Steve McQueen's 'Le Mans' is the greatest movie ever about racing
If you want to fully understand the Steve McQueen’s 1971 cult classic “Le Mans“ you must not think of it as a ordinary racing movie. In fact, it could be interpreted as race documentary but with a script and actors since every aspect of this movie (plot, actors, scenography…) is made to underline the dramatic and suspense of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
The basic plot is secondary to the race and on track battle between Gulf Porsche 917 and red Ferrari 512s. Even the dialogs are scarce, short and easily forgettable because they are not important. The main dialog is non-verbal and it is the sound of engines roaring down the Mulsanne Straight at full speed…
There was nobody who could make movie like this better than Steve McQueen. Acclaimed actor and racer he was the perfect person to connect the racing world with Hollywood production. However, since the script was too dry for most producers, McQueen struggled for support. Finaly, his own production company Solar Productions was involved which basically means that McQueen made this movie with his own money.
Preparations started in late 1969 and during the epic 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, McQueen’s Porsche 908 acted as camera car filming great amount of interesting footage which will be used for movie. When the word got out that McQueen is making a race movie, lots of drivers wanted to help and very soon there were famous racers Derek Bell and Jo Siffert, among others in the crew.
The period of making “Le Mans“ is the stuff of legends since everybody said that atmosphere on the set was very party like and the guys spend their time running around and racing each other.
However, English racer David Piper lost the leg in one accident on the set and received a special thanks “for his sacrifice” at the end of the movie. McQueen payed lot of attention on getting a right photography and sound and that is why “Le Mans“ still sounds and looks amazing.
After the premiere in 1971, general public was confused and critics did not like the movie. Steve McQueen’s name draw audience into the theaters but they did not get what they came for. Everybody expected another block buster story but they got an almost hermetical saga about one race which only few could understand. That is why “Le Mans“ was financial failure that almost sank Solar Productions and his career.
The movie was soon forgotten by mainstream audience as odd flick but it was remembered by hardcore racing fans. In the late nineties when Steve McQueen’s name and legacy become popular again, “Le Mans“ got re-released with long awaited critical acclaim and new younger audience which recognize the McQueen’s master piece of racing “cinema verite“. That is why this legendary movie is number one on our Top 10 list of best racing movies of all times.
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