Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book review: "Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" by Don Nunley


Author: Don Nunley with Marshall Terrill
Publication Year: 2017
Pages: 256 pages
Publisher: Dalton Watson Fine Books

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" will be released on April 10 2017. If you wish to purchase this book, please do so through Amazon or Dalton Watson Fine Books.

Until recently, the 1970 Le Mans was considered to be nothing more than an enormous critical failure and overly self-indulgent passion project for it's car racing mad star, Steve McQueen. However, the film has taken on a new life in recent years with many considering it to be the most accurate depiction of the sport in cinema. It has become an overwhelming favourite among car lovers and racing fans.

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" is a twist on the typical "making of" film book, as told by the film's property manager, Don Nunley. Like the film itself, the book is nothing short of a gift for car racing enthusiasts with dozens of never before seen photographs and large focus on the 24 hour car race and it's legendary drivers. Yet, it has the ability to reach a larger audience with it's insider's glance into a Hollywood film that not only was a box office catastrophe, but was riddled with intense mayhem and deadly scandal.

Don Nunley is the perfect person to tell the story of Le Mans and it's production, as he was there to watch it all unfold. As property manager for the film, he was an integral part of the film and worked closely with director, Lee Katzin and executive producer, Robert Relyea, as well as had plenty to do with Steve McQueen. McQueen was fast approaching his mid-life crisis which was fuelled by the madness of the late '60's, his marriage of 15 years entering it's final curtain call and his fear of the Manson Family coming after him. What should have been a dream project for McQueen, became one which left him with a bitter taste in his mouth and a number of grudges against those who he believed deviously took the film out of his hands. With the burden of it's biggest star, the film was well into production by the time it even had a solid script or female co-star for McQueen. There were no celebratory wrap parties or fond farewells upon completion.....all involved were more than happy to quietly walk far away from the production. It would have seemed inconceivable that it would ever be fondly remembered or find the success in the future it now has.


"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" has the ability to make one feel as though they really were there on the set watching all the mayhem unravel. People love to hear all the scandalous details about the filming of great films, but Nunley expertly writes with such sincerity that it is clear he is writing to inform and not to sensationalize the film and it's cast. The in-depth look at the production side of the film together with the racing side makes it an extremely thorough, interesting read which appeals to a wide audience. Nunley's style of writing is not particularly casual, but is strong and perfectly easy to read. His descriptive style allows the reader to feel the tension in the making of the film and see in your mind these extraordinary images that the cast and crew experienced first hand on the set of the race itself and of the horrifying, deadly crashes. The extensive collection of stunning and intriguing photographs allow "Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" to be a book which can be enjoyably revisited over and over.

A word of warning....."Le Mans in the Review Mirror" does not paint Steve McQueen in the most favourable of ways. Devoted Steve McQueen fans out there will not deny that they will enjoy the behind the scenes look at one of his most famous films, but it can be understandably confronting and saddening to hear about one of your idols in such a way. However, it must be remembered that Nunley did know McQueen from previous productions and worked very closely with him on Le Mans so he is someone who knows first hand and also 57 years later has nothing to gain personally from printing these words against McQueen. However, it is definitely admirable how Nunley attempts to rationalize McQueen's behaviour and is quick to recognize the good things he did on set which were a true representation of his character. It would have been desirable to have other members of the Le Mans cast or crew to have quotes during the book to back up Nunley's observations, but considering the film was now made so years ago it is understandable that many of them including McQueen himself are no longer around.

However, the most incredible thing about Le Mans is that despite how terribly it was received at the time, it is today hailed as a classic among film and sport lovers alike and "Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" explains this phenomenon perfectly. It is not overly common, but also not unheard of for a film to change in regards to it's critical and public perception over time and Le Mans is one of these rare films. Through Nunley's book, we come to understand how and why this has happened. Despite the pains the crew went to to film as much footage of the actual race as they could, it no doubt captured the true essence of the race and the sport and then inserted it into a narrative. Upon release, crowds and critics would have been looking for a strong story that would allow McQueen to give another superstar performance. Instead, they were faced with a realistic and raw piece of film that is now considered a classic for this reason. It sparks imagination and inspiration for it's accurate representation and one comes to understand why people would feel this way by reading the book.

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" is a must have for not just any fan of the film itself, but also for any racing fan or car lover.

9/10


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