March 20, 2014

A Brief History of Stunt Fighting

When last we met, I was saying how much I love stunt choreography; now in order for you to truly understand something no matter what it is… you must get the history on it.

That goes for stunt choreography as well. I know I know some history can be a bit tedious, but as Mr. Peabody said to Sherman, Lets step into the way back machine; and do some time traveling (I added the time traveling part).

The time the 1800’s: the birth of film in the United States.

The place: West Orange New Jersey. On Jun 17th 1894, Thomas Edison filmed the first fight between Mike Leonard and Jack Cushing.

Then on September 7, 1894 there were six rounds each lasting 1 minute between the current World Champion at the time Gentlemen Jim Corbett and Peter Courtney.

Both events filmed at America’s First Movie Studio shown in the Glorious Kinetography. With the introduction of silent film it would be just a matter of time before the American Action Hero was born; the dashing sword wielding Swashbucklers like Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Powers.

And who could forget the comedic stunt fighter like the lovable tramp Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, The Keystone Cops, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges. All masters in the art of stunt choreography.

Little did we know that these early stunt masters would give birth to so many genres of stunt fighting in the 40 and 50s such as the old West brawls.

John Wayne is the first person that comes to mind; the Duke with his emotionless brute strength, one punch knockout type of fighting and the stuntmen who made it look so real.

The 50 sand 60s were the reign of the super spy like James Bond with such actors as George Lazenby and Sean Connery as 007 and James Coburn as Derrick Flint; these actors and the stunt teams that worked with them took the choreography to new levels in their time.

Then came the 70s which were the creative high point in American movies with the combination of genres; man was it a great decade for film with movies like Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee, Rocky with Sly Stallone and Star Wars with Mark Hamill. What can I really say about what they did for stunt fighting except made it inspirational and even more awesome.

But wait, we have the 1980’s which brought us the muscle-bound Gods. One man armies and the one liners.

It brought us more action form Her Majesty’s Secret Service with Roger Moore as 007; we also saw a sword wielding Cimmerian warrior that destroyed a cult of snakes called Conan The Barbarian portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We got more Star Wars action with Mark Hamill, and a one man war machine John J. Rambo portrayed by Sly Stallone. Oh and we must not forget the high kicking, fast punching men of the dragon: the martial arts action heroes Chuck Norris in The Octagon, Steven Segal in Above the Law and ‘The Muscles from Brussels’ AKA Jean-Claude Van Damme. Could he ever throw a mean kick in Bloodsport…

The action Heroes of the 80’s, what can I say? Epic! Now that is the end of part one of this brief history on Stunt fighting.

I know I jumped around a lot, but I did not want to get to deep or this article would have turned into a novel.

In closing, I do want to say how truly fascinating it is how this great art of non verbal dialog came from such humble beginnings to becoming such an integral part (and for me the most important part) of a film.

When we meet next I will complete my little run back in time and cover the 90’s to today (Woo … CGI baby!)

See you at the movies; I’ll save you a seat in The Action Elite section.

Don (The Iron Sensei) Burnell

About the Author

Don Burnell

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