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Double Dare (2004)

April 30th, 2007 · 2 Comments

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Documentary directed and photographed by Amanda Micheli begins in 2000, as Lucy Lawless’ stunt double on the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess – 22 year old Zoe Bell – finds herself out of work when the show ends. Bell leaves her family in Auckland and arrives in L.A., where Jeannie Epper – Lynda Carter’s stunt double on Wonder Woman twenty-five years previous – takes Bell under her wing and attempts to help her career in film.

Epper is daughter of stunt pioneer John Epper, whose entire family has dedicated itself to continuing his legacy. This includes Jeannie Epper’s daughter Eurlyne, who landed on her neck during a routine fall four years previous, and has to watch from the sidelines during her rehab, while Jeannie continues to work into her 60s, even after she donates a kidney.

In spite of her connections, Bell is passed over for a job on a TV series, but a year later, Epper gets her into a high fall training session, where Bell comes to the attention of a scout looking for a stuntwoman to double for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. He invites her to audition for the film’s stunt coordinator, Master Wo-Ping, and director Quentin Tarantino.

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In addition to Lawless and Tarantino, Micheli interviews Steven Spielberg – who met Epper when she and most of her family worked for him on 1941 – and he talks about the stuntwoman being a recent breakthrough in Hollywood. Up until the women’s movement, men in wigs routinely doubled for women where stunts were concerned in movies and TV.

Stunt coordinator Terry Leonard – who performed the truck undercarriage gag in Raiders of the Lost Ark – states, “The girls do have a tougher job, just because of the costumes.” With wardrobe that usually features a bare midriff, arms, legs or all of the above, stuntwomen can’t pad up. Footage from Wonder Woman shows Epper never used padding at all.

Double Dare came to my attention after seeing Zoe Bell not only play herself in Grindhouse, but perform a mind blowing moving vehicle stunt that surpasses the one in Raiders. She comes off as the same utterly rad chick here. During her audition for Kill Bill, she wipes out on a flip four times in a row, but what impresses Tarantino is the way she wipes out, getting up, laughing about it, and doing it again. Her toughness wins her the job.

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This type of strength among women in show business is what Searching For Debra Winger completely ignored, and I don’t mean physical strength. Stuntwomen don’t complain about getting older, losing jobs or not getting respect. Instead, they do what the men do, only they do it better. As Bell departs for China to train with Wo-Ping, Epper’s advice to her is “Don’t get all frazzled when you’re over there. Just do your job.”

Micheli does such a subtle job telling her story that I hesitate to call the film a “documentary” at all. The camera crew and docu-style is almost invisible, and we’re simply able to follow a professional woman in a two or three year span of her career, being mentored by another woman and overcoming barriers through pure devotion to her craft.

Double Dare is only one hour and twenty minutes long, and while I would have enjoyed seeing a lot more stuff, it feels perfectly framed. Spielberg is wonderfully articulate about the Eppers and the tradecraft of stuntwomen. A segment at a Xena convention is wonderful, and watching Bell receive word she’s won the job on Kill Bill is a joy.

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Another joy is watching Zoe Bell do a header off a 35 foot ladder into an airbag (it looks like a 100 foot ladder) and hearing Epper ask her if that was fun. “Fuck yeah!” This summed up the movie for me, which is passionate and a must-see for movie fans. It took Netflix two weeks to make this DVD available to ship to me, but if you can locate it, I highly recommend checking this one out.

Tags: Documentary · Martial arts · Master and pupil · Sword fight · TV series

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Becca // May 3, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    That’s my favorite picture from the old Wonder Woman TV show. I’ve been wanting to see this and your review has intrigued me even more! I’m off to add this to the Netflix Que!

  • 2 Heather Hofmeister // May 4, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Great review. Hit a lot of the points I would have said. But I wish you had also addressed the double standard a little more. The lack of stunt padding is not the only thing setting the women apart from the men. The chances for great stunts, the kinds of roles women are cast into in film, differ– and the men get more chances. I also found the stunt award meeting, where the stunt men and Jeannie Epper are discussing the upcoming stunt awards categories, a phenomenal example of gender bias. Add to that the fact that Jeannie Epper does not get a chance to direct stunt scenes, though she is MORE THAN qualified. She holds no grudges of anyone, but this is clearly a grave oversight not to use her wisdom and experience — and constructive support of other stunt workers — for that level of her profession.
    Zöe Bell is absolutely wonderful and charming, and her ease with herself, her body, her place in the world is really inspiring. Being along for the ride as she “makes it” in the US is truly exhiliarating. I found the down-to-earthyness of the stunt people grounding in a way that is unusual to see on film. The monotony of the work at times, as was obvious on the Xena set in particular, creates a bond among the stunt crew as they pass the time together in costume waiting for their work to begin. And it is HARD work. I will not see an on-screen stunt in the same way again, even a stunt as simple as someone reaching in a car window as the car slowly pulls away. These are truly women of steel and they deserve every penny they have coming to them, and more. Hurrah! I showed this to a university class in Germany and they went wild for it. Great filmmaking, great storytelling, great subject, and well framed, as you said. Glad you liked it, too.

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