Brian Trenchard-Smith’s semibiographical, part-band film spectacle Stunt Rock is a strange mix that finds its footing more and more in the telling. It follows Australian stuntman Grant Page before and during work on a television show in Los Angeles, Undercover Girl, where he recounts previous stunts he’s done in his career while Trenchard-Smith shows us the stunt he prepares for in the moment, complete with b-roll footage cued up for the occasion. Page has performed stunts for numerous films: Mad Max, Road Games, The Man From Hong Kong, Deathcheaters, The Island and Gods of Egypt being the most notable among his credits.
The film is essentially a “90-minute trailer for Grant Page,” according to Trenchard-Smith himself. He served as Page’s manager slash producer for the first five years of his career, and in those 5 years Trenchard-Smith cast him in 4 films where he would perform his own stunts. An outline for Stunt Rock was written up and sent off and the film was almost immediately green-lit given that it could be shot in 15 days on location in Los Angeles. Needless to say that offer was taken up on the spot.
In the film, Grant Page has a cousin in Sorcery, a theatrical heavy metal band, specializing in elaborate stagings of master magicians performing alongside their musical counterparts. Curtis Hyde, Page’s cousin, picks him up from local airport LAX where we learn that Grant is there to mix business and pleasure; he’s keen on both meeting the band and seeing their show in between clocking some time on set for his contracted stunt work. Lois Wills, an author on a reputable magazine is assigned to work on a piece about Grant Page while he works on set. She begins working with him, not really seeing much to work with even as he regales her with stories of his past stunts. She senses a self-importance in the man that does not exactly lend to flattery.
The film structure alternates between Page’s stunt work and Sorcery’s performances song by song, usually through Page’s perspective as he works on set and relaxes by visiting the bandmates. His trips go between the recording studio and live concert performances, and peppered throughout are some candid moments between Page and the band members, which in some ways approach the same level of intimacy and transparency Martin Scorsese brings to his half-documentary, half-concert film The Last Waltz. Stunt Rock is by no means Brian Trenchard-Smith’s attempt at doing such a thing but in its uniquely personal moments achieve something close to it. Oddly enough, both films were released in 1978 separated by about a couple months, so what similarities that do exist pretty much end there.
There’s something really charming about watching Page get ready for a stunt as he recounts a more dangerous one in his past. Early in the film, he talks about a difficult stunt he performed: after being engulfed in flames he had to jump backwards off a cliff (from Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan). The screen splits into two sections mirroring the image, to accentuate both the intensity of the moment and the importance that it goes as smooth as possible in the least amount of takes possible. All you can do is become caught up in this moment, witnessing Page’s prowess and restraint, a master of his craft effortlessly pulling off the death-defying stunt with lighthearted ease. In telling his story about the cliff jump (which he had to do twice), he ends it with a smirk in his voice since the stunt he’s preparing for in the present is far more tame by his standards, yet just as exciting for the gathering crews on the studio backlot to watch.
For slightly more context on what kind of work ethic Grant Page brings to his screen stunts, moments before telling this story Page broke out of a hospital after a car crash stunt went wrong, driving like a madman to the set of the show to avoid getting there late. After witnessing his process on the Undercover Girl set, we cut to Sorcery performing their first song of the film in front of a live audience. The band sets up their opening number “Sacrifice,” where a fully costumed sorcerer (King of the Wizards, to be precise) appears on stage showing off with rigged pyrotechnics combined with sleight of hand tricks set to the music. Not long after, the Prince of Darkness appears to challenge the wizard, doing combat on stage as the heavy metal band plays on. If by this point you’re not digging Stunt Rock, you probably won’t be won over by the end. But the characters who spend time with Grant Page on and off set eventually do, some even starting to warm to the idea of trying out the odd stunt or two.
Monique van de Ven, the star of Undercover Girl, clashes with her agent frequently on set. She takes a liking to Page and sees in him something representing a freedom she’s denied, the means to act on an innate wildness. As a high-profile property even expressing desire to explore this unknown part of herself is discouraged at every opportunity, her agent instead opts to push her in a domineering manner which effectively boxes her in. The human psyche tends to rebel naturally, so her time spent with Page is at first borne with this need to rebel but over the course of the film is re-evaluated in her own terms as they spend more time together. In many ways this is the heart of the film, Grant imparting wisdom possibly without even knowing it to someone in dire need of a different perspective. And in doing so the writer tasked with following up with his exploits senses something different about him too, picking up on his level-headed way of approaching situations — whether they’re stunts to perform for a film, television show, or even something unexpected happening in the lives of the people around him.
Page eventually lends his talents to his cousin’s band, helping to rig some stunts for their performance and even do one of his own. It’s one of the high points of the film, essentially bridging the gap of his professional work to lend a hand and make an already great show even more memorable. Among a theatrical audience it’s hard not to imagine moviegoers cheering when he pulls it off, as if there were no doubt that anything could go wrong. It’s the perfect cap on a journey not a lot of people can say they’ve made in the unique collaborative atmosphere Grant Page brings to those who surround him. Stunt Rock begins to turn into something more compassionate than it would ever let on here, and that’s how Page has left his mark in the hearts and minds of filmmakers, musicians, and creatives who have had the fortune to work with him.
Stunt Rock is returning to select theaters March 25th in a brand new 4K restoration presented by Kino Cult.
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Andre is an avid film watcher, blogger and podcaster. You can read his words on film at letterboxd and medium, and hear his voice on movies, monsters, and other weird things on Humanoids From the Deep Dive every other Monday. In his “off” time he volunteers as a film projectionist, reads fiction & nonfiction, comics, and plays video games until it’s way too late.