Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Stunt Man


I am pleased to announce that the next stop on my Sink For Your Supper concert tour has been confirmed. I will be performing with the Bluefield, West Virginia Kazoo and Fiddle Philharmonic. The date is set for this next Sunday. I had never heard of this orchestra before but Joseph, my manager, assures me that they are highly esteemed and that this concert is certain to lead to an eventual live recording. Madame Rose, my publicist, has been busy faxing press releases to every newspaper in the region to assure a large turn out at the Bluefield Masonic Lodge. I also had a very long chat with my technical staff; they have assured me that my motorized iceberg will behave itself this time. I also had that darling Bob Mackie sew a large Velcro panel to the back of the bodice of my concert gown. Sticking to the wall in the dramatic finale should be less of a chafing experience.

As there is nothing else on my professional calendar until then, Norman and I have been able to have some restful days at Chateau Maine. The Tourette's medication seems to be working at last and his health is slightly improved. I also spent some time with Bob Mackie when he redid my gown. We had a long talk about my GlamourPuss haut couture line - my private label designer gowns based on the costumes from Cats . Orders have been outpacing his ability to supply dresses so I put in a call to Kathie Lee asking to borrow some of her adorable little Filipino seamstresses to keep up with demand. Bob is also doing some new spangled intimates to wear under the Gaultier for the Bluefield concert. He has some old ones of Cher's that he can recut and get to me by Friday.

As life was going reasonably well for a change, I repaired to the home theater in search of something to fit my mood and happened across an old favorite that I had not seen in some years. The Stunt Man is Richard Rush's film of Paul Brodeur's existential novel of the same title. The Stunt Man is one of the great films of the late 1970s. It is a paranoid thriller. It is a meditation on the nature of film as illusion. It examines the contrasts between essential truths and surface appearances. It has stunning action sequences. It features an Oscar worthy lead performance by Peter O'Toole as a director who is both God and Devil behind the camera, manipulating anyone and everyone to get the shot he needs for his picture.

As the film opens, Cameron (Steve Railsback) is on the run from the law. He makes a break for it and, while crossing a bridge, inadvertently causes a car to crash, killing the driver. A little later, he's hiding amongst the crowds surrounding the Hotel del Coronado outside San Diego. A World War I film is being shot on the beach. Planes strafe the extras, explosions go off and something seems to have gone horribly wrong with people really dying - or has it. Cameron rescues Nina (Barbara Hershey), an elderly lady who falls into the sea when startled by the planes. Only she's not elderly, the make-up comes off in the salt water and she's young and beautiful and he's in love. Barbara Hershey also gets to deliver one of the quintessential film lines of all time as he carries her from the waves. With her arms around Cameron’s neck, she declares, “I am the movies”. Cameron is introduced to Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole) the picture's director; it seems there is an opening for a stunt man to double the leading man. The last stunt double was killed when a car crash stunt on a bridge went wrong. Cross seems to know, or at least guess, much about Cameron's past and is more than willing to hide him amongst the movie crew, giving him the name 'Lucky' and telling the authorities that he is the original stunt man who miraculously escaped from the submerged car. What are Cross's motives? Will Nina and Cameron get together? Will Cross be able to shoot the great anti-war epic he sees in his head without destroying those around them? The film twists and turns as these and other questions are explored.

Peter O'Toole is sensational as the manipulative Cross. Larger than life, with an ego to match, he struts and preens and pulls every trick in the book to keep his cast and crew in line with his vision. His speech, after an assistant calls “Cut” too early in the filming of a scene, is just one of many gems of fine screen acting. He's never been better. Barbara Hershey is luminous and gorgeous as the emotionally insecure actress, Nina. Steve Railsback, who has never had the career he should have, captures Cameron's tics, neuroses and mounting paranoia with aplomb. His hypnotic eyes tell more with a glance than most actors can with a page of dialogue. One scene, late in the movie, where earlier crimes are revealed amongst a plethora of paint cans, rings a little false but I think the problem is more in the script than in Railsback's character. The lugubrious Allen Garfield and stalwart Alex Rocco are amongst the supporting cast.

Richard Rush, the director, has never been allowed to blossom in the Hollywood milieu (I even liked his 1994 thriller, The Color of Night ) and it’s sad that this early work, which was very much a labor of love on his part, did not lead to bigger and better things. His camera work is inventive and he seamlessly interweaves the varying levels of reality inherent in the making of a film. The movie is also helped immeasurably by Dominic Frontiere's score, which is one of the best film scores ever, with its loopy main theme perfectly capturing the topsy-turvy world in which Cameron finds himself.

The film was made on California locations, predominantly at and around the Hotel del Coronado (also famous for Some Like it Hot ). There is a bit of disconnect as the bridge sequences were filmed on the American River in Sacramento, five hundred miles away, and characters appear to stroll back and forth, but this is a minor quibble compared to the many pleasures this film has to offer.

The new DVD release is a double disc set. The first disc contains the film, a good transfer with fine stereo sound. There is also a commentary track with Rush and a number of the principal cast reminiscing about the making of the film and reviewing backstage gossip and some of the tricks used in filming. The second disc contains a feature length documentary about the making of the film and some of the Hollywood shenanigans at the studio that essentially kept it away from wider public view. It’s an excellent cautionary tale on the politics of Hollywood, if a bit one sided and occasionally too arty for its own good. In keeping with the film’s themes, Rush keeps filming the documentary in mirrors or forced perspective or with some sort of other trick. It’s unnecessary and detracts from the proceedings.

Pig hugging. Erotic mechanical bear. Beautician sex. Rooftop jumping. Rooftop chasing. Rooftop falling. Paint fight. German brothel. Naked Barbara Hershey. Naked Steve Railsback. No Naked Peter O'Toole. Movie set pranks. Sinking Dusenberg.

No comments:

Post a Comment