There is no doubt that sword fighting can be a vicious, brutal form of combat. The damage a blade can do to an unprotected body is staggering. It’s dangerous regardless of which side of the weapon you’re on.
It’s also sexy as hell.
Thrust and parry, lunge and retreat, en guard, riposte all combined to make a sword fight as graceful as it was deadly; a beautiful balance between strength, grace, steel and flesh.
No one knew this better than Bob Anderson, Hollywood’s sword fighting virtuoso who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.
After retiring from competitive fencing in 1952, Bob started working as a stunt man in Hollywood movies, where his first job was to stage fights and coach Errol Flinn in The Master of Ballantrae . Over the years, he became the most sought after fight coordinator and sword master in Hollywood, working continuously for six decades on some of the most notable films of all times including the James Bond films From Russia with Love, Die Another Day, Highlander, The Princess Bride, The Mask of Zorro, the Star Wars Trilogy and Lord of the Rings.
A quiet man, it was years before his true contribution to the Star Wars films was fully known. For years it was believed that he merely coached and choreographed the fight scenes for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In fact, Anderson was performing in those fight scenes, a fact that George Lucas wanted buried for fear it would adversely affect David Prowses career. The deception did not sit well with actor Mark Hamill, who finally revealed the truth in a Starlog interview in 1983:
“It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told (director) George (Lucas) I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.”
According to Leon Hill, Anderson’s assistant:
“David Prowse wasn’t very good with a sword and Bob couldn’t get him to do the moves. Fortunately Bob could just don the costume and do it himself.”
Anderson’s best work was arguably done on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Not only did he train the actors and choreograph the fight scenes he also developed individual fighting styles for each of the cultures of Middle Earth based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s descriptions in the text. His genius is seen most notably in the Weathertop sequence from The Fellowship of the Ring, where Aragorn fights his first battle against the Ringwraiths. Remember that this was Viggo Mortensen’s first day of shooting, only arriving in New Zealand a few days before. It is a testament to Bob Anderson’s skill as both a choreographer and teacher (and Viggo as a student) that they were able to pull off the scene as amazingly well as they did with so little preparation.
I first became a fan of Anderson’s after seeing the movie Highlander, although I didn’t know it at the time. After seeing the battles between Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown, I walked away wanting to be able to do that; to dance with a blade whirling around me. It was so fluid and beautiful and I was left in awe.
Rest well Bob. Thank you for the amazing legacy. Think I’m going to download Reclaiming the Blade from Netflix tonight.