UNDER THE RADAR – Sorcerer and Miracle Mile

Little film gems which escaped wide attention and perhaps yours too.

by greg moss

Under The Radar is a semi-regular post in which I bring to light little-seen films, which got lost in the crowd due to lousy distribution or were misunderstood at the time of their release, but which deserve to be seen for one reason or another.

First up this week …

SORCERER (1977)

Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), based on the novel The Wages Of Fear by Georges Arnaud with a screenplay by Walon Green (The Wild Bunch).

It stars Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Ramon Bieri and Amidou.

In a bid to escape a squalid Latin American hell hole of a town, four desperate fugitives volunteer to transport a haul of unstable nitroglycerine aboard a couple of rickety old trucks across two hundred miles of treacherous jungle terrain in order to extinguish an oil fire.

Why it’s worth seeing:

Unfairly pulled from its initial release to make way for the sudden success of Star Wars in 1977, this unrelenting thriller never stood a chance at the box office, earning just $5.9 million on a budget of $22 million. And it’s a shame, as the film is truly an intensely suspenseful experience. Having seen the original 1952 French version The Wages Of Fear on the big screen in a re-release in the late 80’s, I can safely say Friedkin’s film is far superior in terms of its verisimilitude and sheer audacity. The suspension bridge-crossing sequence (all done for real) has to be seen to be believed.

A suitably eerie electronic score by German band Tangerine Dream only heightens the  tension.

And it’s probably the muddiest, wettest film you’ll ever see.

A lost masterpiece long overdue for reappraisal. Highly recommended.

And still in thriller-mode …

MIRACLE MILE (1989)

Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt. Starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham.

Harry, an incurable romantic, finds the girl of his dreams, only to mistakenly receive a phone call telling him a nuclear attack has been launched on the United States. Harry has less than an hour to find his dream girl and get the Hell out of LA before the big one drops.

Why it’s worth seeing:

What would you do if you only had an hour to live? This is the subtext of this clever race-against-time romantic thriller.

Set almost entirely in the down-town strip of LA known as the Miracle Mile, during the wee hours of the morning, the film effectively conveys a sense of time and place much like Scorsese’s (again underrated) After Hours. The escalation of pandemonium as the city awakens to the news of imminent nuclear attack is masterfully orchestrated by De Jarnatt. Anthony Edwards gives a  fine performance and the score by Tangerine Dream (again) gives the film an unrelenting momentum which will leave you breathless by the end.

It’s interesting to note, De Jarnatt’s screenplay came close to being the script for Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983, before Spielberg decided against a stand-alone story and instead went with the anthology format at the eleventh hour.

Once again, highly recommended.

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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UNDER THE RADAR – The Handmaid’s Tale and The Dark Backward

Little film gems which escaped wide attention and perhaps yours too.

by greg moss

Under The Radar will be a semi-regular post in which I bring to light little-seen films, which got lost in the crowd due to lousy distribution or were misunderstood at the time of their release, but which deserve to be seen for one reason or another.

First up this week …

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (1989)

Directed by The Tin Drum helmer Volker Schlondorff, based on a novel by Margaret Atwood with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. It stars Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern and Robert Duvall.

A cautionary fable set in a near future America where the religious right has seized power after chemical toxins have caused infertility in 99 percent of the female population. The remaining one percent of fertile females are rounded up by the state and forced to bear offspring for members of high society.

Why it’s worth seeing:

I never really had an opinion on Natasha Richardson one way or the other, but she’s really good in this. In fact, the entire cast is excellent. And it was a surprise to hear Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘Johnny Come Home’ featured on the soundtrack in one particular scene.

Virging on satire (in a Starship Troopers kind of way) without crossing the line, this is a handsome, classy, thought-provoking film; a feminist’s nightmare which guys can also enjoy.

Highly recommended.

And from one extreme to the other …

THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)

Debut feature written and directed by Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City). Starring Judd Nelson, Bill Paxton, Wayne Newton, James Caan, Rob Lowe and Lara Flynn Boyle.

A lurid dark comedy set in a bizarre ‘future 50’s alternate LA’ where Judd Nelson is a garbage man with unfounded aspirations of becoming a stand-up comic, only to have a third arm grow out of his back and ruin everything – or does it?

Why it’s worth seeing:

The underbelly of Hollywood show biz was never this sleazy and weird.

Aside from the Brazil-like production design and Lynchian milieu, the big draw card is Bill Paxton’s OTT performance as Judd Nelson’s best friend, Gus – a gleefully perverse and disgusting chubby-loving, rancid chicken-scoffing ‘human cockroach’.

You’ll never open the fridge door again.

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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Debacle Of The Dead

Another unsung trivia nugget unearthed by greg moss.

For the last several years I have been on a quest …

Forget the ark … or the holy grail … or the stones of sankara.

I’ve been on a quest to find a dvd copy of this movie which includes a few missing seconds of footage cut from the ‘silver sphere pumping blood from the priest’s head’ sequence.

Since the days of VHS, I have owned an ex-rental copy on tape with this scene uncut, but have been unable to find it anywhere on dvd (or blu-ray for that matter).

I have half a dozen dvd copies I’ve bought over the years, from all round the world, just hoping I would one day find the one I’m looking for.

Sadly, so far, I have been denied.

Thinking about this reminded me of that other movie I own multiple copies of –

Once again, I own half a dozen dvd copies of this movie – all different aspect ratios, all varying in the quality of their transfers – all low-rent labels. All gathering dust – as I sought out the definitive version.

So why are there so many damn copies of Night of The Living Dead?

Well, as it turns out, it’s all to do with copyright – or the lack thereof.

There is an excellent 80 min doco on the 2 disk ’40th anniversary edition’ (officially sanctioned by Romero and co) in which they talk about the issue of the copyright fiasco.

Apparently it was the distributor, The Walter Read Organization, who suggested  a change of title from Night Of the Flesh Eaters to Night Of The Living Dead  just prior to release, after it was discovered there was already a film out with the title The Flesh Eaters. Unfortunately the copyright notice (attributed to Romero’s company Image Ten) was incorporated into the original title artwork, instead of being at the end of the film where it should’ve been. In removing the title and replacing it with the new one, the copyright notice was also removed.

This was only discovered some three to four years after the film’s initial release and the only copy of the original workprint (including the copyright notice) was destroyed in a flood which inundated Image Ten’s office basement in Pittsburgh where it was stored (the same basement by the way which features in the film).

This is why the film remained in the public domain for 40 years and anyone could release a copy of it on tape or dvd if they chose to.

Tom Savini’s 1990 remake (based on a new screenplay by Romero) was only produced in order to restore the copyright of the title to the filmmakers.

By the way, I urge you to stear clear of the so-called ‘30th Anniversary Edition’ which had fifteen minutes of all-new freshly-shot scenes inserted into it.

It’s awful.

Now if only I can find a dvd copy of Phantasm II with those missing few seconds …

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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It’s Official! – ‘Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye’ Was Indeed Star Wars 2!

Another unsung trivia nugget unearthed by greg moss.

As there really is nothing more that can be said about Star Wars, this will be my one and only post on the subject of Lucas and his saga.

I remember the first time I saw Alan Dean Foster’s novel Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye on bookshelves in 1978 – the sequel to Star Wars (!) – or so I thought.

It’s what we all thought – right?

‘From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker’ – that’s what it said on the cover.

But no, two years later, The Empire Strikes Back was released.

So where does SOTME fit in the scheme of things? Why does it even exist? If Lucas never intended it to be the official sequel, was it nothing more than a grab for cash?

Well now finally, the truth can be told …

In 2010, a 2 disk remastered dvd edition of Dark Star (The Hyperdrive Edition) was released. It has over two hours worth of extras including a 116 min doco on the making of Carpenter and O’Bannon’s seminal movie.

There is also an informative half hour interview with Alan Dean Foster who wrote a novelization of the movie, which was originally published in 1974.

Yes, believe it or not there was indeed a novelization!!

My own copy of the Dark Star novelization is a reprint which came out after Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye was published in 1978.

Incidently …

If you’re seriously thinking about novelizing your scripts you might wanna check out the Dark Star 2 disk Hyperdrive Edition if only for Alan Dean Foster’s insights on writing novelizations. He talks at length about the pros and cons and his general approach to adapting screenplay format to prose. He explains it’s not just a matter of changing present tense to past tense – as there is also added scope to flesh out character’s thoughts and feelings and motivations (and back-stories).

So what’s this got to do with Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye I hear you ask?

During the interview, Foster also talks at length about his involvement in ghost-writing the Star Wars novelization (credited to George Lucas) and its literary sequel. It turns out that Foster was instructed to keep SOTME ‘low budget’ just in case SW was successful enough to warrant a sequel.

This is why only one planetary locale is featured in SOTME – the bog planet Mimban (as opposed to the three distinctly different locales featured in the original SW – Tatooine, Death Star, Yavin and in each of the sequels – Hoth, Dagobah, Bespin in TESB and Tatooine, Death Star Mk II, Endor in ROTJ).

So it appears SOTME was indeed intended to have been the basis for Star Wars 2 all along.

And it is possibly for this reason particular elements from earlier drafts of Star Wars were utilized in Foster’s novel – the bog planet, the Yuzzem (precursors to the Ewoks), Luke’s confrontation with Vader and the Kaiburr crystal (the original treatment’s McGuffin).

Of course, when the original SW became such a surprise box office hit – the idea for a low-rent sequel was nixed with the result being SOTME has been unfairly looked down upon (by some at least) as an unconnected curiosity piece ever since.

Oh yeah, and the hinted-at sexual tension between Luke and Leia in SOTME only goes to show what is now apparent – that Lucas made it up as he went along.

Sorry George.

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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Why Digital? Pt 1

This is a repost of the article as it originally appeared on the Spacelord Mo Fo Blog HERE.

Howdy all,

It’s been a breakout time of late for the ‘Digital Comic’, with Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Promethea) strongly hinting to the Guardian that he’s exploring this new medium for comic storytelling, and Mark Waid (Daredevil, The Flash, Irredeemable) releasing his proof of digital comic teaser, Luther, and then of course there was the major announcement from Marvel at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, of their new digital only imprint, Infinite Comics, also being spearheaded by Mark Waid who is writing the A vs X digital tie-in, Nova — and then, there’s me and Dave, the Ironclad Imagineers. We launched our Digital Comic, the ass-kickingly kick-ass post-apocalyptic, space western, love story, The Legend of Spacelord Mo Fo back in January 2012, after eighteen months of non-stop night and day development… well, many, many weekends anyway as we both had other writing and art gigs. My point being, the Digital Comics landscape is being created right now, and those of us on the frontier are looking to encourage creators with a pioneering spirit to come join us.

The Legend of Spacelord Mo Fo - Riding the Digital Comic frontier

“But comics are already available digitally, what’s with all the ‘frontier’ talk?” I hear some of you ask. Well, it’s true that traditional comics have been available in digital format for quite a while now. You can read them on your Tablet/PC/Notebook etc, and you can pan and zoom and turn the pages, but that does not make them ‘Digital Comics’. What we are doing with Spacelord Mo Fo, and what Mark Waid has done with Luther, and is now doing with Marvel, is a completely new way of presenting a comic, yet still remains true to the essence of comic storytelling principles. And just to be clear, we’re not talking about Motion Comics, which aren’t really comics, they’re animated films… no, don’t try to argue, sound plus movement equals animation. Nuff said! And neither are we talking about most web-comics, as they generally mimic the look and feel of traditional comic presentation, be it Strip or Comic Book, minus the printing and distribution overheads. So, what then is a Digital Comic?

A little back story required here. My journey to Digital Comics started after seeing Travis Charest’s gorgeous and fun, Spacegirl comic strip which he was releasing panel by panel online. I had been wanting to develop something web-based, with achievable production goals, and zero print costs — and Spacegirl was just the inspiration I needed.

You can follow the entire strip at Travis Charest's blog HERE. Printed collection is also available and highly recommended.

I’d been working on a film script for Spacelord Mo Fo for a few years, and so my first thought was to turn Spacelord Mo Fo into a web-comic and then produce it much the same way Travis Charest was doing with Spacegirl – as a serialized web-based strip. I contacted Dave (Co-creator of Spacelord Mo Fo), who I had worked with on various projects over the last 20 years, and he too was looking for something new to sink his creative teeth into. So, we started work-shopping the idea. At about this time the Ipad arrived, and in very short time, digital copies of traditional comics were being read on the Ipad, though you had to turn the tablet sideways and scroll the page up and down to see it properly, but people were doing it. Now, I’d always envisioned Spacelord Mo Fo as having a cinematic quality, and with its space-western feel, Dave and I both agreed that we’d develop our strip in a cinematic widescreen 1024 x 576 format, black bars and all, which happened to be a nice fit for a sideways-held tablet. Cool! We’d release our in-development comic-strip for tablets too! And this was the ‘moment’ when we started getting truly ‘Digital’ in our thinking.

Finished panels from The Legend of Spacelord Mo Fo, in widescreen format, which we've dubbed, 'Cinegraphic'.

I had written the first issue of Spacelord Mo Fo like I would an episode of TV, and since it was a space-western, I had started with a long opening tracking shot as an homage to Sergio Leone. While discussing with Dave how we could best translate the feel of said long tracking shot into a strip comic, we hit upon the idea of creating one large background piece, which we could then add different elements to; characters, actions, dialogue, sound effects, etc. Each panel of the strip would then showcase the next important moment of the tracking shot. Suddenly, we we’re no longer doing a conventional strip, we were doing something closer to a fully rendered storyboard sequence with word balloons and sound effects. To really make it work visually, we felt we could no longer just present each panel as one might a traditional comic, in a line down the page, instead we hit upon the idea of having a slideshow that would allow the reader to advance through the panels at their own pace.

The background art in these three panels is from the same piece of background art as the panel shown earlier. To see Part 1 of the opening sequence click HERE

While work-shopping the opening sequence of panels, Dave happened upon a tutorial on DeviantArt by French artist, Yves “Balak” Bigeral, about the storytelling possibilities of the digital medium.

If you're going to develop Digital Comics, check out Balak's tutorial first! It's brilliant!

Balak opened our eyes to a whole new level of thinking about how we could present scenes and action and dialogue and sound effects. We weren’t going to go back to the drawing board and start again. There is after all, no rule book to work from when developing a Digital Comic. We’re sticking to our creative guns so to speak on the key design points we started Spacelord Mo Fo with. We’re keeping to our Cinegraphic format. We’re keeping our tracking shots, but what we learned from Balak’s tutorial has changed how we think about the presentation of the story — and we can’t wait to play with our new bag of digital tricks!

First lesson -- don't be afraid to break the rules if it works!

And so we come back to the question at hand, What is a Digital Comic? Well, for me, the definition of a Digital Comic is one that has been developed specifically for the digital medium, and uses storytelling techniques that cannot be reproduced in a conventional printed format, yet still keeps to traditional comic principles of telling a story through sequential art. Now, how exactly one chooses to use the techniques offered by the digital medium is up to the creator of the digital comic.

As far as storytelling goes, what the digital medium does most effectively is give the creator greater control over how their story is revealed to the reader. Traditional comics present a sequence of panels over one or two pages, where the reader is led from panel to panel by the way the panels are presented on the page, and yet, all is revealed in some manner to the reader as soon as they look at them. While creators can time their big reveal moments to the turning of the page, a Digital Comic allows for control of the how and where of every reveal, be it action or dialogue or sound effect. In the same way a reader turns the page of a traditional comic to reveal what happens next, a touch of the screen, or a mouse click if viewing on the PC, advances the digital comic to the next moment in the story.

Having such control however, presents new storytelling challenges for the creator that again differentiates the creative process from the traditional comic. With print costs and page counts no longer such an issue, the question becomes how micro should the storytelling reveals be; every line of dialogue? Every change of facial expression? Every significant action? Well, the answer is going to be decided by each creator, and ultimately by the response from the readers. As a creator, one still needs to deliver a comic that engages and entertains… assuming that’s the creator’s intent.

And really, that’s what this is all about. This is the answer to, “Why Digital?” Three years ago there was no viable digital medium, but the arrival of mobile devices like Tablets, Kindles and Smart Phones, with hi-resolution screens and easy to use functionality, has changed that. Comic creators now have a new medium in which to explore their craft and tell their stories. Will it be the end of the traditional comic? No. Digital Comics aren’t about replacing the traditional, but they are a new way in which creators can tell their comic book stories. Will there be an audience? Well, that’s up to us as creators. If we produce engaging stories and art, with well conceived uses of the tools the new digital medium provides, then for my money, and Mark Waid’s if you’ve been following the news about his sale of his comic collection, and Marvel’s, the evidence of what’s been presented so far, says, yes.

Digital Comics are still in their infancy, and there are challenges to consider. What platform do you develop for? How do you reach your audience? How do you make money? How do you keep the bricks and mortar comic book stores on your side? Well, I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I’m going to be outlining a few thoughts in the coming Parts II and III of this article.And if I’ve sparked your interest, then maybe Dave and I will see you on the digital frontier soon!

Cheers all,

Pat McNamara

www.ironcladimagineers.com

To see the entire ‘Legend of Spacelord Mo Fo’ Digital Comic as developed so far, click HERE.

Warning: The Legend of Spacelord Mo Fo is for more mature audiences… well, not for ‘kids’. Not sure about the mature part.

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First Contact! – Douglas Trumbull’s Original Concept For ‘Silent Running’ Revealed!

Another unsung trivia nugget unearthed by greg moss.

This week I’d like to reveal a little-known piece of trivia to do with one of my favourite films of all time – Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 SF eco-fable Silent Running.

This film had a massive impact on me as a third grader and no doubt planted the seed for my lifelong appreciation for ecology. The film screened as a midday movie on television and my favourite teacher Mr. Till (who, looking back, could probably be referred to as a bit of a hippy) sat the class down to watch it. I don’t know about the rest of the kids, but for me, it was a seminal experience.

And one which I will be eternally grateful for.

It was only later, in high school, that I learnt the ecological aspects which had such an impact on me weren’t actually present in Trumbull’s original story idea which was primarily about the relationship between the Lowell character and the drones.

The shooting script was ultimately credited to Deric Washburn & Steve Bochco and Mike Cimino (who subsequently directed The Deer Hunter).

In an interview with Trumbull, published in the August 1978 edition of Fantastic Films magazine, Trumbull outlined his original story …

“I wanted to elaborate the story of that relationship [between Lowell and the drones]  showing how the machines changed from simply doing their job to their anthropomorphization into real characters. I wanted to show what a dead end it is but also what a wonderful thing it is because of the output of emotion.”

“Around the beginning of 1970 I met [producer] Mike Gruskoff. He said “Come up with a story and maybe I can sell it for you”. I worked out a short story and we made a deal with Universal Pictures”.

“That story involved contact with with an extraterrestrial life force. It was the basic story of some ET’s who are travelling around and who detect this guy who is totally alone, totally isolated. He’d be the guy to make contact with. Here’s a guy out alone. He likes being alone. He likes that job. He’s totally alone in the ship with his little robots whom he has no relationship with at all. He’s getting a little bit old for the space program and he gets the kiss off from the company. They say “You’re being retired with congratulations and everything … and we’re really glad you’ve done such a good job for us.” He says, “But I don’t want to go back. I like it out here alone. I don’t want to go back to Earth. I just want to be left alone.” Here he is with a big old clunky space freighter that is going to be decommissioned anyway. It’s a big piece of shit and he says, “Well, I’ve always sort of wanted to go out exploring.” He decides to steal the ship and he enlists the help of the drones. He reprograms them to help him out and respond to him. They tear out all the communications equipment, throw it out into space, paint the whole ship totally black so no one can see it jet off. He’s constantly threatened by the fact that he could be pursued, that the authorities will be out looking for him. He’s a space pirate, and he’s having the time of his life. He sees a little blip on the radar screen which is the only thing he’s kept functioning. He sees something approaching his ship, and figuring the only safe way is to stay out of sight, he goes into the silent running mode. He turns off all the lights, all the electricity, anything that emits any kind of detectable emission. The ship’s all black and everything. He tries to be absolutely cool and not make a noise and not do anything. No light, all black. And he just waits and this blip gets closer over a period of a week he’s sitting there watching it and he’s sort of cracking up, watching this radar scanner. The air is getting really foul and the oxygen is getting really thin because he hasn’t got the air conditioning on, and finally just before it gets there he passes out. Then there’s this really neat sequence that happens.

It’s all seen from just his room. He’s in the control room. He’s all alone, completely conked out. He’s in that room and it’s dark and you just hear this big clunk of two ships coming together. Then you hear the air lock open and footsteps going down the hallway. You hear things going by. You hear someone turning the knob of the door. It’s all dark. And the camera is just cruising around. By this time with all the things turned off the ship’s in weightless condition. There are books and junk floating through the room and you just sort of see shadows moving. You go back out and the door shuts and the electricity comes back on, and he wakes up a few minutes later with fresh air and everything. The ET’s are gone. He looks around and finds all the places where they pried doors open. He sees all the manifestations that some weird being was on his ship and had saved him by turning the oxygen and stuff back on for him. Finally he realizes that one of the drones is gone. The drones are constantly transmitting television pictures to the three little screens in the control room. He figures that by setting up a little impromtu tracking system he can find out where the drone’s signal is coming from. He sets up his antenna and gets this little, weak signal. He tunes it all in and he’s super adjusting it, increasing the gain and everything, and finally he gets a picture from the drone and it’s a view of our own galaxy receding away from the point of view of another ship that’s got some weirdo shape. He starts talking to the drone. “Find a hatchway. Get inside the ship. Find out what the ship is like.” He’s making first contact with extraterrestrial beings by remote control. The drone hustles around and finally finds a door and gets inside. He’s really getting close. The drone is inside. Then there’s another blip on his radar screen and he realizes it’s the cops. The rest of the film is a big race against time for him to try to make contact before the cops break in. They’re saying “Come out you goddamned space pirate.” He won’t come out. He’s got the door bolted and everything. On the ET ship the drone is getting closer and closer until finally it goes to the right room and opens the door. You see some really weirdo electric man, or something really super duper – he sees the ET and just at that moment, just as he’s finally made that contact, the door to his room just goes Whammo! This cop comes in and wipes out the whole room with a big flame thrower and he’s instantly incinerated. The camera cuts to the drone. It’s just sitting there, not knowing what to do, confronted with these extraterrestrials. The drone just takes his little arm and reaches inside his little body and pulls out a little photograph that he’s carried around with him. It’s a picture in which the hero posed with the three drones, like a little family portrait. The drone holds the photo up to these extraterrestrials and the movie ends like that.”

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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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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