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St. Steven of Le Mans:
The Man Who Just Didn’t Care

steve-mcqueen-the-man-and-le-mans5,471 words

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)
Directors: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Stars: Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, John Sturges, Alan Trustman, Lee H. Katzin,  Jonathan Williams, Peter Samuelson
102 min.

Le Mans (1971)
Director: Lee H. Katzin
Writer: Harry Kleiner 
Stars: Steve McQueen, Siegfried Rauch, Elga Andersen

“Though they may not always be handsome, men doomed to evil posses the manly virtues.” — Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal

Le Mans is a “racing movie,” and if that makes you want to run the other way — don’t. If this essay can’t convince you, then at least catch the documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, on Showtime or Amazon Video. If that still doesn’t convince you, you may be dead, or at least, have no soul.

Le Mans is a “racing movie” but this is no Tom Cruise “vehicle” with a pretty-boy romance to bring in the ladies like Days of Thunder. Nor is it a “white people are so stupid” “comedy” like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. And, as we’ll see, it certainly isn’t some thunderingly loud and visually disorienting CGI’d fantasy for nerds without driver’s licenses.

There’s been a lot of talk here at Counter-Currents about various writers’ personal history with various icons of masculinity, especially (given our times) the cinematic sort, especially in the realm of espionage.[1] In the latter context, names from the ’60s like Sean Connery or James Coburn seem to predominate.

For what I might call a slightly younger cohort within that generation, Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen (March 24, 1930 — November 7, 1980) would more likely come up; and yet, a search of the Counter-Currents website show he hasn’t here. Except, interestingly enough, in two contributions from myself: one, an epigraph quoted from a book under review, Paul Bingham’s Down Where the Devil Don’t Go:

Mort Schnellenhammer laughed. For the first time in his life, he felt like Steve McQueen.

And the other, a quote from McQueen, from the end of Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, no less, from my essay on Trump and Positive Thinking:

“I like daydreaming. You know that state before you get to sleep? Except in my life my daydreams came true.” — Steve McQueen, interview given while he was dying from lung cancer in 1980.

Now, I don’t want to get into any pissing contests here, but perhaps McQueen’s taciturn model of the quietly efficient doing of one’s job[2] with some inner amusement could serve as a more relevant, or accessible, role model than the wise-cracking, showboating Connery/Coburn?[3] You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

Frist, let’s get some perspective from, of course, Wikipedia:

Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen (March 24, 1930 — November 7, 1980) was an American actor. Called “The King of Cool,” his “anti-hero” persona, developed at the height of the counterculture of the 1960s, made him a top box-office draw of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. His other popular films include The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillon, as well as the all-star ensemble films The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Towering Inferno. In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world, although he did not act in films again for four years. McQueen was combative with directors and producers, but his popularity placed him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.

After an archetypically bad childhood,[4] McQueen left reform school to take up a rather archetypally masculinist life:

At 16 McQueen left Chino and returned to his mother, now living in Greenwich Village, New York. He then met two sailors from the Merchant Marine and volunteered to serve on a ship bound for the Dominican Republic. Once there he abandoned his new post, eventually being employed as a “towel boy” in a brothel. Afterwards McQueen made his way to Texas and drifted from job to job. He worked as an oil rigger, a trinket salesman in a carnival, and a lumberjack.

Ultimately — and again archetypally — the Marines seemed to straighten him out:

Initially he reverted to his prior rebelliousness and was demoted to private seven times. He took an unauthorized absence by failing to return after a weekend pass expired, staying with a girlfriend for two weeks until the shore patrol caught him. He resisted arrest and spent 41 days in the brig.

After this he resolved to focus his energies on self-improvement and embraced the Marines’ discipline. He saved the lives of five other Marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea. He was assigned to the honor guard, responsible for guarding then US President Harry Truman’s yacht. McQueen served until 1950 when he was honorably discharged. He later said he had enjoyed his time in the Marines.

As we just saw, the late ’60s he had managed to become “the King of Cool” and arguably the biggest males star in the world. Now there’s self-improvement!

There were two additional elements to McQueen’s success: his frequent director, John Sturges, and the interestingly named Alan Trustman, a successful lawyer who retired at 37 and decided to become a screenwriter. He first two were the iconic McQueen vehicles, The Thomas Crown Affair (written for Sean Connery but rewritten for McQueen; the 1989 remake would go to Pierce Brosnan) and Bullitt (written in 20 hours and grossing 68 million). With the first,

Trustman felt the script had to be rewritten for McQueen and spent a week of 16-hour days at United Artists in New York screening film on McQueen and making lists of what McQueen liked, didn’t like, did well, and could not do.[5] McQueen loved the rewrite, and told everyone “I don’t know how but the son of a bitch knows me.”

“Knows” or “created”? Let’s say Tribesman Trustman,[6] a clever middleman, was able to perceive the essence of McQueen’s persona and then distill it into a handy formula; a mantra for McQueen to recite before each scene, “no matter what the director says”:

I decide what is right and what is wrong, and I don’t have to explain it to anybody. I like women, but I’m a little afraid of them. If you make a commitment to a woman they can hurt you. I won’t pick a fight with you, but if you pick a fight with me or back me into a corner I will fucking kill you.[7]

There, see? Now there’s a mantra for the modern man. Worth a whole gigabyte of game blogs.[8]

They let me meet with him a few times so I could explain [compare?] the character to Humphrey Bogart, hard-bitten, not loquacious.[9] All the sentences had to be short, a character of internal integrity who’s not afraid of a fight . . .

McQueen understood the camera and understood that the camera loved him, and that’s an exceptional ability for an actor to have. Yes, he was consistent, but people loved that character. And it was very much like the real Steve McQueen.[10]

TCM recently had a double feature of Bullitt (1968) and Le Mans (1971). Although I’m a big fan of Bullitt,[11] I’ve seen it many times and did not mind not noticing it was on until it was almost over. Le Mans was the movie I wanted to catch for the first time, having seen the documentary Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans a few days before. However, for our purposes, if not TCM’s, it would be good to start with Bullitt.

The novel Mute Witness has an elaborate plot which, whatever its merits,[12] the film, (retitled for its McQueen character), like most successful films — much to the annoyance of Tolkien and comic book fan-boys — puts on the back burner or largely ignores, in favor of sound and vision.[13]

Much of the joy of watching Bullitt comes from what it captures: San Francisco in the 1960s, Steve McQueen when he was young, action sequences which are believable, and a sense of space and stillness. The dialogue is kept to a minimum, the acting is understated, we observe the characters from a distance. This contrasts with the films they make today which are too busy, with too much going on, too many special effects, unreal action sequences, and with characters who display too much attitude and sarcasm.[14] You can watch Bullitt 10 times and still find elements of the story you hadn’t noticed before, which usually provide some crucial insight into understanding the plot. Important aspects of the story are revealed in places you don’t expect, such as behind the opening credits and before the main characters are introduced. Understanding this film is an iterative process, a better detective story than the one embedded within the plot. It never gets boring.

“An iterative process” — In short, exactly the kind of movie ripe for our paranoiac-criticial method. But that will have to wait for another time. All the elements this blogger singles out for praise will be found in the much less appreciated Le Mans and (perhaps because) at an even higher level of intensity.[15]

And a trip to San Francisco in the late ’60s.[16] Like Clint Eastwood’s Carmel and Monterey,[17] this is still a world where “hip” means smooth, “white” West Coast jazz.

One audio-visual element left out in that appreciation — perhaps it goes without saying — is the famous, indeed iconic “car chase” through what a later TV show would call “the streets of San Francisco.”[18] At the time, for a long time after, and largely still today, it’s considered the Gold Standard for such sequences; especially since, of course, there’s no CGI. And Le Mans does the same for the “racing film”—upping the ante with 50 cars, twenty-four hours, and the greatest track in the world. And just as Bullitt pitted the two greatest street-legal cars — the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger — against each other,[19] so the latter film uses the greatest racing cars of all time, the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512S; and again, no CGI.[20]

All these elements would be carried forward into Le Mans, which is pretty interesting, since the only common elements are the time period and McQueen; and fast cars, of course. Otherwise, Le Mans jettisons plot altogether, other than the ready-made narrative provided by the 24 hours of the race.

First, back to McQueen. Inspired by the character he played in Thomas Crown, he had decided to parlay his acting cred into becoming something that really mattered: a filmmaker. He would no longer be “some candy-ass actor” but a mover and shaker. Filmmaking meant something, both as a massive industry and as a total art form.

“Film is a very important medium.”

Here, McQueen is on the same page as our own Trevor Lynch:

By integrating so many art forms, film can communicate more, and more deeply, to more people, than any single art form. . . . Second . . . movies are a force. They are the greatest tool ever invented for shaping people’s ideas and imaginations. In the right hands, they can be a force for good. In the wrong hands, they are a force for evil.[21]

As Lynch goes on to point out, films today are mostly a force for evil, since they views and values they embody and promote are those of the hostile Jewish elite. McQueen’s production company would promote — if only implicitly — the “cool” masculinity of the Aryan.

The name of his company would be, of course: Solar Productions.

There was another element — also implicitly White[22] — to be added as well: auto racing.

Maybe it’s being from Detroit, but I’ve never understood the loathing of NASCAR. Well, except I understand it as a status marker posing as cultural sophistication. This is Euro-style Grand Prix racing, not NASCAR, which really did have some cachet domestically at the time, but now I suppose unless it’s bike (or “cycle”) racing, it’s all the same.

As usual, you can tell it’s a status thing from the banality of the reasons offered. “They just drive in circles!” Sure, no talent required, like horse racing — the sport of kings! — Roman chariot races, and all those Negro track athletes. It’s like “Wrestling is fake!” Sure, unlike, say, a Hollywood movie.

Speaking of fake, McQueen’s racing was, like his acting, not an act. According to Wikipedia,

He began to earn money [in 1952] by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway and purchased the first of many motorcycles, a Harley-Davidson. He soon became an excellent racer, and went home each weekend with about $100 in winnings (equivalent to $900 in 2015).

When he had the opportunity to drive in a movie, he performed many of his own stunts, including some of the car chase in Bullitt and the motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. Although the jump over the fence in The Great Escape was done by Bud Ekins for insurance purposes, McQueen did have considerable screen time riding his 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. It was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen. At one point, using editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike.

By 1970, McQueen would drive the 12 hour Sebring race, actually finishing second, despite driving with a broken foot. As an interviewee puts it, “it took Mario Andretti and two Ferraris to beat him.”

“I am a driver, an actor, and a filmmaker”

McQueen was now perfectly positioned to draw on all three talents to produce a “racing film” that would be the greatest racing film, the greatest documentary, possibly the greatest film, ever made. Le Mans would combine the tycoon of Thomas Crown with the barely scripted hard driving of Bullitt.

The Guardian, of course, provides a perfect example of how a modern cultural cockroach would view this film and this documentary thereon, as well as McQueen himself:

A weird mood of solemnity settles like rain on this interesting, odd documentary about the petrol-head Hollywood star Steve McQueen and the film he took on in 1970 at the height of his celebrity prestige. It was to be a big budget movie about the Le Mans 24-hour auto race in which he would be producer-star: he wanted all the real thrills of the sport he loved.

It was soon horribly clear that this film was something between a vanity project and a midlife crisis. McQueen could never decide on a script or story, and the movie went wildly over budget as McQueen’s team of professional drivers risked their necks shooting hours and hours of ambient race footage.

Another type of documentary, with a little more ironic detachment, would have played up the hilarious tinseltown nightmare of McQueen’s Le Mans, and been much more candid about him being an egomaniacal pain. But not this film, which has the cooperation of McQueen’s family and so respectfully insists on how poignant and sad it all was. It could be that this documentary defeats your hopes for fun and interest in exactly the same way as the original film — which is, however, still admired in certain quarters for its almost wordless documentary realism. But it’s still an interesting study in how even the biggest movie stars can bump their heads on a career ceiling. Like Brando, McQueen was discontented with pretty-boy fame. He yearned for producer-power and producer-control, but finally had to settle for being the world’s biggest acting star instead.[23]

I honestly had to take a shower after reading that. My God, it’s all there, isn’t it? Racing fans are morons (“petrol head”). “Another type of documentary” — you know, a clever one — might salvage some “fun” by revealing the naked Emperor for laughs, but this this benighted one takes it all seriously. Oh, my goodness, can you believe it? Of course, I suppose it has its crude fans in “certain quarters,”[24] but you couldn’t pay me to visit those inbred, Bible-thumping shitholes of CIS culture.

Anyway, back to 1970.

Le Mans was supposed to be an unprecedented production, both a racing film — no one, all agreed, had really captured the sport on film — and at the same time a storyline of some sort. McQueen would tie the two together, starring in the story and driving in the race.

Things began to go to Hell almost immediately.

They began without a screenplay. Not without a completed screenplay — a not at all uncommon occurrence — but no screenplay at all.[25] Le Mans would be a kind of cinematic “nonfiction novel,” with the filmmakers as participants in the events, and the storyline emerging along with the race.[26]

The first blow was that the insurance chappies refused to let McQueen actually drive.

Director Sturges continued as he had started, filming everything he in sight, using both the race itself and staged sequences with stunt drivers. But he continued to press McQueen on coming up with a screenplay with a suitably “romantic” storyline, which McQueen refused to countenance.

Eventually Sturges quit the film — after most his footage prove unusable — with the classic parting remark, “I’m too old and too rich to put up with this shit.”

Next to go was Trustman. Despite “knowing” McQueen, the trusty screenwriter could not go along with McQueen’s idea of abandoning his macho image and playing a loser. In the doco, Trustman asks plaintively:

“He wanted to lose, and I don’t know why.”

We’ll get back to that. McQueen decided to jettison the story altogether, but eventually, the financiers (of course) moved in:

Cinema Centre considered shutting down the film completely, but eventually struck a deal with Steve in which he gave up his salary, his percentage of profits, and his control of the film, in order to “get it finished.”

The same old story: the Aryan creates, begins to succeed, and the financiers bring him down and take it over.[27]

The film got finished 2 months later than planned and 1.5 million over budget. One driver lost a leg during production, and Steve was nearly killed twice.

After Le Mans was released in the US, Steve went bankrupt, his main Solar partners left the company, and Solar as a ‘real’ production company had folded. Also, his marriage to Neile was collapsing.

Le Mans did make money (19 million at the Box Office), but Steve never saw a cent of it.[28]

Le Mans is surprisingly not a disaster itself, although it proved to be a disaster for all involved.[29]

I’ve frequently suggested that with Grade Z filmmakers like Edward D. Wood, Jr., Coleman Francis, and Merle Gould, the utter lack of conventional “talent” results in a kind of negative capability that allows, in Zen fashion, interesting things to “just happen.” Freed from Hollywood expectations (Sturges: there must be a romance; Trustman: he must be a hero), the films not only evade liberal agendas (Ed Wood, for example, was a pro-family, anti-smut Republican under his angora sweater) but are free to become remarkably accurate time capsules of the period (true cinéma vérité)[30] as well as be open to the arising of archetypal and Traditionalist motifs.[31]

The lack of a script isn’t B-movie incompetence, blockbuster no-brainer, or art house superciliousness. It allows the film to be a hypnotic meditation on racing, and is appropriate to McQueen’s no talk character. The ending avoids contrived Hollywood schmaltz AND hip nihilism romanticism (unlike Easy Rider, say).[32]

Some online comments from the review at wonderinthedark:

This film has fascinated me for years — not just its checkered production history, but its refusal to play it conventional in terms of narrative storytelling. The filmmakers understand that for this kind of film, visual storytelling is of paramount of performance –hence the surprisingly lack of dialogue and, at times, cinéma vérité approach. (JD)

[Le Mans only has] something resembling a plot. What plot there is is driven, (no pun intended), by the race, & the sketchily drawn characters are in turn driven entirely by the plot, & are never driving it, which is a microcosm of racing & real lit itself. The characters are sketchily drawn on purpose, as they are as incidental to the movie as the plot is, both being the framework to hang the images on that actually drive the movie.

The time capsule element is built right into the race documentary angle. The saturated color easily evokes the ’70s. The most notable element is the silence — except for the cars, of course. No ever-present Muzak as in today’s public spaces. No iPhones, iPods, etc. Drivers and crews talk directly to each other, over the car noise, no headphones or mikes.

As for narrative, Le Mans has the thinnest plot thread of any big-budget, supposedly “Hollywood” film I’ve ever encountered.[33] It’s called Le Mans because the race is the major component, one that simply goes on its own for 24 hours. Inserted into this is a woman (whose name I can’t be bothered to recall, so little does it or her matter) whose husband died at Le Mans the year before. McQueen is a driver who cracked up elsewhere, to avoid a hitchhiker in the road. Their eyes meet; they know each other’s backstory.

He says, “It must have been hard for you.”

She replies, “At first. But now I’m alright . . . Was it difficult to return to racing?”

If this was a “Hollywood” film this encounter would lead to a “romantic encounter” as per Sturges’s idea; I’ve seen online reviews that actual say there is one, so great is the Hollywood preconditioning. But McQueen is in charge now, and so it doesn’t. Eventually, near the end, they meet in a trailer, and a typically awkward male/female conversation occurs.[34]

“When people risk their lives, shouldn’t it be for something important? What’s so important about driving faster than anyone else?”

“A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing is important to men who do something well . . . When you’re racing, it’s life . . . Anything that happens before and after, it’s just waiting . . .”

Then McQueen goes out and finishes the race. The end.[35]

Here’s what I think is happening: the race, of course, is a Circle. The widow is returning to the scene of her husband’s death, McQueen, who unlike her husband crashed without dying, is returning to racing. By connecting with him, if he can finish the race without dying she will have broken the broken the chain of karma that would keep her returning again and again to the race (the circle of samsara). The vicious circle will become a virtuous spiral.[36]

Meanwhile, McQueen has concocted a brilliant subversion of the Hollywood Hero ending. McQueen’s character, Mike Delaney (oh, yeah, that’s the name, it hardly matters, it’s Steve McQueen!) also evades karma. He has crashed again, become hors de combat before talking to the widow. But the team manager does not trust his teammate to maintain the lead; he sends McQueen back in solely to stymie the Ferrari driven by his longtime rival and enable the other Porsche driver to win;[37] thus he acts without concern for the fruits of action, he “wins” without “winning.”[38]

Remember when Trustman (what a name!) asked plaintively: “He wanted to lose, and I don’t know why.”

Well, I’ll suggest that answer to that, or at least, call on Baron Evola to explain. The “differentiated man” (the man who stands out from the mass) that Ride the Tiger is a study of, and a manual for, faces the lack of initiatory tradition in the modern world by structuring his life as a series of tests or challenges, by which he confronts death, symbolic or otherwise, in order to discover and reaffirm (contra Heidegger) his connection to something Transcendent within.

The valid attitude toward the beyond is the same attitude that I proposed for life in general: that of a transcendental confidence, joined on one side by the “heroic” and “sacrificial” disposition (readiness to actively take oneself beyond oneself), or the other by one’s capacity to dominate his soul, impulses, and imagination: just as one who, in a difficult and risky situation does not lose control of himself, doing lucidly and without hesitation all that can be done . . . the disposition of being ready “to bear lethal blows on ones won being without being destroyed.”[39]

“The ‘heroic’ and ‘sacrificial’ disposition” would suggest McQueens’ subversion of the “winner” cliché in the climax of Le Mans. “One who, in a difficult and risky situation does not lose control of himself, doing lucidly and without hesitation all that can be done” — would be an excellent description of race driving, filmmaking along the lines of Le Mans, and life itself, lived along the lines of the King of Cool.

Le Mans manages to be a bravura celebration of technical mastery — of race driving and filmmaking — along the lines suggested by Ernst Jünger; combined with a proud non-mastery, a sovereign contempt, for the niceties of screenwriting and audience-catering to. As commenter “JD” says,

Y’know, one could argue that in some respects, McQueen is the auteur of this film. It was obviously a passion project for him, one that almost bankrupted him and that refused to compromise on, which resulted in an uncommercial film, but one that his vision represented his vision. He saw a beauty and sense of purity in racing — the whole man and machine thing where you’re not only racing against an opponent(s), but yourself in terms of mental and physical endurance, which I think LE MANS explores in fascinating ways.

Indeed, McQueen’s whole persona, the “man who didn’t give a shit,” suggests Baron Evola’s description of the true Aryan “race of spirit”:

It is not said that the realization that something is impermanent is eo ipso a motive for detachment from and renunciation of it. This depends on what we have elsewhere called the “race of the spirit.” . . . Only in those in whom this race [the ‘heroic” or Aryan] survives . . . can it arouse the reaction that follows from “No, I want no more of it,” from “This does not belong to me, I am not this, this is not my self.” The work, then, has one single justification, it must be done, that is to say, for the noble and heroic spirit, there is no alternative. Katam karaniyam, “that which has to be done has been done,” this is the universally recurring formula that refers to Ariya that have destroyed the asava and achieved awakening.[40]

Speaking of circles and repetitions, this blogger,[41] though writing in somewhat impenetrable Euro-cinema lingo, has uncovered a number of fascinating parallels between Le Mans and our old favorite, Kiss Me Deadly![42] Beginning with the beginning: both movies commence with our protagonist, name Michael (Delaney/Hammer), driving his expensive sports car (Porsche/Jag) at night on a country road, and swerving to avoid a female hitchhiker.

He even makes this remarkable claim:

It is, though, the other side of the camera we have to pay some attention to at this stage, because this vehicle has been discreetly outfitted (by somebody) with an unsuspected range of motion, which seals the deal. There was Katzin, and nominal screenwriter, Harry Kleiner — neither being, for all their Ivy League background, a force for the ages. What they did have, however, was an association with Robert Aldrich and a predisposition to attend to dramas where there is someone who must (like Kiss Me Deadly’s Mike Hammer) stand alone, for want of useful encouragement in the workplace and at home.

The blogger doesn’t spell out this “connection” but apparently,

Harvard-educated director Lee H. Katzin (1935–2002) was a protégé of filmmaker Robert Aldrich. Katzin’s official directorial debut was the Aldrich-produced melodrama Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice (1969); in truth, a year or so earlier he had helmed the disastrous The Phynx, which had an extremely limited release in 1970. His big-budget break came when he replaced John Sturges as director for Le Mans (1971); Katzin’s documentary approach in this film was at odds with his usual self-conscious, gimmicky visual style. The director’s TV credits include “Movie of the Week” fare like Along Came a Spider (1970) and Ordeal (1973), pilot films like Man From Atlantis (1977), and several episodes of the British sci-fi series Space: 1999 (1975–77). In 1988, Katzin directed The World Gone Wild, his first theatrical feature in years.

That list of credits certainly puts Katzin in the B director league. The pro-McQueen doco presents Katzin as a nobody and never-was, forced on McQueen by the terms of his settlement with Cinema Center but totally dominated by McQueen, (after Katzin called for a second take on his first scene, McQueen told him that “I’ll say when we need a fucking second take”), but the Aldrich connection[43] may have been just the alchemical element McQueen needed to finally produce some kind of script that would synthesize a film out of hours of race footage:

The scenario McQueen had favored, for all its paucity of this-planet enthusiasms, did relate to the loneliness of a top-flight Grand-Prix celebrity, constantly exposed to nature-inflecting, life-changing motions. So between them, this unholy trinity did something that, if ever known, would break many hearts in the driving fraternity and render Le Mans even less marketable than generally understood. A storm-tossed voyage, no doubt; but notably having had its moment of brief, powerful (though unnoticed) buoyancy.

I suppose it should come as no surprise, then, that the ridiculously rare and expensive book on the making of Le Mans is called A French Kiss with Death.[44]

There’s a Blu-Ray of Le Mans that you should buy.[45] The doco is quite good, and you should either buy it or rent it from Amazon or catch it on Showtime currently. It’s masterfully cobbled together from archival footage, including never before heard audio from McQueen, new interviews with survivors, and incredible amounts of film footage shot in, around, and for the production, which had been presumed lost.

The McQueen audio, which includes many great lines, such as the daydreaming one quoted earlier, seems to have been recorded while the actor was dying prematurely of lung cancer. They are captioned as “Mexico,” and I recall that McQueen, like Steve Jobs much later, was much in the news as a celebrity pursing an “alternative” cancer treatment; in his case, laetrile, a derivative of apricot pits that was banned in the USA but available down south. The filmmakers don’t mention this, but instead insinuate that the disease was caused by the flame-retardant clothing he wore at Sebring and Le Mans. As a reviewer notes:

One thing I took issue with was a prominently placed assertion that the asbestos caused cancer may have come from the flame proof driving suits. If that were the case, we would have likely seen this as a trend with drivers from that era. This was a sensational and reckless comment which ignored the fact that McQueen was in the Merchant Marine prior to acting and that the ships boilers and piping were wrapped in asbestos. This was the likely source of his issue as there are a number of former sailors and shipyard workers who had suffered from asbestosis.

I’ve seen this sort of asbestos panic before, from tenants forced to leave all their belongings behind when evacuated from damaged buildings (and subsequently looted) to all these “home improvement” and “flipping” shows, even the restaurant rebuilding ones; asbestos is treated like plutonium, killing on contact rather than needing to build up over the years. This, like the similar panic over “secondhand smoke” (laws in NYC address the issue of smoke penetrating condo walls 80 stories away) seems part of the ongoing infantilization of the public, which I’m sure McQueen would sneer at.[46]

As would McQueen’s son, Chad, who went along to Le Mans and returns there 40 years later. In between, he followed his father’s racing lead, eventually breaking about every bone in his body, including a vaguely mumbled injury that apparently requires him to wear sunglasses when facing the camera (otherwise being the spitting image of his old man). He provides detail on what it was like to be at Le Mans with your dad driving, and reads pithy excerpts from his father’s documents with gusto, such as this from a preliminary briefing for the cast and crew:

[Grand Prix] is a prime example of a director playing with himself in public. . . . OK gentlemen, battle stations!

Less useful are interviews with McQueen’s widow, who (one is tempted to say “of course”) is still around to complain about his infidelity and, no doubt, collect hefty residual checks. She’s also part of a half-hearted attempt by the documentarians to link McQueen’s lofty “don’t give a shit” mentality to the “liberation” movements of the ’60s.[47] Of course, no one could be less of a hippie than McQueen, except perhaps Frank Bullitt’s contemporary San Francisco cop, Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callaghan.[48]

The most annoying aspect is the captions or subtitles, which are absurdly and unnecessarily small, making them almost unreadable on the small screen, at least for those of us old enough to remember the phenomenon of Steve McQueen.

One final repetition, uncommented on in the doco or online as far as I can tell: at Sebring, the almost-winning McQueen greets the cheering crowds (his almost-victory and Hollywood fame eclipsing the actual winners) with the fashionable ’60s “peace sign.” At the end of Le Mans, the almost winning Michael/McQueen gives his rival, and the audience, the European “two-finger salute.” Like so many outsider directors, in the final analysis, he really just didn’t care;[49] and we are all the better for it.


[1] See, for example, Jef Costello’s new collection, The Importance of James Bond (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2016).

[2] In the words of the Buddha, Katam karaniyam, “that which has to be done has been done,” a phrase that will acquire pertinacity here soon.

[3] Steve McQueen, it’s been said, is the only man who could make wearing a turtleneck look cool; Coburn barely succeeds at that. As for Bond, am I the only one who thinks Daniel Craig, as he emerges from the end of the Casino Royale titles, is channeling McQueen? In fact, according to Wikipedia, “Spy novelist Jeremy Duns revealed that Steve McQueen was considered for the lead role in a film adaptation of The Diamond Smugglers, written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming; McQueen would play John Blaize, a secret agent gone undercover to infiltrate a diamond-smuggling ring in South Africa. There were complications with the project which was eventually shelved, although a 1964 screenplay does exist.”

[4] McQueen was dyslexic and partially deaf; he alternated between street crime and parental beatings. “McQueen was caught stealing hubcaps by police, who handed him over to his stepfather, who beat him severely, ending the fight by throwing McQueen down a flight of stairs. McQueen looked up at his stepfather and said, ‘You lay your stinkin’ hands on me again and I swear, I’ll kill ya.’”

[5] “Director Steven Spielberg said McQueen was his first choice for the character of Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to Spielberg, in a documentary on the Close Encounters DVD, Spielberg met him at a bar, where McQueen drank beer after beer. Before leaving, McQueen told Spielberg that he could not accept the role because he was unable to cry on cue. Spielberg offered to take the crying scene out of the story, but McQueen demurred, saying that it was the best scene in the script. The role eventually went to Richard Dreyfuss. (Wikipedia).”

[6] “I’m a nice Jewish boy from Boston.” “‘Thomas Crown Affair’ screenwriter Alan Trustman talks films, working with Steve McQueen” by Mike Jaccarino; NY Daily News, August 28, 2011, here.

[7] As his son, Chad, says later in the documentary, regarding his suborn insistence on making Le Mans his way: “He didn’t give a shit, you know? If there was a fight he wouldn’t turn away.”

[8] So much for Judaic “method” acting nonsense. Not that he was “ignorant” of the Method. According to Wikipedia, “In 1952, with financial assistance provided by the G.I. Bill, McQueen began studying acting in New York at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. Purportedly, the future “King of Cool” delivered his first dialogue on a theatre stage in a 1952 play produced by Yiddish theatre star Molly Picon. McQueen’s character spoke one brief line: “Alts iz farloyrn.” (“All is lost.”). During this time, he also studied acting with Stella Adler.”

[9] See my review, “Humphrey Bogart: Man Among the Cockroaches,” reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

[10] Joccarino, op. cit.

[11] “BULLITT” is a trademark of Warner Bros./Chad & T. McQueen Testament Trust, used here for review purposes only. In other words, “Don’t fuck with Steve McQueen.”

[12] “[At some point in the ’60s] Penguin began to publish anything, and an orange spine ceased to be an indicator of quality. I’ve yet to establish exactly when the change occurred, but this book provides an upper bound. Simply put, this book has no merit whatsoever. It is just a story; pulp fiction. The characters are not believable, their conversations are inane, it tells us nothing new about the world it describes, and the author has no observations to make on life. There are no lessons here. This book gives the reader nothing but a way to pass some time. It is what Graham Greene would have described as ‘an entertainment’, but even that description would be generous. The book has a single saving grace in that it was the source of the film Bullitt, which is an amazing film, but one in which the plot is very difficult to follow.” A Penguin a Week blog, “Penguin no. 2999: Bullitt (Mute Witness) by Robert L. Pike,” here.

[13] As a minor character recaps his movements in The Dead Talk Back, Crow T. Robot bursts out with “We could use a flashback here, this is a motion picture!” See my “Essential Films … & Others, here.

[14] One might contrast Aryan and Judaic movie styles here.

[15] Although I have to admit that I can’t claim you can watch it “10 times and still find elements of the story you hadn’t noticed before, which usually provide some crucial insight into understanding the plot,” as I haven’t had the chance to do that.

[16] Check out the somewhat frighteningly detailed assembly of “Bullitt Locations” here.

[17] As in Play Misty for Me (1971, same year as Le Mans) where Clint plays a hip DJ; a radio DJ, who hopes to break into the big time San Fran market; he also, like Bullitt, has a suitably quiet and in the background girl friend.

[18] “The famous car chase features a wild drive through several picturesque parts of San Francisco. The chase was filmed in a variety of disparate locations and there is little continuity. It took two weeks to film the chase, not surprising since the locations are spread out over a considerable part of the city. The lack of continuity is due to the logistics of filming in a working city. There are several basic locations from which the film crew operated and many shots were filmed at locations close to these areas. For example San Francisco General Hospital is close to the chase scenes filmed around 20th Street, Kansas Street, and Rhode Island Street, while Russian Hill served as the base for many of the chase scenes, with the Marina District only a short distance away. The chase continues west toward the Golden Gate Bridge on Marina Boulevard. According to several printed sources, the chase was supposed to continue across the Golden Gate Bridge but the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District refused permission since even in 1968 it would have created a traffic nightmare, so the chase picks up again on University Street, which is all the way across the city to the south.” “Bullitt Locations,” ibid.

[19] “The production company used two Mustangs and two Dodge Chargers to film the chase scenes. The Highland Green Mustangs had 390 cubic inch engines, while the Chargers had 440 cubic inch engines. The Chargers were 4-speeds, as were the Mustangs. The Dodge Charger was driven by Bill Hickman, who also played one of the hitmen in the film. The Winchester shotgun-toting hitman was played by Paul Genge. The Mustangs were driven by Bud Ekins, Carey Loftin, and McQueen. The camera car, built upon a Corvette chassis, was driven by Pat Houstis.” “Bullitt Locations,” ibid. Note that McQueen did (some) of his own driving; he’d do the same in Le Mans.

[20] “Sadly, this is probably the last of the true racing movies. The world today is impossible to make a movie out of real racing car (every single race car in Le Mans is real: the Porsche 917, the Ferrari 512S, the Lola T70. Driven uses mock CART car based on Indy Light, plus a whole lot of crappy CGI car, Grand Prix uses the F2 car that looks like the F1 at the time. A movie like Le Mans probably will never be made again.” Reviewer at IMDB.

[21] See “Why I Write,” here and as the Introduction to Trevor Lynch’s White Nationalist Guide to the Movies (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

[22] Le Mans is a blessedly White film, as is appropriate to a film largely made as a documentary. I can’t definitely account for the crowds, but the only black face to appear is an actor, right near the end, playing a reporter; true to both characteristics, he’s an asshat.

[23] Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Thursday 19 November 2015, here.

[24] Inhabited by fans like this one: “Steve McQueen, & Le Mans – SCREAMS Alcohol, Tobacco, Drugs, Women, Violence, Man Cave . . . !” (posted at IMDB).

[25] Take that, you French New Wave pussies!

[26] Somewhat in the manner of the way Hunter S. Thompson’s coverage of the Mint 400 motorcycle race the next year eventually produced Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. MarkM comments: “I’ve always seen this movie as a sort of fictional documentary, as though the scripted scenes are of course staged & filmed, the feel of it is akin to watching a documentary on the race itself, albeit with fictional protagonists & something resembling a plot.”

[27] See, for instance, my “This Ain’t Funny — This is Genocide! The Rise & Fall of the National Lampoon,” here, and “From Ultrasuede to Limelight: Aryan Entrepreneurs in the Dark Age,” reprinted in Green Nazis in Space! (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).

[28] The doco reveals that McQueen asked Cinema Centre to earmark a share of the profits for the injured driver, Dave Piper, but he never got anything and in fact never knew, until now, of McQueen’s gesture.

[29] McQueen’s career never really recovered, and he died of lung cancer in 1980. Trustman, for example, says he went from the biggest writer in Hollywood to a complete unknown — “the phone stopped ringing” — after quitting the film. We’ll look at the significance of winning by not winning in a bit.

[30] As the three homicidal hobos of Red Zone Cuba struggle to raise the top of their stolen convertible, Crow T. Robot exclaims, “Your everyday annoyances should not be filmed!” (MST3k, Episode 619).

[31] See my essays “Getting Wood: Closely Watching the Cinematic Alchemy of Edward D. Wood, Jr.”, here; “From Bozo to Bertolucci: How Not to Watch the Films of Ed Wood, Jr.”, here; and “Essential Films … & Others,” here.

[32] Even Rocky had to come back and win in Rocky II.

[33] It’s not intended to be an “experimental” or even “art” film, but as I’m insisting, it subtlely winds up as wildly innovative and unique. I suppose we should be glad that McQueen was restrained enough not to go full Warhol and offer us a 24 hour film.

[34] “This checkmate has forced him to devise a better response, a response his face and body reveal to be peculiarly agonizing, his being a pronouncedly (and necessarily) laconic take upon dynamics. Barely audible, he takes a stab at conveying the nub of his involvement with fast cars.” Wonderinthedark, op. cit.

[35] There also an even slimmer subplot of the second driver who’s thinking of retiring, but no one, including McQueen, cares about this plot.

[36] Needless to say, all this recalls the theme song from The Thomas Crown Affair, “The Windmills of your Mind,” a classic bit of ’60s Euro-Pop that at first may sound like meaningless EuroPop: “Like a circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel. Never ending or beginning, on an ever-spinning reel.” The song is by Michel Legrande, who would also score Le Mans, although, like all the others his contributions — merely some atmospheric “cool jazz” that prefigures ambient music — are muted almost to nothing in McQueen’s single-minded pursuit of The Race Itself.

[37] An interesting combination of such macho clichés as “taking one for the team” and “cock-blocking.”

[38] “So, you lost. But by admitting you lost, you won. That’s some Zen shit, there.” World’s Dumbest Brawlers 12 (TruTV, 2012).

[39] Ride the Tiger, p. 221. It’s interesting to imagine Evola as a Gran Prix driver; Ferrari or Porsche, do you think? In his own case, it was “mountain climbing at high altitudes” that allowed him to “seek dangers as a tacit way to put fate to the test.” See his Meditations on the Peaks (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1998) and also his autobiography, The Path of Cinnabar (London: Arktos, 2009), pp. 183–84, where he also discusses the “rumour” that his crippling injury in wartime Vienna was a result of a similar “testing” of fate.

[40] The Doctrine of Awakening, “The Determination of the Vocations” (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1996), p. 77). It should be noted that of the various psychological types or “races of the spirit” that Evola delineates, McQueen also shades into the “Nietzschean” who embraces impermanence in a spirit of amor fati. Asked by the interviewer “Would you do it all over again” he replies “Absolutely.”

[41] “‘When people risk their lives, shouldn’t it be for something important?’: STEVE McQUEEN AND LEE KATZIN’S LE MANS; May 15, 2013 by wondersinthedark, here.

[42] See my essay “Mike Hammer, Occult Dick: Kiss Me Deadly as Lovecraftian Tale” in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

[43] In my cited essay, I emphasize the accidental emergence of Traditional themes when directors and screenwriters are not paying attention — i.e., consciously inflicting their liberal/modernist agendas.

[44] A French Kiss with Death: The Story of Steve McQueen and LeMans by Michael Keyser. From the apocalyptic climax of KMD: Lily Carver: “Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar’s kiss that says I love you, and means something else.” Cue, like Le Mans, explosion and flames. Neither Mike ever really connects, Hollywood style, with his femme fatale.

[45] For those who care, here’s a technical review from DVD Verdict: “The sheer joy of watching Le Mans is amped up considerably by the stupendous high definition transfer on this Blu-ray. The 1080p MPEG-4/AVC image offers sharp detail, superb depth, and perfect color reproduction. Print damage is minimal, as is any digital manipulation of the image. Audio is presented in a room-shaking DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround expansion of the original analog monaural track. Dialogue is a bit flat at times, but the sounds of the race are surprisingly full-bodied and dynamic given the limited source. Purists can rest assured that a single-channel DTS-HD Master Audio presentation of the original audio is also available, as well as uncompressed dubs in French, German, and Spanish. In fact, most of the space on Le Mans’ dual-layered platter is consumed by superb audio options. There are also 10 optional subtitle tracks. In addition to the feature, the disc offers a surprisingly substantive retrospective making-of documentary called Filming at Speed: The Making of the Movie Le Mans. The piece is hosted by McQueen’s son, Chad, and includes contributions from Katzin. There’s also a trailer for the movie.”

[46] No comments are made about David Piper, the stunt driver who lost a leg below the knee, and was known as “the Pirate” due to his ever-present pipe smoking. He looks almost unchanged today, pipe and all.

[47] The two themes collide when we learn that McQueen was to have attended the Hollywood party that was the target of the Manson Family murders; instead, he met some chick and had better things to do. Interestingly, one of the victims was Jay Sebring.

[48] Bullitt adds the cool jazz and easy sex of Play Misty for Me to Dirty Harry’s Callaghan. What Tarantino might call “The Jessica Walter Problem” illustrates McQueen’s mantra, both the danger of casual involvement with even the most seemingly accommodating women and the willingness, if pushed, to fucking kill you.

[49] A trope, coined by MST3k, defined as “A strange combination of the lack of money, time, expertise, enthusiasm, and simple talent sabotages the production. This is when the production values of a work are just so far below what should be expected that you can’t help but figure that They Just Didn’t Care.” For example: “I see the movie has finally thrown up its hands and said, ‘I just don’t know!’”— Tom Servo, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Episode 619, Red Zone Cuba.


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  1. Gunnar von Cowtown
    Posted April 14, 2016 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    James J. O’Meara + Steve McQueen + 5,000 words + multiple MST3K references and no mention of The Blob (1958)????? Is this your idea of an April fools joke?

    Outstanding analysis as always. Nobody reviews quite like you.

  2. Glen
    Posted April 11, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Did you know that Steve McQueen appears in the documentary On Any Sunday?

  3. Sam
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for recommending this documentary, Mr. O’Meara. Just watched it, and was really impressed.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted April 12, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      You’re welcome! It’s highly recommended, both for the subject and the skill in making it.

  4. Peter Quint
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    My favorite actor! Oh, and by the way. “The Sand Pebbles” is a white nationalist movie, and should be watched by all white nationalists. The ship, “Sand Pebbles” has to go upriver on a desperate mission to save a stupid white christian cleric (WCC), and his beautiful daughter from communists. The WCC is fortunately shot by his communist captors immediately after he tells his rescuers that they are not welcome there. The final scene where Steve McQueen is running around a temple trying to make the communists believe that there are more soldiers there than just himself is important; as well as the last scene where two sailors escaping with Candice Bergen (the last white woman) should give every white nationalist, “food for thought.” The scenes where Steve McQueen arrives at his new assignment and is disturbed at the discovery that the “Sand Pebbles,” is infested with Chinese coolies is also very important; Steve McQueen is the only one who can recognize the danger in this situation. The final scene where McQueen is running around the temple yelling, “What happened; What happened?” is moving. McQueen is a tragic figure who admittedly spent years trying to get reassigned back to China; McQueen desired the environment where sexual, and alcoholic, debauchery with Chinese whores was so cheap and readily available. An important film, especially the story line where the WCC’s, stupid actions gets a lot of white men killed; we see the same thing in “Zulu” where the WCC gets drunk, and immediately tries to demoralize the British troops, and make them flee.

  5. Lucian Lafayette
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I find myself having to “sell” McQueen films to younger friends and my own children. This may be a good thing as it requires me to watch them again and think about the film.

    Bullitt is one of the first police “ride along” movies. Whenever possible, you are the cameraman just off to one side of Frank Bullitt, chasing him through San Francisco for one weekend. You’re not always close enough to hear what he’s saying. Sometimes, you don’t get the best view of what’s going on. And at the end of the weekend, you don’t have all the answers. All the little details are not tied up but Frank doesn’t care. His part of the story is done so he washes his face and get on with life.

    Le Mans was presented to my son as an example of an adult man doing what is best for the group even when it doesn’t bring penultimate, personal glory to him. It is a powerful example of how not to give in to the juvenile, self indulgent part of human nature that dominates the behavior of the lib/prog and some of the alt-right

    Know the right thing to do and quietly get on with doing it.

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