From the Funky Worm to the Jihadby Roger Young / 17.07.2011
An Interview with Richard Stanley – Part 2 –
Our conversation with Richard Stanely continues, taking in shape shifting demons in Steytlerville. Scoceresses in the Pyrenees, the limits of the human senses and American film backers with a penchant for HP Lovecraft.
Mahala: You’re still stuck on the folklore mythology. What is it about? Why? You’re kind of fascinated with the things that people are horrified about.
Richard: I think I’ve got a good nose for it but I’m also not scared of it.
Is it your quest to try and get other people to not be scared?
To some extent. I’ve never understood why people are frightened of this stuff because, to me, it’s not threatening. I find other human beings a lot more threatening. Human beings could rob you or rape you or generally destroy your life but I can’t see how somebody turning into a cat, or something, is really going to harm me. While shooting Dust Devil there was a point where we were in the middle of nowhere and a Coca-Cola bottle moved by itself on the table and everyone was extremely freaked out, no one wanted to talk about it. I couldn’t figure out why something silly like an inanimate object that moved by itself had upset people so much. It’s obviously not dangerous. It’s not attacking anyone. For some reason it’s not behaving to the normal laws of physics.
The way people define the normal law of physics baffles me sometimes.
It seems to me that reality only happens by consensus and everyone agrees to what’s meant to be going on, so long as everyone is in the city or in the room or have the same rough idea of what’s going on, the whole thing is able to function. One or two people might decide something else is going on. Maybe there are aliens or animal spirits or something and we see them going down the road, climbing over invisible things or dealing with these things but they’re just crazy or they’re on drugs so we can deal with it.
Because that’s another consensus.
Yeah, we can ostracize the few weird ones. Their reality is not ours but at least it’s just one of them. They’re a bit funny so we won’t talk to them or we’ll put them in a home but when more than fifty percent of the people agree that the other thing is happening then the situation starts to become very dangerous.
After Grahamstown you went to shoot this guy who’s fighting the shape shifting monster in Steytlerville.
Yeah, Hannes November.
Hannes November. He believes in it obviously.
Oh, absolutely. Totally.
So it’s not like he’s saying it’s not reality. He’s saying it is reality and it’s bad?
Well he did say it doesn’t make any sense, it shouldn’t be like that. We have children. They have to go to school. We don’t understand what this is. It shouldn’t be here. The smooth running of things felt challenged in some way. I think everyone there seemed to believe in it, like even the white hoteliers.
So this creature has done nothing?
No, as far as I can see it was quite pathetic. The last time November saw it, he said it was trying to make a bed underneath some bushes and they scared it away and they cut all the bushes down. He thought maybe it had gone to the next town. They are right on the edge of Bobbejaans Kloof so they’re right on the edge of the largest open section of Wilderness left in South Africa. There’s a big neon cross beaming down so I suspect there’s always that fear of the dark and the wild that’s out there has infected the town and there’s a lot of underlying resentment too. There’s quite a large post-apartheid slum of people who’ve been moved off the farms because they don’t want them living there for two generations to be able to make a land claim. They’ve shoved them all off the land into a small township of tiny little houses heated by solar panels.
And they work on the farms during the day?
That’s right. They have to go miles to work. So there’s a certain amount of underlying tension there and somehow this sleep of reason has given birth to this particular shape shifting monster.
But shape shifting is kind of obvious as a metaphor. They thought the apartheid thing would be resolved, and once it had been, it shape-shifted.
Absolutely. The shape-shifting is kind of interesting too because you can see that there’s no clear consensus on what the hell it is. Is it a cat, is it a dog? It’s like whoah man this thing was so fucking ugly. They can’t really explain what it is. On the other hand, underneath it there may be some trace of something genuine. I don’t know. Something I’m very intrigued by is that human beings have only got a very limited range of senses. We can only see between ultra-violent and infra-red. We can only hear between infra-sound and ultra-sound. We can only smell between brimstone and very sweet. Animals have a much wider sensory range but if you’re confronted with something that is outside of your sensory range which you can’t actually perceive, something from another dimension is one way of putting it, the mind’s got no way of computing it or recording it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started taking UFO stories more seriously. I used to think they were much sillier but now I accept that there is something genuine in there, mostly because the people who are involved in these events usually have their lives destroyed by it. They usually get divorced or lose their jobs or their entire world comes undone and if they’re simply making it up I can’t see why they would bother putting themselves through so much torment. It seems to me there’s some kind of genuine experience which people can’t explain of quantify and in America or England they would put it down to flying saucers which is what they understand, the technological people. In Africa it becomes nature spirits or Sangoma and in Ireland it might be leprechauns but I think your mind flips through the mental rolodex to the nearest explanation for that strange thing that happened to you.
I don’t know if you’ve seen those UFO sightings that have been happening that people have been starting to put up on YouTube? They look fairly genuine. Like lights under clouds and they also seem to me that they look like they could come from Transformers.
Yeah, the trouble is everyone’s got their C.G capacity now days so it’s hard to say.
Even if they are fake, it’s interesting that they would choose to do something that’s already been imagined.
The intriguing one is the alien big cat phenomenon. People keep sighting lions, pumas, tigers and wild cats stalking the British Home Counties, that’s been going on for a few decades. They’re quite well documented, like reliable members of the community like policemen have documented them on their cell phones and a lot of that footage is undeniably big cats. You can see it. Quite plainly there must really be big cats in the British Home Counties but none of them ever get hit by cars. The bodies never turn up in winter. These explanations that they’re escaping from circuses or zoo’s doesn’t hold true because circuses don’t have wild animal acts anymore.
But also there used to be giant wolves in the Home Counties, was that a century ago?
Presumably but what’s going on now, I don’t know what that is. There are definitely there on some level but in the same time not there that you can actually catch them. I imagine the American Bigfoot is probably quite similar, these sort of panics.
Bigfoot’s kind of vanished now, he’s not really been around.
He’s not as big as he was, that’s for sure. I guess the American wilderness areas are shrinking rapidly as well but I imagine that the ambience around him have probably been very similar to the Steytlerville thing.
So as a filmmaker, what do you do with this footage?
We’ve shot some stuff. If nothing else I’ll probably end up posting it on YouTube.
But in terms of how you survive, not financially, but in terms of holding yourself together as a filmmaker? Do you need to do that?
Just keep shooting. It’s very important to keep filming.
And then when you film, you edit and then where does it go?
It goes out into the world and now days mostly onto YouTube or to different downloads and they go out and make their own strange friends and then years later somebody wants to come to South Africa or you hear from someone who bought a copy in a cult video store in Buenos Aires or something or I ran into some folk who watched my film again and again and again and had no idea where it had come from. These things float around out there. I make a living from mostly not making movies. I’ve been writing for other people a lot. I wrote three movies in the last twelve months. I do a lot of script doctor work, work on other people’s films which are usually movies I would never make myself but at the same time I can fix their dialogue and fix their scenes without feeling like I am totally responsible for it and occasionally people buy the rights to things so I can make a fairly reasonable living. It keeps me alive, just off the intellectual properties but when it comes to shooting something myself, I’ve never shot anything and made a dime out of it. All three documentaries and both films, Dust Devil certainly, were huge black holes that we shovelled money into but none of them actually turned a profit. Hardware turned a profit for someone because we shot it from 800 grand and it’s made a profit of something silly like 75 million worldwide. But all that money’s gone to Miramax or Buena Vista. So I have to do script doctor work from the Spanish film industry or for France or whoever in order to subsidize the other material.
[Stanley’s phone rings, he talks and returns.]
That’s Nacho. I’ve been writing his vampire movie for him. That’s my bread and butter.
Vampire movies and Trevor Steele Taylor. I mean Trevor’s like basically put this trip together right?
And when you were talking about Dust Devil and the drive-in movie and different genres and all that, Trevor’s probably like the shape-shifter of the South African film industry.
He’s a hero.
He’s a hero on the sidelines that pulls all the stuff together . I always find him at late night vampire movie screenings.
Trevor’s got shockingly bad taste. But Trevor really made me into what I am. It was Trevor’s programming back in the day, long before I met him when I was a kid that exposed me to that material. Getting those prints out here to behind with. Running a film like Deep Red by Dario Argento at the Baxter. I use to catch the train up from when I lived in Fish Hoek or Simonstown to Labia on Friday nights. It was a combination of that fact that Trevor would be playing Legend Of Hell House or something at The Labia plus the other person who was very important as I remember was the usherette at The Labia. The coloured lady at the door.
Is she still there?
She isn’t. I’m sure she’s probably dead by now. I wish I knew who she was. She used to let me in. Even though I was underage so it’s a combination of Trevor having gotten the movie, to the lady saying you can go which would enable me to watch those films when I was young and expose me to it to begin with and I guess left me warped for life.
I grew up in Durban and the Durban Film Festival is entire responsible for the way I look at everything. There was also this little cinema where I saw E.T and The Night Porter in a double-feature.
Yeah, I remember somebody playing Spiderman plus The Elephant Man as a double-bill.
You made some music video’s back in the day, any recently?
Yeah I was doing this one for these Christians, this dance called “the Funky Worm”. Real low budget CGI stuff. It was probably the nadir of my career.
It was just awful. At the end of the shoot, I was pretty depressed and the driver of the van who was taking the stuff out was complaining about how the truck was so difficult to drive, it was a BTR60. I said hang out that’s a light weight aluminium Soviet troop transporter. They use it in Afganistan, how’d you drive one of those? And he explained he was working in the Jihad and he was working in London to try and save up enough money to go back and fight the Jihad so I said if I pay your plane ticket will you take me with you so we went off to the Jihad.
So from the Funky Worm…
Yeah, we went off to the Jihad. We went to the Afghan War which is my equivalent of being burned out on the streets of Joburg. Too many music videos will do that to you when you reach a point where your life stops making sense.
Yeah, music videos just seem like a good way to abstractly offload a couple of ideas.
It does but after a few years it catches up.
I look at the films of Michel Gondry and just think yeah mate you’ve just made way too many music videos.
It’s a tricky one but at least you’re still working. Well with a bit of luck I should be shooting a feature next year.
Yeah, there’s a rumour.
Who’s responsible for this rumour?
Well, I did a short film Mother Of Toads which should hopefully be playing as a support for Hardware or Dust Devil out here at The Labia, which is part of an anthology film which is about to premier in Canada. The backers liked Mother Of Toads a lot. I’m living in the Pyrenees now.
To be near the Spanish?
No, I’ve moved there because I found a really good spot. The backers came down to check out the locations. It’s just one backer, this rich American named Darryl F Tucker jnr from Connecticut. He proposed to his girlfriend while he was out there, she said yes, he was on a high and offered to underwrite a feature length H.P Lovecraft adaptation.
He said I could pick any Lovecraft story I wanted. Mother Of Toads is already Lovecraftian, about an American anthropologist who tried to track down a Scorceress in the Pyrenees, so hopefully if he’s good to his word, he will cough up.
So which one are you going to go for?
I’m going to go for the same one everyone always go for, I’m going to go for Colour Out Of Space. They’ve made it twice. There was a Boris Karloff movie called Die Monster Die. The second was meant to be Colour Out Of Space and mysteriously it was made by an actor, David Keith who was the lead in a movie called White In The Eye, it was a good psycho killer movie that nobody saw.
I can’t place it at all.
Which was directed by Donald Cammell, another lost cause director who killed himself a few years ago. He was the guy who directed Performance with Mick Jagger even though it’s commonly credited as Nic Roeg.
How did that happen?
Nic Roeg was the director of photography, he was the DP and Donald was the director of the actors and the script writer. Nic went on to make Walkabout afterwards and then Don’t Look Now and became so much more famous. It eclipsed Donald’s involvement in Performance which Donald edited and wrote and directed it but didn’t really get the credit. So… Colour Out Of Space, I’m going to reset it in present day and reset it properly in the backwards of Southern France. It going to be a British family that retires and buys the farmhouse and decides to move out to the country and are then destroyed by alien contamination and causes them to mutate into something horrible. It seems like it’s doable so I’m just trying to hack out a script for it and hope that Darryl F Tucker jnr from Connecticut will foot the bill and we can actually shoot the thing next year.
Darryl F Tucker jnr, that’s kind of an faniciful name, like an explorer.
Yeah, he seems like a nice guy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Obviously a Lovecraft fan.
A Lovecraft fan with money is all you really need.
Yeah, I’ve gotten lucky. As long as nothing happens in between.
You should’ve wrapped him in bubble wrap.
I hope he doesn’t fall out a tree or anything.
*Read Part One here.