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Book Review: The Burning Spirit: The Spiritual Adventure Of A Hollywood Stuntman by Banzai Vitale

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Banzai Vitale, a man you probably won’t have heard of, has worked on quite a few famous television and film productions as a stuntman (such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Transformers 3 and Scream 4), has one of the best names I’ve ever heard, and is ordained as a Reverend.

I’ll be honest, ladies and gentlemen. When I see a press release detailing a book about the life and times of a Hollywood stuntman, that’s what I expect to read. Turns out what I got was a book about a Hollywood stuntman’s journey experimenting with drugs and trying to achieve enlightenment. Anyone thinking The Burning Spirit is a memoir of a stuntman’s experiences in the industry will be left wanting. Personally, that would have been a much better book.

While it starts off giving a run-down of his life getting into the stunt world and showing how determined he was, it quickly derails into trips to Burning Man and taking “E” and a trip to London. There is one interesting tale about injuring himself during a stunt near the end though, which turns into a cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t always trust your physician. There’s rather a lot of drug use in there, but if it’s in the name of enlightenment then it’s okay, kids!

The book is intended to be a reflection of the good reverend’s thoughts and feelings, which is why a large amount of the book comes from his personal journals unedited (and so was the rest of it, judging by the mistakes). In fairness, he does warn you about this on the back cover copy, but the fact that they were unedited did not sit well with me, as there were a large amount of spelling errors. Readers of my previous book reviews will be aware that I do not appreciate those. In fact, there is one on the back cover: “He choose to share his story with you in this way.”

Some of the journals can come across as written a bit simply, and occasionally puts me in mind of how a child tells stories (“and then this happened, and this happened” and so on), a style also used in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

Lest you think that I am giving The Burning Spirit nothing but criticism, I must admit that there were a few moments where Vitale really seemed to aim for humour and succeed, and the main thrust of the book (i.e, crisis of self while he’s post-breakup) is something that many of us will be able to relate to. And he has made me consider relaxing my rules on drink and drugs and such. Purely because I’m quite uptight as it is. It also has the advantage of being short, so if you have that kind of mentality you’ll probably appreciate this.

I wanted to like The Burning Spirit, honestly I did, but I am a real stickler for grammar and spelling, and any such errors jump out at me immediately. It’s like watching a movie and seeing a boom mic in shot: it’s distracting and breaks the immersion of the viewer. I guess if that’s not the sort of thing that bothers you, this would be right up your alley (also if you like drug use), but if it is then I cannot recommend it.

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