Thursday, September 10, 2009
Culture Shock 09.10.09: Stuntman meets rock band, band does magic tricks, things go boom
An Australian stuntman comes to Los Angeles and meets a rock band. Lots of stunts and rock ensue. And yes, things blow up.
In a way, "Stunt Rock" seems like the perfect summer blockbuster, except unlike "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," "Stunt Rock" doesn't annoy you with a plot.
But "Stunt Rock" is about as far from a blockbuster as you can get. When it originally opened in 1978, you were lucky if you could catch it playing at the local drive-in or at one of the seedy 24-hour theaters that then lined New York City's infamous 42nd Street.
Since then, however, "Stunt Rock" has gained a cult following, fueled by the film's death-defying stunts and cheesy '70s metal soundtrack, which ranges from entertainingly addictive (the title song, "Stuntrocker") to addictively awful.
The man behind "Stunt Rock" is rogue Australian filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith, who came up with the idea while in the shower. Trenchard-Smith also directed "The Man from Hong Kong," featuring temperamental Hong Kong star Yu Wang and George Lazenby, otherwise known as the James Bond whom time forgot ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). Unsurprisingly, Trenchard-Smith is a favorite of exploitation auteur Quentin Tarantino.
A DVD release of "Stunt Rock" was long overdue, and fortunately Code Red DVD has obliged with an extras-packed, two-disc edition that gives this film the sort of love and respect usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters.
"Stunt Rock" is seat-of-your-pants filmmaking. In order to obtain financing, Trenchard-Smith had to appease his Dutch backers by casting rising Dutch actress Monique van de Ven, who made her film debut in 1973 opposite Rutger Hauer ("Blade Runner") in one of Paul Verhoeven's early films, "Turkish Delight." Needless to say, it's obvious that English isn't her first language.
Then, when he couldn't get known musicians, Trenchard-Smith had to find a band within five days or else his backers would shut the film down.
As Trenchard-Smith recalls, Sorcery is the type of band you find within five days. Yet despite being unknown and, frankly, not particularly good, Sorcery was perfect for "Stunt Rock." Sorcery's theatrical stage show included two magicians, one dressed in an outlandish wizard costume, who performed during the songs. The magicians' pyrotechnics, fire tricks and escape artistry couldn't have been a better fit.
But the real star of the film is Australian stuntman Grant Page, who set himself on fire and jumped backward off a cliff in "Mad Dog Morgan" starring Dennis Hopper, played an assassin in "The Man from Hong Kong" and later served as stunt coordinator and Mel Gibson's stunt double in "Mad Max."
Yes, he's the unknown stuntman who makes Gibson look so fine.
Page climbs buildings, sets himself on fire, bursts through windshields, rides on top of speeding cars and catapults himself across a bay on the Australian coast. He can even act a little — well enough, at least, not to embarrass himself, which can't be said of the rest of the cast.
The plot is virtually nonexistent, which is a plus, actually, and what little there is exists merely to link the stunts and concert footage. The dialogue is terrible. The acting is worse. And the music is what it is. But the stunts are fun to watch and a pleasant reminder of what filmmaking was like before computers took the danger out of it.
As a whole, "Stunt Rock" is — often despite itself — an entertaining artifact of an era when men of questionable sanity, armed with more imagination than money, gave teenagers something to watch at the drive-in when they needed a breather from making out.