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Movie reviews: 'Sebring' and 'Stuntwomen' documentaries peel back layers of Hollywood history

Movie reviews: 'Sebring' and 'Stuntwomen' documentaries peel back layers of Hollywood history

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Two new Hollywood documentaries give some overlooked people their due: female stunt performers and Jay Sebring, the pioneering hair stylist usually relegated to a footnote in the story of the Manson murders.

'Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story'

"Stuntwomen" is full of great footage of some of the most memorable female stunt work in film history. There's the helicopter rescue from a car flying off a bridge in "True Lies," with Jamie Lee Curtis barely making it out (stunt performed by Donna Keegan). There's Trinity's death-defying motorcycle run through wrong-way traffic in "The Matrix Reloaded" (Carrie-Anne Moss doubled by Debbie Evans). There's Black Widow fighting her way through multiple Marvel movies (that's Heidi Moneymaker doing the butt-kicking for Scarlett Johansson).

In fact, there are so many feats of derring-do by so many skilled stunt performers that most viewers are likely to lose track of who is who. The featured stuntwomen are introduced once, briefly, in the front of the film, then mostly not identified again, though we're treated to a number of their behind-the-scenes reminiscences. There's no chronology; rather, the documentary is roughly organized by topic: How women started doing on-camera stunts; proving they could do them, rather than male performers donning wigs and dresses; the jaw-dropping driving skill of the legendary Debbie Evans; how rare it is for stuntwomen to ascend to the title of stunt coordinator; etc.

Based on Mollie Gregory's book and narrated by Michelle Rodriguez, April Wright's film moves quickly and maintains high energy. While the result may be scattershot at times, the achievements of these badass professionals are worth a look — especially if, like this writer, you believe an Oscar category for stunt performers is long overdue.

'Jay Sebring ... Cutting to the Truth'

"Jay Sebring ... Cutting to the Truth" is an impressive directorial debut for actor Anthony DiMaria, nephew of the documentary's subject. Sebring revolutionized male hairstyling in Hollywood in the '60s, helping craft the looks of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Frank Sinatra, to name just a few. He was friends with Dennis Hopper, Quincy Jones and Bruce Lee, and his romances included actresses BarBara Luna ... and Sharon Tate.

That's likely where you've heard his name: He was one of the "four others" killed with Tate by the Manson family in August 1969.

The point of DiMaria's absorbing and passionate documentary is there was much more to his uncle than being one of the "others" in an infamous murder spree. Through footage, photos and remembrances from Sebring's friends and family, the filmmaker describes a striving, artistic person with failures, successes and loves.

The stylish film hammers home how highly questionable portraits of Sebring were disseminated in the media after his death, obscuring the real man. For instance, whereas a Time magazine article speculated shortly after the murders that Sebring was racist, Quincy Jones utterly rejects that notion.

The documentary moves back and forth in time effectively to create the feeling of two trains inevitably colliding. There's the arc of Sebring's meteoric rise, his financial troubles and his romantic calamities, with the inescapable night of Aug. 8, 1969, looming in the distance.

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