Sunday, 15 January 2012

What jumps, crashes, falls and burns and makes James Bond look good?...

...Stunt Performers, naturally. 
James Bond Stuntman injured in lake crash... Headlines like this were flashed around the World by the media, a reminder that even experienced Stunt performers are'nt immune from accident; many have been injured over the years since movies were first invented - and deaths are not unheard of. In the early days, stuntmen such as the legendary Yakima Canutt and Carey Loftin fell from horses and crashed cars with few examples to follow and less safety equipment. Loftin used to recount how, when crashing cars, his sole protection came from a folded coat he wedged in the steering wheel. 

Thankfully, these days stunts take place under careful supervision from experienced Stunt Co-Ordinators, with highly trained performers in protective gear with safeguards such as vehicle rollcages and safety harnesses. With the advent of green screen technology, even actors can be seen hanging from helicopters or falling from buildings - scenes that, until recently, required extensive use of stunt doubles. Sadly, some have questioned the need to have stunt performers at all; why hire an expensive stunt team when CGI and green screen can produce the same results?. Why?, well, I for one much prefer films where I know the stunts are 'genuine', 'for real'... o.k., CGI etc can add to the drama and scope of a film, in proportion, but who wants a puppet show when real actors are available?.

In short, if you see a stuntman/woman risking their neck in a spectacular crash, it adds to the tension and credibility of the plot, even if you know it wasn't Arnie or Sly, but a double involved. Here's a look at just a few of the many stunts and stuntmen (I was too lazy to research female stunt-performers. Sorry.) who make 007 much more than just a civil servant with a gun and a flash motor...
Above: The famous gunbarrel sequence from Dr.No. The world's first view of the movie 007, but 'Bond' was actually Bob Simmons, the legendary stuntman who worked on nearly every Bond until his death in 1988. The bottom photo shows Simmons in drag as Colonel Boitier, being strangled in a vicious hand to hand fight with Connery in Thunderball.

A View to a Kill - Roger Moore atop the Golden Gate bridge?. In reality, the star was on a mock-up at Pinewood. The late Irish Stuntman Martin Grace provided the thrills as he grappled with Zorin's double - on the dizzyingly high real bridge.

Martin Grace started his career as the Milk Tray man, a Bond-esque character featuring in television adverts. (Top-Right) Grace testing a stunt for the film Escape to Athena. High falls were a favourite of this veteran performer. The bottom two shots show Grace posing with the wetbike and mock-up chopper from The Spy who Loved Me and with Roger Moore, for whom Grace doubled. During the filming of Octopussy, Grace suffered a shattered pelvis in a sickening accident; hanging on to the side of a train, the stuntman was carried past the area he had safety checked. Hitting a concrete pillar, Grace's pelvis was shattered, incredibly, however, he hung on, avoiding further injuries. Tragically, he died after a fall from a bicycle, aged 67.

Vic Armstrong. This legendary stuntman turned co-ordinator has worked on Bond films ever since his work on You Only Live Twice. Married to fellow performer Wendy Leech, Armstrong's amazing list of credits include Superman and Superman II, but he is perhaps most famous for his work on the Indiana Jones films. As the middle photograph shows, he is a natural double for Harrison Ford, legend having it that even Steven Spielberg mistook him for the star on set. (Note the dedication from Ford!) 

Want the inside tip on the movie business, as told by someone with a unique access to the secrets of the trade?. Look no further than Vic Armstrong's book - sadly, I can't afford a copy (I'm unemployed - times are tough and all that), but the reviews on the Internet are unanimously thumbs-up. (All the Vic Armstrong images are copyright - go to www.vicarmstrong.com - loads of unique photos and content)


Sometimes, as on the left in Live and Let Die, stars such as Moore perform some of the action themselves. Usually, however, the actors portraying 007 leave it to the professionals, as seen on the right, in Moonraker.

The Spy who Loved Me. Pursued by Caroline Munro in the helicopter, (How lucky can a secret agent get?) Bond jumps his Lotus Esprit off of a jetty. Just as things seem to be going soggy, he flicks a switch and, voila! - the car becomes a mini-submarine...
Sorry to shatter any illusions, but the sub was actually a mock-up, fitted with electrically powered propellers and crewed by divers. The hydroplanes, meant to add authenticity and aid in maneuverability, actually hindered the stunt team, as the sloping front end of the 'Esprit' drove the craft downwards.  

Above: Filming in such diverse locations as Gibraltar and Japan, Bond stunt Co-Ordinators must be able to plan ahead as well as improvise - extreme weather, narrow roads on mountain-sides and frozen lakes all provide challenges to safe execution of stunts.

For the film Tomorrow Never Dies, the much-loved Desmond Lewellyn, in his role of Q, issues Brosnan's Bond with a BMW 720 series. As you would expect, Q has fitted the car with a range of 'optional extras', including toughened glass, rockets and a nifty remote control device allowing 007 to send the car hurtling around from a safe distance. To make the gag believable, the crew fitted the car with - see bottom image - a hidden screen and controls. Concealed from view, the stunt performer was able to make it seem as if the wildly careering car was actually operated by Bond's handset.
Casino Royale - Daniel Craig's famous crane jump was recently voted top Bond stunt (I still consider the Goldeneye dam jump and the Man with the Golden Gun corkscrew jump to be the best). The image on the right shows clearly the use of stunt doubles, although much of the action was performed by Craig. Stealing the show, however, was S├ębastien Foucan, the Parkour specialist, who, as bomb-maker Mollaka nearly evades Bond with a staggering display of agility, using surfaces and structures in unique ways to propel himself like a human rubber ball. Written descriptions cannot do his art justice; I suggest watching Casino Royale - as if you needed an excuse.

Quantum of Solace - Audiences Worldwide thrilled at the action as 007 hurled himself across the rooftops of Siena. Daniel Craig performed many of the film's stunts himself - the use of wires and concealed harnesses was essential if he was to be allowed to do so. Wired or not, the heights involved called for a large reserve of courage. In British parlance, Craig certainly has 'bottle'... 

Technology in action; on the left, a heart-stopping moment from Quantum. On the right, the reality; a Vertical Wind Tunnel (VWT) is used to simulate  free-fall, with green-screen techniques used later to add the background elements. (These shots are the copyright of fx.guide.com / Kevin Tod Haug and the lovely people at the Sony Corporation)

The hard way; bona-fide stunt performers add the sense of danger to the opening chase in Quantum of Solace. As mentioned earlier, one of the stuntmen ended up performing one 'gag' more than planned... the wreckage is seen here being winched back to dry land. As they say, 'Don't try this at home'...

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