Continuing on our ’70s theme, Steve McQueen’s effortless cool defined the decade, and his passion for racing combined with his success as a film star allowed him to work on his own personal cinematic tribute to automotive competition. A labour of love for him (and frustration for many others), the result was 1971’s epic Le Mans: one of the all time great racing films – up there with John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix from 1966. But whereas Grand Prix included a more traditional romantic plot and set of characters, Le Mans was brutally raw. McQueen’s main driver, Michael Delaney, says little during the entire film and nothing at all until 36 minutes in. Dialogue in general is scarce. He lets the cars do the talking.
The start scene is a case in point, and still sends shivers down my spine. You see the main cars: Porsche 917s, Ferrari 512s. You see the drivers and their preparations. McQueen almost caressing his steering wheel, officials unfurling flags, visors coming down… But you hear nothing. No sound at all.
Then as the clock ticks down you hear the staccato beat of a heart, increasing in tempo as 4pm approaches… Fingers flicker near starters, spectators crane forward for a better view… The heartbeat gets quicker, louder… And then the clock strikes 4pm, the flag drops and all hell is unleashed on track. It’s automotive perfection.
Watch this clip, then buy the film, sit back and revel in McQueen’s unbridled passion. It’s the kind of film that’s unlikely to ever be made again. Perhaps only Rush will come close?