No one can claim to know humanity quite like Richard Stanley, anthropologist and esteemed outsider director. From an early age his ideas were deemed dangerous, kicked out of film school after making what he describes as his purest film. Taken on excursions to discover the traditions and rituals of the indigenous people of South Africa, Richard’s childhood was exposed to things that would bewilder and amaze most adults. His mother, the author Penny Miller, wrote on the mysterious nature of our diverse land. Because he learned to foster a respect for people Apartheid had claimed were lesser beings and had the means to expose their plight, he had to flee the country under threat of being imprisoned for his radical ideals. Richard found himself firmly between the grasps of his love of the unknown and his skill as a film maker.
As a literal and spiritual nomad, Richard never seemed to find his home in any project through sheer bad luck or circumstances one couldn’t even imagine upon someone. Hardware was his debut film which aside from being panned by critics garnered a cult following that is strong to this day. But it was the legal battles from 2000 AD (the comic series dealing with stories from a grim cyberpunk future) that really seemed to mar the film’s reputation after release. Then the numerous personal tragedies of Dust Devil, which seemed cursed from the start. From car accidents, to on-set fights to budget problems, the film was eventually finished, but it failed to live up to Silence of the Lambs, the film that it was meant to compete with.
The much publicized nightmare that is The Island of Dr. Moreau could be a film on its own. Having worked on his, at the time, dream project for four years the project looked set for greatness. The cast at the time included Bruce Willis, James Woods and Marlon Brando with all the promise of a Hollywood blockbuster. Again, external forces got in the way and Bruce Willis left after his divorce from Demi Moore. Val Kilmer was brought on, but demanded his role be cut to 40% after a divorce of his own; this meant James Woods leaving the production. All this goes without even mentioning the tragedies plaguing Marlon Brando’s personal life at the time, which included his own daughter’s suicide. Richard Stanley was at this point replaced as director and the meticulously written script, based closely on the H.G Wells novel, was thrown out the window in favor of a script following the previous two remakes which were disastrous in their own right. It goes without saying the film was a disaster, panned by most every critic, going on to win Razzie nominations for worst film of the year.
However Richard Stanley is more than a mere director. As a genuine Anthropologist, Richard has also been involved with uncovering the mysteries of human Occult and rituals. In fact, one might argue Richard is more successful as an academic than as a director, but it’s impossible to separate the two roles. When one thinks of the Holy Grail we think of knights on a holy quest for their Christian king, but in recent modern times, Richard Stanley knew of SS Nazis and their obsessive hunt for power, even in the spiritual. Perhaps they thought possessing the Grail would prove them the Aryan race. He wrote about it in his e-book, Shadow of the Grail which is the story of Otto Rahn (the unofficial inspiration behind Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark). The more Richard Stanley researched Otto Rahn, the stranger things became as rumors of faking his death and working for the CIA on secret mystical projects. The far-fetched is close at hand for Richard as he continues to pierce the veil of what is generally accepted to be truth.
Now returning to South Africa for the first time in close to two decades we asked the Anthropologist how different the new South Africa was from the old. Aside from the relaxing of censorship, “not much,” was the response. Explaining that he had just returned from the Karoo where time seems to stand still aside from farm workers being driven to live in villages to dance around ancestral land laws. When asked if he would like to stay and perhaps make a film in South Africa, it becomes clear that even with a measurable amount of success making films in South Africa from the ground up is a risk not many are willing to take. He however understands the importance of film as a medium, explaining that perhaps the reason behind the US staying a superpower despite financial debt is Hollywood. “Anything in Science that is not understood is generally indiscernible from Magic,” is something he reminds us with a glint in his eye.
We look forward to seeing more from Richard Stanley as I’m sure he has many more stories to tell, but for now he will wander on and follow his convictions to uncover every mystery from the Holy Grail to the damaged fabric of space.