06/14/2011 10:47 am ET | Updated Aug 07, 2011

A Whole New Kind of "Stunt Man"

With the release of Richard Rush's landmark film The Stunt Man on DVD and Blu-Ray, I've reposted a piece on Rush I wrote for Entertainment Today in 2000.

The American Cinematheque, operating out of the luxurious Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard, is doing, arguably, some of the best programming in that organization's history.

A couple months back, the Cinematheque brought in Richard Rush, showing both his classic The Stunt Man, and a marvelously droll and informative feature documentary on its making, The Sinister Saga of Making The Stunt Man.

Twenty years ago, Rush created a brilliantly rich film which pegged Peter O'Toole as a conniving film director who puts convict Steve Railsback into his World War Two epic as a stuntman, only to have him get entwined in a romance with leading lady Barbara Hershey. The film works on so many levels, but Rush describes in his doc the difficulty getting support in 1980 from Twentieth Century Fox: "There is no genre for illusion and reality."

Rush, whose other features include the outrageously funny, anti-establishment Getting Straight and the Bruce Willis thriller Color of Night has had the challenges of a stunt man, including a heart attack, attempts to sabotage the release of Stunt Man, and on-set challenges. In a story reminiscent of the nature of the film, Rush describes how the film-within-a-film was supposed to have a World War Two-era Tigermoth fly over the Hotel Del Coronado. Denied permission to do the stunt, Rush found the name of a Coast Guard admiral in San Diego, cited it to the FAA and went ahead without authorization to capture an essential and thrilling scene.

Shot on digital video, The Sinister Saga is filled with stories of the writer-director's tenacity and inventiveness, which include destroying part of the MGM backlot in an armored tank scene, after learning it was going to be torn down anyway. Rush's clever use of optical effects in the documentary also reinforces the theme of the film, including Rush diving backwards, as if off a springboard, into a dissolve.

Rush also utilized a new technique in camerawork, captured some of Hershey's most powerful work with last minute changes and had to do some guerrilla marketing in order to get reviews, a procedure the genial filmmaker refers to as "gathering diamonds in a minefield during an earthquake."

Additionally, The Stunt Man reminds us of the inherent dangers of the profession. Already this year, Brady Michaels lost his life working on UPN's series I Dare You and stand-in Will Gaffney was killed in Ecuador during the filming of Castle Rock's Proof of Life
After creating, despite enormous obstacles, what O'Toole claims is "a whole new syntax of filmmaking," Rush now has the satisfaction of exposing new audiences to what is one of the most exciting films ever made about motion pictures.