“Even If I Die, Don’t Cut the Shot…”
A death-defying motorbike leap off an 80 foot cliff near Lurline Bay, as told by Stone Director Sandy Harbutt.
1974. It’s a sunny November morning and hundreds gather on the cliffs surrounding Lurline Bay. A timber ramp points precariously over a rocky precipice. Waves slap against the rocks 80 feet below. Peter Armstrong, career stuntman, sits leather-clad on his Honda 450. Helmet on, he waits.
Peter’s been kicked, punched, and thrown about more times than he can remember; hit front-on by cars at 70 kilometres per hour, rolling off the bonnet – no padding – then straight back up for another two takes. This might be his once-in-a-lifetime stunt, the one to be remembered by.
“Even if I die, don’t cut the shot,” he’d made the director promise.
All is silent. Peter revs his engine. The director calls, “Action!” Not quite Hollywood, this is the Australian cult cinema classic, Stone.
Directed by Sandy Harbutt, critics and bikers alike hailed Stone as the first honest portrayal of their lifestyle. A heady concoction of drugs, sex, guns, and action-fuelled drama; the film was like nothing Australian cinema had seen before. Harbutt also plays a lead role in the film, and co-authored the screenplay.
A huge fan of Stone, Tarantino hails Harbutt, “A true visionary, who has the goods, and delivers them with a tremendous amount of impact.”
Tarantino also credits Harbutt for directing “the most authentic and realistic ending of a biker movie in the history of film… when you see that shot, you’re like – oh my God, what a movie!”
In a rare interview, I caught up with Stone director Sandy Harbutt, who agreed to tell us more about stuntman Peter Armstrong’s legendary leap off Lurline Bay:
I’d written the motorbike jump into the script, but after looking at both sides of Sydney Heads, I couldn’t find a suitable cliff, so I told our stuntman (Peter Armstrong) we might have to postpone. About six weeks later, Peter came back saying he’d found a cliff, so off we went in his beloved Valiant Charger (chuckles) to Maroubra.
Standing close to the edge at that mighty height, I said, “So okay, where is it?” and he went, “Off here.” I said, “You gotta be kidding,” then he says, “No, I can do it.” “Not on my fucken movie!” I replied, and walked off.
But he followed. “Stop, no look sir, stop,” he kept saying. Peter was so professional he called me ‘Sir’, even though he was my best friend, because we were on the job.
So he drags me back and says, “We can have a ramp, I can get plenty of speed.” And I said, “There’s fucken rocks down there!” Then he says, “Look, Sandy, all my life I’ve been building to do a stunt like this. You’ve been building to make this picture. Give it to me. Give it to me!”
I feel like crying now, and his crazy, perfect blue eyes – I knew how brilliant he was, because he could do anything, this guy. And he was the toughest guy I ever met.
Anyhow, he eventually convinced me, and a crowd of about 100 lined the cliff on the day. I explained they all had to stay back until I called “Cut,” because it would otherwise ruin the camera work. Even I couldn’t look over until after the shot was done.
Peter tears at the ramp like a maniac and flies into mid-air. After seven long seconds I hear a humungous splash, call “Cut,” and look over the edge. And there he is, floating. He then sticks his arm up, and the crowd cheers. But this was actually just an unconscious twitch – Peter later told me he couldn’t remember it. So anyhow, he’d hit, went under, got the helmet off, and then somehow or other he surfaces, rolls onto his back, and is floating unconscious. Once he made it into that position he passed out (laughs). So when the rescuers got to him, he was asleep, and they had to fish him out. That was the worst moment of my life; I thought he was dead. But then he sat up and the crowd went wild.
The boat then sped off to Coogee, where an Ambulance was waiting, while I burnt back on my bike. By then they were landing the boat (laughs and sighs). Oh dear, and there he was – there he was – barely able to walk. He’d taken a full-body impact, just like a punch to every part of your body. He’d hit the water at God knows what speed, but he could still stand. Just. So I walked over and hugged him (laughs). And the world’s humblest man, he says, “We did it.” “No, we didn’t do it,” I said, “you did it, Peter!”