Thursday, 2 June 2011

Vic Armstrong: Hero. Legend. Blower Of Own Trumpet.

I just read Vic Armstrong's autobiography, the modestly-titled 'The True Adventures Of The World's Greatest Stuntman: My life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and other movie heroes'. I don't know why he didn't just carry on listing movie heroes. What difference is another few dozen words going to make on the end of that long-winded title?

To be fair to Armstrong, he probably is The World's Greatest Stuntman. Not only has he doubled as all the aforementioned legendary characters, but he also went on to become a stunt co-ordinator and 2nd Unit Director of some repute, almost single-handedly responsible for many of the greatest action sequences Hollywood has produced over the past thirty-odd years.

I've been familiar with his work since watching The Making Of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom on ITV when I was about eleven, and even at that tender age his role in creating the image of one of my biggest heroes was plain to see.

I was quite excited, then, to get hold of a copy of his book, written "with Robert Sellers". Sellers is a successful film journalist, and this feels a lot like a transcript of a series of interviews rather than something Armstrong sat down and banged out himself. It's not written flamboyantly or with wistful nostalgia, but instead reads like the anecdotes of a man who's done more or less everything except master the art of writing books. And why should he? He's Indiana Jones, James Bond and Superman for Christ's sake.
In fact he's been so many heroes and worked on so many films there's a danger of overload in his book. Each bite-sized chapter contains several tales of derring-do, and by the end you're almost exhausted by it all. As a result some stories fall a bit flat, but for the most part it's hard not to admire and envy the man. He's mates with EVERYONE (most chapters end with "Great guy, Arnie", "Wonderful guy, Harrison", "Amazing guy, Tom", and so on, although he's less complimentary about costume designers and art department grunts) and was present at the birth of some of cinema's most iconic set-pieces.

Some of his anecdotes are the stuff of men's changing room legend: a troubling amount of gory fatal and near-fatal accidents are recalled almost in the same breath as tales of Telly Savalas' cock and Oliver Reed's flaming blow jobs. All of a sudden the life of a stuntman doesn't seem that enviable after all.
If Armstrong achieves one thing here, it's bigging himself up. But if he achieves another, it's highlighting just how responsible 2nd Unit Directors are for the bits of blockbusters you remember the most. Sequences like The World Is Not Enough's Thames boat chase and M:I III's bridge carnage apparently had very little to do with those films' respective directors, and it's amazing Armstrong's kind don't get more credit.

So give it a whirl if you're an action flick geek like what I is; you might learn something. Least of all what it's like to come face to face with Little Kojak.


  1. I definitely want to read this book. Armstrong was a major part of so many of my favorite movies; glad to see him getting some real recognition, even if it is coming from himself. He deserves it, whatever it takes.