. . . so I’ve been sick. Which is horrendously inconvenient when you’re trying to get good at derby. My throat’s a wheezy mass of sandpaper and my voice sounds like a foghorn. It’s delightful. So it’s a bit of a setback on my way to progress. I wish I could shrug it off and go and kick my own ass but I want to be rid of the cold without subjecting anyone else to it. Plus I slept too much and my neck has seized up, causing me to have to turn my whole body in the direction I want to look, a la Michelle in Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion. “Hi, Back Brace Girl!”
Anyway. So in light of the fact that I can’t exercise or excel at sports at the moment, I’d rather talk about someone who can — my new favorite person, Zoe Bell. Like many others, I was first alerted to her presence via DeathProof, one of my absolute favorite movies. I had heard that she was a stuntwoman, and Uma Thurman’s stuntwoman on Kill Bill no less, and then to see her in all her glory kicking the crap out of Kurt Russell was just oh so magical. She delights me every time she pops up, be it a random LOST episode or a side character in Whip It. I can safely say I’ve always envied the women (such as Buffy’s stunt double, Sophia Crawford) who are the real-life ass kickers in the world. But I’m safe from ever being able to express an interest in trying to be a stuntwoman, since I’m terrified of most daring feats and suck balls at tumbling.
Recently, a friend of mine let me borrow her copy of Double Dare, which parallels the lives of two stuntwomen. One famous (Jeannie Epper, of doubling Wonder Woman fame, among a zillion other film credits) and one about-to-be famous (Zoe Bell). Besides the fact that I find the real daredevils behind the scenes sort of fascinating, it’s also fun to just get a glimpse of the people who you know, when you’re watching a movie, that you’re not supposed to be seeing. In one of the interviews on the DVD, Quentin Tarantino remarked how when he was growing up it was commonplace to see the stuntdoubles in movies and TV. There they were, right in front of you, and you knew even though out of the corner of your eye they might resemble Arnold, they weren’t really Arnold. And you just glossed over that part and accepted it. Now, Tarantino remarked, actors are expected to do a lot more of their own stunts so the stuntpeople become even more invisible. The idea is to cut them up with the footage of the actors so much that it will be impossible to tell actor from stuntperson. The filmmaker will blend the two together into an impossible persona.
I find that kind of fascinating, but also kind of sad. It was always a fun game to see if we could pick out the blatant stuntdouble shots. Who hasn’t thoroughly enjoyed that scene in Spaceballs when they catch the stuntdoubles instead of the real characters? If they take that away, then the stuntdoubles will become truly invisible. In a way, they are the real-life superheroes of our time. Doing all the dirty work behind the scenes with no credit, little gratitude, and perfect disguises. They make the extraordinary possible.
That’s why Zoe Bell is such a treasure. In Double Dare, she maintained the same determination and delightful outlook whether she was doing grueling take after take on Xena, Warrior Princess, rigged up in wires that spun her around until she injured her shoulder or navigating awkward Hollywood parties as a stranger. It was especially thrilling to see the lead up to her audition for Tarantino and legendary martial arts advisor Yuen Wo-Ping – which she nailed not just because of her strength and skills, but her sheer determination and frustration in trying to land a flip she repeated four times. In the end, they hired her not because she successfully landed the flip (she didn’t) but because she kept trying, no matter how many times she fell down. I’m grateful that Tarantino has, since seeing Bell, reversed his opinion on stunt doubles and brought her to the forefront for all to enjoy. We need more of them lady heroes around.