With the panache of a seasoned sportswriter, former New Yorker editor Conley (Stud: Adventures in Breeding, 2002) takes readers through the action sequences and behind the scenes into the lives of the world’s legendary stunt professionals.
Most viewers have seen only their backs as they flip cars, screech brakes, fall from bridges or bolt through walls of flame. Conley shows us their faces, fears, flubs and passions. Gone are the Keystone Kops days when Hollywood’s rowdy gag masters (a “gag” is what they call the dangerous stuff) were recruited from rodeos and the circus, winged it on the set and paid the price with frequent trips to the hospital. Generations later, in the age of extreme sports, high-tech action and professional stunt elitism, the grandsons and daughters of the originals carry on. Hanging out with well-known stuntpeople like Ronnie Rondell, Jeff Galpin, Mike Kirton and Debbie Evans, among many others, Conley extracts the stories behind Hollywood’s most celebrated gags from the industry’s most prominent adrenaline addicts. On the sets of The Bourne Supremacy, Tarantino’s Death Proof and The Dukes of Hazzard movie, he tracks down trends and learns how old-school players adjust to the times. In breezy, conversational prose, the author casually fuses a good measure of history with after-shoot barstool shoptalk from the legends. He even includes a hands-on chapter with a step-by-step lesson in how to perform spinouts à la The Italian Job in the comfort of one’s own cul-de-sac. Not content with mere observation or interviews with directors, actors, coordinators and career stuntmen, Conley goes for active participation. At one point, he gets himself soaked head-to-toe with gasoline and set aflame just to earn the book’s title, giving an all-new meaning to the term “immersion journalism.” Despite the temptation to glorify, his account remains levelheaded and evenhanded.
An exhaustive survey that glows with insider/outsider appeal.