The Stunt Man (1980)

Citizen Crane

There are quite a few movies like this, films that reference films and that also aver that the drama within can bend the reality without. The kernel of this idea was ‘Citizen Kane’ but it seemed to flower after John Fowles published ‘The Magus’ and the Beatles followed his lead.

This one has O’Toole who had done something similar in ‘Lion in Winter’.It uses the third dimension better than anything of the time. It is steeped in paranoia and antiVietnam sentiments. This last dates it, oddly; American culture and imagination seems to have flopped the other way. The closest we come to filmed paranoia these days is ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and ‘Trainspotting’, both of which set a distance between us and them who are cursed.

For these kinds of films to work, the film within needs to overlap with the film without, and ideally the additional layer of reality. ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ is the gold standard in this respect. You also need actors who can shift realities and often play simultaneous levels. These actors actually play it straight, even the energetic O’Toole who was layered in ‘Lion’, as mentioned and later in ‘Favorite Year’.

What we end up with here is a collection of intelligent ideas wrangled by less people less intelligent. Only twice does this thing thrill:

  • when the stunt man unexpectedly falls through the skylight into the whorehouse. That scene is not only great, it is doubly great because it is pivotal for the film within.
  • Hersey’s much-celebrated scene when the scenery turns and she moves from the film (as an old lady) into the film within. This one scene must be the peak of her professional life, and possibly makes it all worthwhile.

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

IMDB

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