"McQueen: The Man & Le Mans" Will Be Released In November
A new documentary about the creation of the classic Steve McQueen film Le Mans is scheduled for release this fall. It will feature interviews with the cast and crew, previously unreleased footage, and the true story behind the making of this epic movie.
Released in June of 1971, Le Mans was the culmination of a lifelong dream for McQueen, who managed to convince Hollywood bigwigs to shoot the film after a string of monumental successes, including Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Great Escape. “I’ve always wanted to shoot a motor racing picture because it’s always been something close to my heart, and I sometimes thought, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t do it.’ When something is close to you, you have a tendency to become too much of a perfectionist with it," he comments in the movie’s trailer.
Now, over 40 years later, Le Mans is considered one of the greatest racing films ever made. But when it first hit theaters, Le Mans was far from a success, both commercially and personally for McQueen. Audiences were left unimpressed, and McQueen saw a hefty toll taken against his confidence, financial security, friendships, and marriage.
“Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans is the story of obsession, betrayal and ultimate vindication. It is the story of how one of the most volatile, charismatic stars of his generation, who seemingly lost so much he held dear in the pursuit of his dream, nevertheless followed it to the end,” states the website.
Look for the documentary’s release in November. Updates are available at the film’s website here.
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Why it matters
There are quite a few fun car movies out there. Fast & Furious comes to mind – who can deny the appeal of endless explosions and skydiving on four wheels? But when it comes to gritty, hard-hitting realism, those of us with gasoline in our veins are thankfully getting more for the big screen. For example, there’s Senna, the 2011 film about the famed three-time Brazilian F1 champion. Or there’s the upcoming biopic Ferrari, starring Robert De Niro, about the famous Italian marque’s founding father. These are just two examples of gearhead-oriented goodness that go beyond the standard of 38-speed transmissions and two big bottles of Nawz (no offense, F&F, but there is a certain suspension of disbelief required when it comes to your franchise).
McQueen was known for performing many of his own motoring stunts, both on four wheels and two, and at one point he seriously considered a career as a pro racing driver.
McQueen, by contrast, couldn’t be more real. He was known for performing many of his own motoring stunts, both on four wheels and two, and at one point he seriously considered a career as a pro racing driver. In 1961, he had a stint in the British Touring Car Championship driving a BMC Mini at Brands Hatch, finishing third. In 1970, he competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 908/02, taking victory in his class despite having a left leg set in a cast from a motorcycle accident two weeks prior. He even barely missed taking overall victory by 23 seconds, losing to none other than Mario Andretti in a Ferrari 512S. McQueen also took part in numerous off-road motorcycle races, including the Baja 1000, Mint 400, and Elsinore Grand Prix.
"When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting,” he’s quoted as saying.
It’s that level of passion that McQueen brought to the creation of Le Mans. But to faithfully portray that kind of emotion and authenticity on film is not easy, no matter the subject. During the shoot, McQueen experienced numerous setbacks and difficulties, not the least of which was the lack of a definite script months into production. This added to tension on set, which was heightened due to McQueen’s paranoia over the appearance of his name on the Manson family’s “death list.” It’s reported that over a million feet of film was shot, making for a monumental editing task. The film’s original director, John Sturges, was eventually replaced by Lee Katzkin, and McQueen’s production company, Solar Productions, nearly went bankrupt.
Nevertheless, McQueen persevered, and we now have the genuine work of art Le Mans as the result of his efforts. “And I don’t think there is any race driver that could really tell you why he races, but I think he could probably show you,” McQueen is quoted as saying.
According to Hemmings, Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans uses a variety of interviews to tell the story of the making of Le Mans, including the perspectives of drivers Derek Bell, Jonathan Williams, and David Piper (Piper lost a portion of his leg in an on-set crash in a Porsche 917). McQueen’s son, Chad McQueen, also gives his take. During research, nearly 600 boxes of film were recovered from underneath an old sound stage in Los Angeles, and much of the unseen footage is shown in the doc.
If you’re a fan of McQueen or racing, this is a must-see. And if you’re reading this and have never seen Le Mans, stop what you’re doing and watch it. Seriously. Go watch it.