Richard Stanley, I presume? An interview with the director of HARDWARE...

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Richard Stanley, I presume? An interview with the director of HARDWARE...

Pinning down Richard Stanley can be quite a job, whether you're talking about trying to find where he is or trying to make sense of the bewildering variety of reputations he has. He's been called a genius, a hack, an artist, a troublemaker, an Enfant Terrible and plain mad in both meanings of the word. This is all the more remarkable when you look at his body of work as a feature director: two films only ( both released in the early nineties ), and some little-seen documentaries.

Thing is, those two films are "Hardware" and "Dust Devil",  which both have garnered a large cult following over the years. And fans who wonder what Richard is doing can always find him busy doing pre-production on some interesting projects.

But when it comes to turning those projects into actual films, Richard Stanley always seems to be hit by Gilliamesque bad luck. Worse even: the companies involved with his two previous films went bankrupt and legal matters caused for both movies to become almost completely unavailable.

The most famous of his misadventures concern the 1996 film "The Island of Dr. Moreau", which was to be his dream project and starred Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer and Ron Perlman. But because of "creative differences" the studio fired and banned Richard Stanley from his own set after only four days. He famously sneaked back disguised as a background creature and reported on the abysmal handling of the production, stories which were corroborated by lead actor David Thewliss. Still, the whole affair closed a lot of doors and projects for Richard. And to this day we're still waiting for his third film.


But as of late it seems the tide is slowly but surely turning for Richard Stanley: he created a director's cut of "Dust Devil" which got an awesome 5-disc release by Subversive Cinema (it includes the documentaries "Voice of The Moon", "White Darkness" and "The Secret Glory of Otto Rahn" complete with commentaries for all), and this year "Hardware" finally got decently released both on DVD and BluRay, topped by an excellent US-version last month by Severin.

So now that he is back in the limelight ( sort of... ), it's time for an interview to see what Mr. Stanley is doing these days and he was kind enough to give me some of his time.


AV: Finally we have versions of "Hardware" available worldwide in the right aspect ratio, uncut, and not looking like they were copied from an old VHS tape. Why did it take so long for such a popular title to get a decent release?

Richard Stanley: Up until now 'HARDWARE' has only been available on DVD in pirate form. The discs looked as if they had been copied from an old VHS because they were. It didn't help that the film's color scheme, leaning heavily on various shades of red, doesn't lend itself to that sort of abuse or that the original tapes were heavily cut for the film's initial US release back in the early nineties.

Miramax gave the film a pretty big push at the time, going wide with seven hundred prints, something virtually unheard of for a flick that had been made for well under a million bucks. 'HARDWARE' was really a victim of its own popularity in that it performed so well at the off that the various powers that be spent the next twenty years fighting to try and gain control over it. The film's original producers Palace Pictures were forced into liquidation by Polygram, who were in turn broken up by a series of corporate apex predators. The rights have been contested by MGM, Miramax and even Buena Vista, all of whom claimed to own the beast at one time or another.

Pretty much the same fate befell 'DUST DEVIL' and any and all attempts at merchandising the beast or getting the long awaited sequel off the ground. For a while I was halfway convinced that the eye in the pyramid was actually intent on erasing my entire existence from the database.


AV: In several movies you included some cultural references which will be pretty hard to spot for the vast majority of your viewers, like using the Hopi color-wheel for both "Dust Devil" and "Hardware". You know the majority of your audience will probably not "get" those references unless they listen to a commentary track. How important are the inclusion of such details to you?

Richard Stanley: The whole point of 'sub-text' is that its meant to be subtextual. If folk could spot that sort of thing on their first viewing then I wouldn't be doing my job right. Things like the color-wheel should only really matter to the d.p., the editor and yours truly. Like the dude says: if you wanna send a message use Western Union !

Those other things are there to lend an internal symmetry and consistency to the completed pic's pace and palatte, to give the audience the sense that things are at least happening for a reason even if they don't always know or need to know what those reasons are. The apocalyptic ramifications of the color-wheel gag were amusingly teased out in the sequel script which I still hope might see the light of day, if only to satisfactorily close the pattern set in motion by the earlier events. There may just be an outside chance of that actually happening now that the beast has finally been released to DVD. At least I'm still keepin' my fingers crossed...


AV: "Hardware", "Dust Devil" and "Voice of the Moon" ( a short documentary about Afghanistan ) all feature strong soundtracks by Simon Boswell. How do you work with Simon? Does he get involved early on during scripting, later during editing or at the very end when the film is nearly finished?

Richard Stanley: Simon has been a staunch supporter and collaborator from the days of 'HARDWARE' onwards.


AV: I especially like the "Voice of the Moon" music which has been haunting me for days now. Well, accompanying might be a better word...

Richard Stanley: I'm under the opinion that 'VOICE OF THE MOON' is amongst his best work. Simon really came to my rescue on that one. We had originally intended to shoot the film in a far more traditional documentary manner ( complete with talking head interviews, etc. ) but of course the sound recording equipment was destroyed relatively early on along with the camera motor. Operating effectively under stone age conditions meant one spare part actually had to be carved from a bit of wood before we could get the thing running again. The surviving footage was accordingly hand cranked like an old silent movietone newsreel with Simon recreating the entire soundtrack in the studio.

Of course I prefer Simon's involvement to be a somewhat more organic part of the plan nowadays and in fact we're already roughing out ideas for the next project ...


AV: Speaking of next projects, what is the current status of "Vacation", "The Bones of the Earth" and a sequel to "Voice of the Moon"? 

Richard Stanley: We succeeded in completing about ten minutes of 'The Eye of the Sun' - the putative follow-up to the 'Voice of the Moon' - in 2001 but thereafter the Bush administrations concerted and at times downright underhand efforts to discourage further reportage on the situation in Afghanistan put the idea into semi-permanent deep freeze.

'The Bones of the Earth' , an attempt to deal with the war on the home front as a dramatic fiction adapted from a first draft by the late Donald Cammell remains on the back burner after the death of the original leading man, although the project itself still retains a faint pulse of life. In fact I received an incoming call from its beleaguered producer only yesterday.

'Vacation' - a li'l romantic black comedy about an American couple on holiday in the middle east when the west is abruptly wiped out by an indeterminate ( either man-made or celestial ) cataclysm making it impossible for them to go home and forcing the hapless duo to adjust to life in a dark age environment - is currently looking the healthiest of all the projects tying up my desktop. Although I don't want to curse it by shooting my mouth off too soon it has already been presold to a UK distributor and is set to go before the cameras this February on locations in southern Morocco, so keep your fingers and toes crossed for me, compadres. With luck and the grace of God I should have a fistful of fresh anecdotes to share before too very long and a whole bunch of strange, terrifying, unlikely but hopefully not unamusing thoughts and images coming soon to a multiplex near you !


AV: The BluRays and DVDs of "Hardware" also feature a short called "Sea of Perdition". How did you get involved in creating that?

Richard Stanley: I've always been interested in the space programme. While all too aware of our technological limitations I realize the necessity of establishing breeding colonies on other worlds remains a matter of biological imperative so I can see we're unlikely to give up trying, no matter what the eventual human cost might be.

There's an ingrained perception within the industry that you can't do this sort or hard, interplanetary sci-fi without major studio support so to prove 'em wrong the three of us - Mr Immo Horn, Miss Maggie Moor ( who plays both the astronaut and the alien ) took off to the far north to shoot a sort of promo-reel. Most folk think its all digital animation but that warm water lake beneath the perma-frost and those weird Hyberborean carvings and pictoglyphs are completely real. In fact the entire eight minute segment was lensed in a volcanic vent in northern Iceland and slammed together for approximately five grand cash in hand, indicating that you could turn in a similar looking feature for forty grand or thereabouts but sadly there were no takers.

Still, I had a blast doing it and at least Maggie can't complain I never took her anywhere...  


AV: You've mentioned in the past that you wish to update your documentary on the Nazi's search for the Grail, "The Secret Glory of Otto Rahn", when you have found new (or better) information. You also wrote that you experimented a bit with the supposed Grail's healing powers, and recently you even moved from England to the South of France, near the castle of Montsegur. Any recent findings you can share with us (both on the movie and the Grail's power)?

Richard Stanley: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence and 'The Secret Glory' is the tippy-tip-tip of an informational iceberg.

At the time of the initial assembly some of the information pertaining to the case was still classified while other material was redacted to protect my informants. The circumstances surrounding the project and the events that have unfolded since the initial shoot have been so bizarre and frankly far fetched that I have been forced to be unusually circumspect in their coverage for fear the wider public would otherwise assume that I had taken leave of my senses altogether. I have continued to document the case and keep a detailed on-line journal that forms the core of a new interactive website dedicated to the unfolding mystery ( Terra Umbra - Empire of Shadows, ).

I hope to have an expanded cut of the original documentary, remixed, remastered and available for public consumption by the end of next summer, although I suspect that some of the material will have to stay under wraps until all involved, myself included, are either in their graves or safely transcended to some other sphere of existence. Rahn's work, much of which has been translated in English since the advent of 'Secret Glory', was compulsory reading at a certain level of promotion within Himmler's SS and there's no question that it contributed, at least in some small part, to the ideological underpinnings of the holocaust. Regardless of Rahn's motives and his academic credibility I'm not sure I can readily shoulder the responsibility for dumping the material back into the public domain until we fully understand the ramifications of what we're dealing with.

As for the so-called 'Pyrenean Grail' there's no doubt that the bleeding black stones shown in the documentary are from some other world and probably arrived on Earth as meteoric debris, although to what extent they are really imbued with 'healing powers' remains a matter of conjecture. According to Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th century troubadour epic 'Parsifal' whoever has the stones or comes near to the alien artifacts "will have eternal life and will be healed". Although this doesn't seem to have done Otto and his buddies a whole helluva lot of good, my mother's lymphoma is still in remission over a decade later, even though the cynic in me tends to put this down to placebo effect.


AV: Looking through the list of what you did since the 1992 "Dust Devil" release, there are a lot of very cool projects you were involved with. Unfortunately many of those haven't led to a movie yet. Which abolished project do you regret the most?

Richard Stanley: Thanks to an overall lack of production support over the last few years I've had more projects stranded in development hell than you can shake a knob kierie at.


AV: Being from The Netherlands, I was especially partial to the story about a gang of criminals robbing an old Dutch bank and discovering a Lovecraftian demon in its vaults...

Richard Stanley: The piece you refer to was written on spec back in the mid nineties and provisionally entitled 'Nemesis' or 'Steel Donkies' - a slang term I'd heard a Jamaican 'yardie' use to describe what were basically soul sucking demons from beyond space.

I seem to recall the problem was that no-one was interested in funding a fully blown sci-fi horror fandango set in Amsterdam. Something to do with the accents apparently. The use of the diamond trade coupled with the red light district, the internecine conflicts between the Dutch hoods and the Surinamese immigrants, the backstory concerning the Nazi occupation in WW2 and the overlap between the black economy, the secret societies, and the environmental movement all served to make it impossible to readily transfer the action to the United States and the project withered and died on the vine accordingly.

Other unproduced screenplays that still reserve a special place in my dark heart include a radical reworking of Nikolai Gogol's seminal vampire classic 'Viyi' set in a Bosnian Muslim enclave during the Yugoslavian civil war and 'In a Season of Soft Rains' a dystopian sci-fi epic set in a flooded, Greenhouse Europe - which I believe is available for free download, along with the original 'Moreau' screenplay from the unofficial 'Between Death and the Devil' site should you or your readers wish to know more.


AV: The age of DVD and BluRay seems to fit your work well, as it allows you to add commentaries and interviews to the films. You are a talented writer and speaker. Also you seem to be a veritable archive of bizarre anecdotes, ranging from supernatural encounters to CIA assassinations. Have you ever thought of publishing your memoirs?

Richard Stanley: I doubt anyone would be interested, myself least of all. There are more important things and subjects more deserving of attention, our time in this place being as short as it is.

Besides, I wouldn't know how to tell that story yet as I'm only just getting started on the third act. Perhaps someone will come along after me to pick up the pieces the way I've done with Otto Rahn. Then they can worry about trying to prove what really did or didn't happen. For that matter I have been trying to write about my involvement in the Rahn affair but although I've succeeded in completing several chapters and posting them over the net I've yet to find any takers for the full account. Never say never, though...


AV: In the same vein, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of someone basing a film on the story of your travels through Afghanistan. It would almost be Oscar-bait: a mix of searching for adventure, hoping to find lost worlds, rumors of werewolves and Shangri-La even... Then the encountering of different cultures, using heroin-smugglers to cross the border into Afghan territories, a coming-of-age, traveling alongside the Taliban, fighting in a terrible battle and finally barely escaping the country alive. Have you ever considered writing such a script?

Richard Stanley: Again I feel too close to the events to be entirely comfortable with the idea of telling that story myself. Besides it would require a budget considerably beyond the limits of anything Hollywood might feel prepared to trust me with at this point in time.

Bigger hitters than myself have tried to step up to the plate on that one, so far without success. I believe Wolfgang Peterson took a run at it a few years ago with a screenplay entitled 'Addicted to Danger' turned out by the same dude who penned 'A Perfect Storm' but the nature of the material, involving drugs, terrorism, lost worlds and those aforementioned CIA assassins caused their backers to get a serious case of cold feet.

There's an investigative journalist on the case at present whom I have some respect for. A guy named Aiden Hartley who seems to have picked up the gauntlet and has already interviewed myself and Mister Horn about the events several times with an eye towards putting together a feature length docu-drama , along the lines of 'Touching the Void' or somesuch.

Extraordinary claims, like I said, demand some pretty heavy evidence. And if one doesn't want to come across as a mythomaniac or outright fruitcake it tends to require more spadework than most of us have time for, not to mention an element of risk although I remain supportive of Aiden's efforts to eventually bring the full story to the screen and wish him all due luck in his endeavors.


AV: You directed "Hardware" immediately after returning from your extraordinary adventures in Afghanistan. Were you still motivated to do the movie at that time? I mean, didn't helming a science-fiction movie seem incredibly trivial after everything you just had encountered over there?

Richard Stanley: Actually, I didn't really have any choice. The only thing that motivated me at the time was blind rage and the will to survive by whatever means available. The deal with Palace Pictures had been struck in my absence so I went straight from the battlefield into preproduction which gave me a certain degree of perspective. There were any number of folk out for my blood at the time so I didn't feel inclined towards asking too many questions. I just put my name on the dotted line and got on with it.

During the siege of Jallallabad I'd survived what came close to a direct hit from an incoming artillery round but I didn't really think about it until a couple of weeks into the shoot when my cameraman, Mr Immo Horn, who had been through the war with me confessed that he'd started to question whether or not we hadn't been killed after all. Very similar sort of deal to that scene in 'Pulp Fiction' where the dude pisses away his entire clip without hitting either of the leads. It did feel a li'l uncanny, as if like Jacob Singer we weren't really on set but in hell all along and that the folks surrounding us weren't really our friends, colleagues and loved ones but daemons sent to devour us.

No one had really heard of 'post traumatic stress disorder' at the time but I guess it helped give 'HARDWARE' a certain edge, an authentic stench of trauma. 'HARDWARE' is what we had instead of therapy.


AV: Final question: say you were given a hundred million dollars. If you had to spend all of the money on a movie but would get total artistic freedom, what would you create?

Richard Stanley: Between you and me, I've become intrigued of late by the possibility of time travel. With the limitations of conventional space travel growing increasingly apparent mankind's only hope for long term survival may lie in whether or not we are capable of creating navigable wormholes between what are commonly referred to as 'closed time-like folds' , a technology which may, of course, already exist at some other point in our planet's timeline.

All the oxygen, fresh water and natural resources we need to balance our eco-system could well exist a mere hand's breadth away from us, locked in the past or some other quantum world. Non-linear access to the 'timeline' opens up a wealth of mind numbing possibilities, not the least being the ability to significantly alter the normal flow of causality, changing the present at source by rewriting the past. If such an event were to take place and the paradigm 're-edited' to erase, for instance, all knowledge of such a technology we would have no conscious memory or awareness of it having ever been any other way.

If there's moment in time I'd like to return to or otherwise reconjure in the mind the audience of it would probably be the fall of Montsegur in 1244 when the surviving members of a gnostic order, known as the 'Cathars', made common cause with the castle's pagan defenders in a vainglorious last stand against the combined might of the Holy Roman Church, the kings of France, the Teutonic knights and the Spanish inquisition, effectively against the world. Although the siege lasted for almost eight months and there were countless acts of untold, individual heroism the outcome was sadly inevitable. The secret the castle held was lost to us, erased from recorded history along with the culture that had nurtured it, an act that effectively brought on what we think of as the 'dark ages', hundreds of years of superstition, barbarism, illiteracy, pig ignorance and patriarchal rule.

The three hundred defenders under Esclarmonde d'Alion, the warrior sorceress who had been granted stewardship of the citaedel as part of her dowry, had little chance of enduring against an army of up to ten thousand battle hardened dogs of war but a little help from up the line might go a long way towards tipping the tide of battle in her favour, or at least preserve the secret of the technology that might have made time travel a possibility to begin with. Her world was a very different one from our own and to recreate it, as a trained anthropologist or indeed a 'time traveler' might have seen it would probably take all of that hundred mil' on offer and then some, but its a world I'd dearly love to show you and an important story that deserves to be told.

Failing that I'd love to have do something along the lines of a 'real' life Harry Potter, something that would help teach kids the real secrets of magic and the true history of their world...


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