Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Steve McQueen: The Man & LeMans" (DVD Review)

It was surprising to learn, in the corners of the internet that I frequent, that some people think Grand Prix is the best racing movie ever made.  Others like the biopic Senna.  For me, LeMans is the gold standard.  Not that any feature film about racing makes much of a movie.  I've never held LeMans's   
lack of a plot or character development against it.   The point of the film is the racing footage.  The plot, such as it is, of Grand Prix is laughable.  When I watch LeMans (which I still do every couple of years), I just fast-forward through the non-racing footage.

So I thought a DVD about the making of LeMans would be a fun watch.  It was, one time.  And I'll probably watch it again.  But it's not gripping.  The producers say it includes footage from the film "never before seen."  There's a good reason for that: the best footage is already in the film.  Chad McQueen had a big hand in this project.  It's not so much a documentary about filmmaking as it is a hagiographic  look at his father.

For me, it was painful to look at Steve McQueen.  The "smartest guy in the room" and "I make my own rules" traits that make The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt so engaging are tiresome in a real person.  It is sad, sad, sad, to watch McQueen burn through his own money making LeMans (he was the Executive Producer).  And his friendships.  And his marriage.  Yes, McQueen had "a vision" of what he wanted to do with the film.  It turned out to be monomaniacal.  Or maybe "the loner hero" of my 20's became "just another self-absorbed jerk" in my 70's.

The interviews with Siegfried Rauch and Louise Edind ("Erich Stahler" and "Anna Ritter" in the film) were interesting.  Rauch, who does not care about cars, remembers driving a Ferrari 512 at 180 m.p.h.--with terror.  McQueen demanded even more of his "real" drivers, and himself.  David Piper (who lost his right leg below the knee making LeMans) is mildly interesting, as are the cameo appearances some of the other drivers who made LeMans possible.  McQueen has the respect of some.  But I didn't get the impression that he had the affection of any.

To sum up, McQueen: The Man & LeMans is a kind of ego project about another ego project.  It's a fine thing that McQueen made the film.  The racing footage still holds up, both technically and aesthetically, in this era of high-def lipstick cameras and GoPros.  Cinematically, LeMans was decades ahead of its time.  It's still more enjoyable than most of the racing footage we see, and McQueen nailed the ambience of the LeMans 24 Hour Race.  This DVD is worth a watch every once in a while, especially as a companion/chaser to the film.

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