A bit of rare, interesting and nostalgic news today, producing a nice offset to the usual current gut-wrenching events, has been announcement of a new documentary, “Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans,” which will apparently include tons of gut-wrenching footage from the actor’s watershed of a movie.
This yesterday from movie-trade publication, Variety: ‘The documentary, which Content Media will be selling in the Cannes Market, is described as “an extraordinary, moving, white-knuckle drive with one of the greatest movie stars of all time, and the film that almost destroyed him.”‘
And indeed, “Le Mans” (1971), is one incredible auto-racing movie, though, a commercial flop when released, it’s genuinely precision-geared in detail for real aficionados of motor sports.
(Illustration found here).
Especially if you’re old enough to remember an era, not only from the early 1970s, but before auto racing morphed into boredom. The movie displays probably the most-beautiful machine ever produced on-or-off the track, the Porsche 917 — which on film and in real life, won Le Mans as depicted, which showcased the 1970 event. McQueen ran a camera car — finished ninth overall — and used actual race footage interwoven into the fictional one to produce some amazing scenes. No CGI shit, either.
In this time-frame, I was a way-big fan of motor-racing, even of stock cars, the ’rounder-rounders,’ but it was European racing the ultimate of the sport — open-wheeled Formula One, and the Championship of Makes, which is exhibited in ‘Le Mans.’
However, if you’re not a fan, the movie can be way-boring. I saw it when first released in 1971, and many times at home, but my kids when growing up pretty-much hated it — viewed only when they weren’t around, or they would pitch a fit. My son, however, enjoyed it the first couple of times we saw it, after that, he also fit-pitched.
A good look at the new documentary, which supposedly screens at the Cannes Film Festival this weekend, came this morning at the UK’s Independent, and ‘Le Mans,’ which is described as ‘McQueen’s folie de grandeur.’
It had been claimed that well over a million feet of film were shot by McQueen and his team during the making of Le Mans.
There were issues with the storyline and script during production, and as they waited for these to be resolved, the film-makers kept shooting and shooting.
They were filming during the actual Le Mans race with multiple cameras – and seemingly with little thought as to how their hours and hours of footage were actually going to be incorporated into the movie.
“Some of our footage came from private family collections,” Clarke says, talking about the various sources they drew from for the film.
“Other footage had been recorded at the time. There was an on-set ‘making of’ documentary made by one of our contributors, John Klawitter…” They also unearthed a Swiss documentary, The Song of Le Mans, made during the shooting of Le Mans but never released. (This turned up in a Paris film vault.)
They also came across several hours of super 8mm home-movie footage shot by one of the drivers, Paul Blancpain, during the race.
An email came back saying that “hidden beneath a sound stage and covered in dust, we found between 400 and 600 boxes of film.”
Miraculously, the rushes had survived intact.
The first box the film-makers looked at contained material from the camera car.
“It was just inspiring to look at,” Clarke says. “McQueen wanted a camera car – a car that was racing in Le Mans and from which they could use the footage to put across the authenticity of the driver during the race.”
And it worked, but the movie way-didn’t — this could be a documentary about a pseudo-documentary on the Le Mans 24-hour race, which was McQueen’s historic moment of change.
Filming was horrid — one driver for the movie portion lost a leg in a crash; the project went way-over budget; script problems led to the original director, noted filmmaker, John Sturges (long-time Western guy, “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” including three with McQueen, “Never So Few,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “The Great Escape“) quitting production; and a host of other financial/artistic fuck-ups.
McQueen lost his ass — his production company folded, and his 15-year marriage to dancer Neile Adams also folded.
However, former top-notch, professional driver, Derek Bell, in a piece at Vanity Fair in 2009, said this of McQueen and motor racing:
It was apparent he would have happily been a race driver.
He enjoyed mixing with us on our “driver” level and I think the fact that I had no ambition to be an actor relaxed him considerably.
He was evidently used to avoiding aspiring actors who would try to upstage him, whereas we were very relaxed about the whole thing and he was in our world.
We developed a strong friendship during the shoot that resulted in our two families taking a small château together for the last few weeks of filming.
Apparently, this new McQueen/’Le Mans‘ doc might be worth a view, but I’ll most-likely wait for an appearance on Netflix…sad commentary on futuristic nostalgia.