The Stunt Man (1980)

Directed by Richard Rush
Written by Lawrence B. Marcus & Richard Rush, based on the novel by Paul Brodeur
Starring Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey, Allen Garfield, Alex Rocco


Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent It.

Cameron (Railsback) is a Vietnam veteran with a secret, a secret that has him on the run from the law. Stumbling upon a motion picture company shooting on location, he, through a twist of fate, is taken in by the eccentric director, Eli Cross (O'Toole). Cross just lost his star's stunt double, Cameron needs a place to hide--perhaps they could cut a deal? They do, and as Cameron becomes part of the film's "family," he worries that Big Papa Eli has something diabolical in mind to end his shooting with a bang.

I will come out and say this: I don't get it. So those of you who do love the film and vehemently support it can probably stop reading now. I have two theories about the film: one, that it's so badly dated that all of the war-sentiment of the film is lost to those who were not old enough to completely experience America during Vietnam. That would probably be the best thing I can say about the film. Two, since it's so indecipherable, it's an interesting example of how to make a film that--because of its impenetrable density--is a running in-joke. I say this because apparently the actual theme of the film, that of paranoia and subjective reality, only came to mind during the commentary on the film. But it's also the perfect example of a film that falls into the "I don't understand it, so it must be art" category.

With that out of the way, it's a shame about the film because the extra features on this two-disc set are formidable. If only every filmmaker would support the DVD releases of their films like Richard Rush has done with this. He put this monster together pretty much on his own, and gets many points for it. The commentary is extremely good, featuring just about everybody from an acting standpoint you would want to hear from.

The second disc contains Rush's documentary The Sinister Saga, which over the span of two hours gives you all the gory details from concept to release of the film. It's very informative (did you know Rush pioneered the use of "rack focus," where you change focus between two items in the frame during the scene?--I sure as hell didn't), but hampered by Rush's hammering home of the whole subjective reality concept of the film via his presentation style. Sure it's novel to have Rush talking to you via a reflection every chance he gets, but in a two-hour documentary it gets old as hell. Also, the documentary walks the fine line between self-promotion and masturbatorial ego-stroking many times, and falls off a couple. The opening track consists of reviews of The Stunt Man that all praise Rush as a genius. He might very well be a genius, fine, but considering this is his documentary--does he really need to be the one to shine the spotlight on that about himself?

This was a hard set to get through, because as I said--the main point of the set, the film, just didn't work for me. For those who have found something in the movie that cranks their tractor, this is a must-have. But for the rest of us, we should probably just rent.

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