Cool? No, He’s Just Abstract Thinking

November 7, 2010

Thirty years ago today Steven Terrence McQueen died.

McQueen was only 50.
He died one day after an operation to remove several metastatic tumors in his abdomen, the end result of a fight against mesothelioma.

An avid McQueen fan as a youngster — I even had a toy replica of John Randall’s featured armament, a 1892 44/40 center fire Winchester carbine he called “Mare’s Laig,” which was a mating of pistol and rifle — and enjoyed all his stuff, considering him, from “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” onward, to be my most favorite actor.
And my most favorite movie was early in his career, “Love With The Proper Stranger,” with my all-time, most-favorite actress, Natalie Wood, who happened to die less than a year after McQueen.
She drowned on my birthday.

(Illustration found here).

There’s currently an exhibition of unseen McQueen photos in London at the Movie Poster Art Gallery: Steve McQueen A Tribute to the King of Cool.

McQueen was by far the strongest element in the development of my multi-media-manufactured fantasy life, a subconscious-layered storyboard cultured by tons of darkened movie theaters starting from before any recollected early memory, escape scenarios created by images flickering on huge screens.
And, of course, later on, impressions and influences came from the small, flickering television screen — first time I saw “Love With A Proper Stranger” was on TV.
I lost my desire for film in the late 1970s, and McQueen by then had been nearly forgotten — I hadn’t paid any attention to him (or movies in general for a long stretch) until the spring of 1980 while in a supermarket check-out line and spied the cover of The National Enquirer, where a tabloided-sized head screamed: “Steve McQueen’s Heroic Battle Against Terminal Cancer.
And sure enough, the freakin’ sleazy-assed guys at the Enquirer had a good source because a few months later McQueen was dead.

During the last three decades, McQueen has had an up and down post-life life.
He was near-about completely ignored for a long time — no movie festivals or TV series, no nothing.
In the last few years, however, he’s been resurrected as the so-called “King of Cool,” an image of an image from long ago.
He was CGIed into a Ford Mustang commercial — view it here.
There was even a movie about his cool in relation to chick attraction, The Tao Of Steve, but cool was never a word I’d have used to describe him — Sean Connery was cool, David Niven.
McQueen to me was always the action thinker.
People who didn’t know, they thought he was cool — He was just trying to figure out shit.

McQueen was a mechanical tinkler and drove a lot of cars and motorcycles real fast.
In a grand display of action-thinking, McQueen and co-driver Peter Revson finished second in the Sebring 12-Hour Race, all the while McQueen’s foot was in a cast, broken in a motorcycle accident a couple of weeks earlier.
As a race driver, McQueen was action and thought, if one didn’t in certain circumstance, one could get killed.
And as an actor, he was more thinking than talking.
From a 2005 Slate review on the release of two McQueen movie box-sets (10 movies):

But much of it is the weird magic of Steve McQueen doing nothing much at all.
Norman Jewison said that McQueen was the only actor he ever worked with who liked to have lines taken away from him.
Filming a scene with Dustin Hoffman for Papillon, McQueen interrupted his co-star: “Less, man, less!”

He knew his thinking.
And, poor guy, he was a loser.
In most of his films he lost, either his life, or the girl, or something of himself.
The last frame in his most-viewed film, “Bullitt,” is of his gun and holster resting on a stair rail — depicting a cop’s dead-end horror of his job, it actually losing any social appeal.
He was nominated only once for an Academy Award, in 1966 as Best Actor in “The Sand Pebbles,” in which he died at the end, though he saved a group of people — sad in even his character’s last words: “I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?”
The theme of losing/lost is most prominent in “The Cincinnati Kid,” a lush, rolling look at card playing — the film is better McQueen with a terrific cast, including Edward G. Robinson and Ann-Margret (even has the most-wonderful Moms Mabley as a lounge singer) and a most-excellent period piece.
McQueen, once again has the win, but…

Cool is like a shitload of other stuff — its in the eye of the beholder.
McQueen in the end was just another guy.
From the New York Times on McQueen and his attempt to stay alive via unconventional, unorthodox cancer treatment: While McQueen may have fostered the growth of complementary medicine, his case is more notable for another reason. His desperate pursuit of a last-ditch therapy appeals to many cancer patients who have exhausted all other alternatives.
Yet we should remember that the real-life Steve McQueen did not triumph over adversity like one of his movie characters. Like other patients with terminal cancer, he just could not beat it.

In the end, I guess, McQueen was cool about dying.

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