Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Stunt Man

I'm going to the San Diego Comic Con this year, but I decided kind of late. So all the nearby hotels were full, which meant that I had to find some other place to stay. And because I have no self-control, I'm going to be staying at the magnificent Hotel del Coronado, an enormous historic hotel on the beach. It'll be great!

Now, this hotel has been in a number of classic movies, because it looks so great. For example, Some Like It Hot. And this one, The Stunt Man, starring Peter O'Toole as a crazy movie director and Steve Railsback as some kind of Vietnam Vet who's on the run from the law and hiding out as a stunt man. It's not really clear what it's about, to be honest. Mostly it's about Peter O'Toole being enigmatic and fascinating. This is one of the eight (eight!) movies he got an Oscar nomination for, and I can see why. He spends entire scenes sitting in a chair hung from an overhead crane, and it mysteriously carries him around (because the director loves to move the camera) and up stairs and next to the other actors. It lets him move while sitting regally the whole time, and it's an interesting effect. Although I did wonder if we were supposed to think O'Toole was moving it himself with the power of his mind or something.

The movie they're making is all over the Hotel del Coronado, which makes me even more excited for San Diego. And I've wanted to stay there since I was but a small child.


Mertseger said...

Coincidentally, I put this movie in the DVD player and watched the first half last night while my son was playing Neopets.

I'm one of the few who saw this film when it came out, and it remains a favorite. I'd say that that the themes of the film are fairly clearly stated: war and violence arise out of fear and paranoia, we see what we expect to see with the accompanying danger that our perceptions can be manipulated by the savvy, and, finally, things may not be as bad as we fear.

As much as O'Toole is good in this film, I feel that Railsback is better. The scene where he finally reveals the dim dark reason why the police are after him is this amazing blend of rage, slapstick, vulnerability, fear, and laugh out loud hilarity.

Monty Ashley said...

I agree that the themes are clearly stated. What's not always clear is what exactly is going on. I realize that part of the charm of the movie is never being quite sure what Peter O'Toole is up to, but -- what's he up to?! Also, I don't think it's feasible to shoot those complicated action sequences all in one shot like that.

Agreed that Railsback is excellent.

Mertseger said...

Indeed, the confusion between the movie and the movie-within-the-movie is intentional, but I'll admit that there are moments that are muddled particularly in the first viewing. On the other hand, there are moments of shear magic as when the director (O'Toole) tells Nina (Barbara Hershey!) on a bustling but mostly empty set that her parents were accidentally shown the dailies of her buck-nekkid love-scene, and then as Nina reacts in shame the set dressing comes together around her so that she becomes the old woman in the movie-within-the-movie receiving a Nazi award of valor for her service in WWI. Utterly cool.

Mertseger said...

I'm sorry, I seem to be failing to read what you've written and thereby addressing issues adjacent to those you raise.

I think that Eli's character (O'Toole) is also fairly clear. On the one hand, he's Lucifer tempting Cameron (Railsback) into the morally ambiguous world of movie making (while at the same time redeeming Cameron from his paranoia). On the other hand, he's also just a monomaniacal director trying to get the footage he needs in a location he has for only has for three days after the stunt man for his male lead has died in the first day of shooting. He orchestrates a cover-up using Cameron. Completely ridiculous. Nothing like that could ever happen in real life.

Monty Ashley said...

Comparing The Stunt Man to Hearts of Darkness is interesting. Both feature directors who are probably crazy (at least, by the end of Hearts of Darkness, Coppola isn't entirely sane), but they deal with the external problems in different ways. Eli's craziness actually appears to be fairly useful to him, as it results in him finishing what looks like a pretty complicated movie on time.

Now, the stunt coordinator -- that guy's terrible at his job. You can't go around lying to the stuntmen about what stunt they'll be performing!

Mertseger said...

I'm not so sure that it's entirely unrealistic though: Chuck Bail (who plays the stunt coordinator) was a veteran stunt coordinator by that point.

The best stunts in The Stunt Man are inside the movie-within-the-movie and don't involve Cameron at all. The full slide down the cupola of the Coronado's main tower is particularly striking.

Hey: Bail wrote and directed The Gumball Rally, a "Monty On Movies" connection FTW.