbits demanded the rights for the Dust Devil script in exchange for Hardware's original negatives. Therefore, by a twist of fate, RS was contractually obligated to helm it as his next project after Hardware.
- Palace Films went officially bankrupt during the last week of production and was merged with PolyGram. Producer JoAnne Sellar left without even saying goodbye after hearing this, to make another 'desertbound psycho-killer flick'. (This film was George Sluizer's Dark Blood, which suffered the fate Dust Devil could've easily ended up sharing. Leading man River Pheonix's untimely death halted the production permanently.) The remaining crew continued shooting until they ran out of film. With Palace having no money for postproduction, Miramax hastily stitched together a 68-minute version, which RS feels was 'utter crap'. The 87-minute version ended up being released in the States with different share holders battling to get their money back (Canal+, Channel 4, Miramax). RS had no claim for the film at that point.
- In '93, RS saw four of his favorite westerns (Once Upon a time in the West, Guns in the Afternoon, The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) in a row at a certain film festival - after dropping a considerable amount of acid! After the last film, Wild Bunch, he rushed out of the theater and into a phone booth, calling up lawyers in a frenzy, determined to reclaim Dust Devil. The actual postproduction is old news, with RS telling how he ended making it a lot more surreal film than what was planned due to the difficulties he faced while editing. He believes the original producers, JoAnne Sellar and Miramax, never forgave him for completing the film, which they felt was his way of stepping at their toes.
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU
- RS claims he was originally lured to the novel by the dilemma of the absence of God. Should there not be a higher being, do we need one up to the point of inventing it ourselves? RS feels the Moreau character has been misinterpreted in Hollywood, as he considers the good doctor to be a bit of loon, yes, but the Code of Laws keeps the humanimals in line. He thinks of Moreau as a hippie and a pasifist, a mix of Tim Leary, Albert Schweitzer and Joseph Mengele(!). The whole point of the story is Moreau's desire to improve and raise all living things, with his death collapsing the island's scientifically revolutionary infrastructure. Americans always have Moreau killed in the climax, which RS feels is done to symbolize the birth of democracy.
- RS was relieved from his duties with New Line paying $1 Million, with in exchange him promising to keep at least a 30 mile distance from the production and anyone involved. He did come back, though, and felt that was a good thing for his self-confidence as John Frankenheimer was lost as a replacement director. The production seemed to have a jinx on it; David Thewlis suffered a bum leg with which he never treads quite normally again, Rob Morrow, the original Prendick, was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his resignation. Brando's daughter Cheyenne committed suicide, and RS still remembers the last words she spoke to him, after being told about the problems looming over the production when RS was still at the helm ("Aren't you scared?"). She ended her life shortly afterwards.
- To this day, RS is in the dark on what happened to Frankenheimer over the years, as he undeniably had a good track record in the 60's. RS wasn't exactly impressed by the senior director's methods, being present incognito when he shouted at an agonized David Thewlis during a take, trying to force a performance out of the actor. Frankenheimer's wife was reportedly a victim of plastic surgery, dubbed by RS' crew as 'Bride of Frankenheimer'. She followed her spouse everywhere, always in a different car. Frankenheimer himself had a tupee, which caused him a nasty skin condition in the tropical Queensland climate. After his death, RS began to receive phone calls in the middle of the night with several of his former crew members proclaiming 'The bastard is dead!'
- Further encouraging a thought of a jinx wa s RS' bouncing in a person who worked in the 70's version and he said the only difference between the two films was that back in the day, everybody was drunk instead of being doped! RS still feels sorry for H.G. Wells on the way his work is treated, with the doctor always ending up demonized and his motives left unexplained. Therefore it's ironice how influental the novel has been, with for example, Wells seeing the character of Col. Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (played by Brando in Apocalypse Now) derived from Moreau. He permanently cut all ties to his long-time friend and colleague after that.
THE SECRET GLORY
- The project began as a research for a feature film screenplay. RS was hoping it to become a fusion of Kiss Me Deadly and The English Patient, with a Jew archaeologist being commissioned by the SS to locate and retrieve the Holy Grail. He discovers a cup made of meteoritic substance, denser than any metal on Earth. Uranium, the most dense natural material, can be enriched into plutonium and therefore the cup could be also used as a basis for an atomic weapon. SS Officer / Grail pursuer Otto Rahn would've been the real-life inspiration for the lead character, who regretting his association with the Third Reich and freezing to death at the German/French border after a fatal escape attempt. He would've made RS' equivalent to the Ralph Fiennes character in The English Patient.
- As WW2 historians / Nazi scholars are extremely privy about their material, RS felt it was a necessity to gather material in form of archival research, filmed interviews etc, to back up his theories / findings that he took to different people for cross-references / more clues. While RS doesn't buy into the stories / books on Nazi pursuing the Ark of the Covenant or the Spear of Destiny (said to have been used to puncture Christ's side), he insists the Reich only visited Tibet once, exploring and looting for valuables (as well as adopting the swastika as their symbol) and that Rahn in fact did find a cup in the Pyrenees.
- Still a work-in-progres of sorts, as RS has recently been post-humously given access to the records of certain people involved with the Nazi party, which has resulted in some additional material.
- RS is hoping to get The VIY in production as his next project. His version, an update of the Nikolai Gogol story, is about a Red Cross doctor in Kosovo, who slays a local woman and must serve in a wake next to her body for three nights. Eventually The VIY will show up...