The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman by Vic Armstrong (with Robert Sellers)

Review: Jenn Zuko Boughn

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Chances are, you have never heard of Vic Armstrong[1].

But you probably have heard of: Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman, Rambo, the Terminator, Flash Gordon, Han Solo, Henry V, The Green Hornet, and Thor.

And since you are reading a site called Nerds in Babeland, you must have heard these names: Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Christopher Reeve, Tom Cruise, Richard Attenborough, Kenneth Branagh, Angelina Jolie, Will Smith…

Vic Armstrong is the recipient of many accolades and awards for stunt performing and stunt coordination, including the Guinness World Record for Most Prolific Stuntman. Keeping in mind that this above list is a mere fraction of the people Armstrong has doubled, worked with, or directed as Second Unit[2] Director, you can see why. The man is a legend among stunt performers, and his family is following in his footsteps. Armstrong’s new memoir details his early life as a horse lover (and expert) on through stunt performer and, later, stunt director. He gives a behind-the-scenes look at many stages of his epic life in the field of stunts.

This is not the autobiography you read for its scintillating prose. This is an autobiography you read for the amazing stories of the amazing events throughout an amazing, long career. The book begins with a recounting of Armstrong jumping from a moving horse to a moving tank, as Indiana Jones. The harrowing near-miss is delivered with the wry humor typical of a stuntperson, with the dry reality that he would have to reset it and do another take. The book is an immensely entertaining combination of a “special features” behind-the-scenes narration of a staggering number of favorite films (and characters), and chatting with a chummy mentor over a pint, recalling the good times of back in the day.

One of the most engaging things about Armstrong’s narrative is his genuine respect and even awe for his fellow professionals, not only in the stunt field, but everyone who’s worked hard in the movies he’s been involved with, and those that came before. He speaks with true joy about his excitement at starting a new project, and with not too much modesty about his skills and setbacks as a professional. Peppered throughout his personal narrative are brief bold-fonted paragraphs penned by some of the more famous folks he’s worked with. These magazine-article-blurb-like interruptions range from delightful (Harrison Ford avers: “If you learn to talk, I’m done for”), to slightly repetitive (many of the paragraphs start to sound like a ping-pong game of vague praise), but all in all the book reads like a snappy, exciting…well, action sequence!

As a stage combat professional myself, what I appreciated most was his consistent stress on the safety of the techniques used, from the earliest movie he appeared in (You Only Live Twice!) to a lovely farewell as he puts down this book to go work on Thor. He makes it clear what technology was available for each movie, what stunts he did that were foolish-young-man stuff and which he butted heads with the director with over safety. He also has interesting things to say about actors that want to do their own stunts, which is food for thought for those movie-goers that may think an actor doing his own stunts is a “cool” thing.

The bottom line: Vic Armstrong has been involved with the stunts for a dizzying number of films that we at Nerds in Babeland regularly nerd out over, and more than that, and more. The man is a legend, and continues to be so. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the world of the stuntman, or indeed any movie buff.

~Prof. Jenn

 

 


[1] Unless you’re a stage combat nerd, like me.

[2] The Second Unit director is the guy who directs the action sequences.