Tripping In A Mine Field Or: How Richard Stanley Fought The Russians On Acid And Won

article by greg moss

I guess I’ve always been an admirer of fearless visionaries. Directors compelled to forge ahead in the face of adversity. Names like James Cameron, Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre: The Wrath Of God) and Vincent Ward (VigilMap Of The Human Heart) immediately spring to mind.

Richard Stanley too, is fearless.

Best known as writer-director of cult films Hardware and Dust Devil, Stanley is also, as it turns out, a real life adventurer (as detailed in several in-depth interviews included in Subversive Cinema’s five disk box set edition of Dust Devil).

Fighting alongside Mujahadin rebels in Afghanistan against the Russians, is just one of his many exploits.

Stanley didn’t go to Afghanistan in 1989 with the express purpose of becoming involved in the war. As with most of his adventures, he simply stumbled into it.

The great grandson of famous reporter and soldier of fortune Sir Henry Stanley who was made legendary by his search and rescue of the lost explorer David Livingstone in Africa and who uttered the immortal words “Doctor Livingstone, I presume.” – Richard Stanley was born and raised in Africa by a surfing photographer father and anthropologist mother (renowned author Penny Miller) and grew up with a keen interest in indigenous tribal myths and metaphysical practices.

While producing music videos in the UK (having fled to Europe to avoid conscription into the South African army) he was inspired by tales from an Afghan crewmember – concerning real-life ‘shape-shifters’ in the rugged mountain areas of Afghanistan.

He decided (pretty much on the spur of the moment – as nothing was happening with his hoped-for break into features at that time) – to go there and use it as an excuse to conduct research for a script he was planning to write.

He also took along with him a cache of 16mm clockwork film cameras and cans of filmstock, so he could go up into these inaccessable mountain areas and document what he found.

(This footage incidentally, was later cut together as a beautiful thirty minute short  called Voice Of The Moon, featuring music by Simon Boswell, which is also available as an extra on the Hardware blu-ray).

During their exploration of Afghanistan, Stanley and his cameraman Immo Horn (along with war journalist Carlos Mavroleon who acted as interpreter) created detailed maps of the areas they were hiking through – ending up with ‘the most detailed relief map in the entire country’.

It was for this reason Stanley was inadvertantly drafted into helping the Afghan fighters. As he had grown to respect and admire the Afghan people, it was not something that was forced upon him.

Stanley soon found himself involved in some real crazy shit –

He, Immo and Carlos enlisted with the Hezb-i-Islami under General Younis Khalis and were charged with knocking out the airport at Jalalabad with a missile launcher to prevent Mig fighter jets from taking off and bombing the resistance. It was a particularly violent battle which lasted twenty-four hours (with tea breaks and breaks for prayer) during which Immo was seriously wounded and Carlos went missing. Stanley ended up carrying his shrapnel-riddled cameraman across the battle field to safety – essentially saving his life.

Deciding that if he was going to die, he’d  prefer to be tripping, Stanley took a huge amount of LSD, and was forced to navigate (on foot) through a mine field, while under attack from a barrage of Russian artillery – a very surreal experience which he described as “like something from Apocalypse Now”.

Arriving at a field hospital (where Immo subsequently received treatment) and being a westerner, Stanley was roped into administering morphine to injured soldiers (they thought he was a doctor!).

Once Immo was well enough to travel, he and Stanley skipped across the border into Pakistan where Stanley was summoned back to the UK to begin pre-production work on Hardware – the script of which Palace Pictures had expressed a desire to produce while he was away.

Considering Stanley was just 22 when he made Hardware (the average age of the crew was just 16) – the subtext and social commentary embedded throughout the film shows a maturity and understanding well beyond his years. At the end of his blu-ray commentary, Stanley laments the fact that the ideas explored in the film (the proliferation of surveillance, the West’s obsession with military spending, the mean-spiritedness of a corporatized society etc) have not dated the film at all.

Indeed, he (rightly) wishes this wasn’t the case – and fears we are heading towards a world very much like the one depicted in the film.

His final words were quite telling … “Protest now, before it’s too late”.

It’s also interesting to note that this quote …

“I do not feel that at any time it was ever my decision to make any of the movies I made, although I don’t regret them.”

… may also apply to his amazing real life exploits.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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