The Story: Someone asked me recently what the first "Don't Make a Scene" was—what inspired it. It was this scene, from an unfairly forgotten movie called "The Stunt Man," an early indie film that had trouble finding a distributor—the major studios didn't know how to sell it, and it was tested and run, to great acclaim, in Seattle.
For me, it's what the movies are all about—make-believe, with the illusion of reality. There is nothing "really" real, not even in documentaries. They are all presentations, manipulations of reality, to present a point of view, a story, "Pieces of Time" in Jimmy Stewart's phrase. It's all magic, sleight-of-hand, subterfuge, legerdemain. We are told where to look and to accept it as reality. Don't look behind the curtain, because you'll see the film-crew, usually with a doughnut in their hands.
That is the reality. What they are making?
Well, that's the magic.
The Set-up: Cameron (Steve Railsback) is a fugitive on the run. In his flight, he is nearly run down by Bert—a stuntman on a movie—performing a reckless stunt that ends up killing him. Subsequently, Cameron is taken under the wing of the film's director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole), who, when the authorities make inquiries about the accident, insists that the new-comer, Cameron, is actually Bert, the late stuntman. Cameron, fearing arrest, plays along. And, when the police leave, they have this conversation.
Cameron: Hey, I just listened.
Cross: There are a few actors only in the entire world who have mastered that art. Anyway, it was a very good audition. And the part is yours.
Cameron: What? What are you talking about? What part?
Cross: Prefer "Hi, Alice?" Don't worry about the people who work for me, my crew. They'll call you anything I wish them to. And I'm not being callous merely. Bert is a bloody tragedy, but there's nothing we can do about it. Nothing. I must have this location for three days and you need a place to hide.
Assistant Director: [Over megaphone] Eli, the crew is waiting. We need the next set-up.
Cross: [Down to the A.D.] The hand! Close-up of the hand! With you in a minute!
Assistant Director: An Eli minute or a real minute?
Cameron: By tomorrow the cops are gonna know exactly what I look like.
Cross: Oh, Bert, do stop this worrying. You must have heard of "movie magic?"
Cross: You shall be a stuntman. Who is an actor. Who is a character in a movie. Who is an enemy soldier.
Cross: Who'll look for you amongst all those? People like to believe in things and policemen are just people. Or so I'm told.
Cross: Frankly, our problem is so simple it's almost beneath us. Now, listen to me.
Cross: [Indicating the door of the hotel where the cast and crew are staying] That door is the looking glass. And inside it is Wonderland.
Cross: Have faith, Alice. Close your eyes, and enjoy.
"The Stunt Man"
Words by Lawrence B. Marcus and Richard Rush
Pictures by Mario Tosi, A.S.C and Richard Rush
"The Stunt Man" is available on DVD through Anchor Bay Entertainment