A recent celebration of the Steve McQueen classic “Le Mans” in Los Angeles brought out all the stars. DDC’s own Bond Girl was on hand to add lustre to the occasion and here she gives her take on the screening.
When the film “Le Mans” was released in 1971, I was barely driving. It was the era of the Saturday night date at the local drive-in theater. I saw “Le Mans” at the Starlight. Please rest assured that any exuberance exhibited while watching cars racing around a track in the French countryside existed purely for the benefit of the boyfriend of the moment. However, it wasn’t all feigned. There was that crush on Steve McQueen. As far as I was concerned, the King of Cool just embodied the sexy Hollywood superstar. So while a trip to the drive-in to see Le Mans was, for some, all about the racing footage, I just wanted to gaze up into those dazzling blue eyes. Talk about a passion pit.
In the racing world, however, it wasn’t just about McQueen’s taciturn Michael Delaney and those charismatic facial expressions. Beyond his craft, enthusiasts respected the man as a competent racer, making the role a realistic fit. For all that, the movie itself co-starred in pole position with the Circuit de la Sarthe. Considered by many to be the most influential racing film ever made, some forty years later, “Le Mans” enjoys an almost cult like following. From Delaney’s slate gray 911S, to the Heuer Monaco on his wrist, to the 917 in Gulf Colors, the film resonates.
Still, aside from McQueen, just who and what were we actually watching? For starters, actual footage from the 1970 24 Heures du Mans. Moving on from there, how about a supporting cast including the likes of Brian Redman and Jo Siffert to name just a few of the notables – piloting various Porsche 917’s and Ferrari 512’s. In addition to list of drivers named in the credits was a very young Jürgen Barth. When asked of his own role in the film, Barth replied, “I drove the 911 that caused the crash.” We were watching legends at work, no wonder it all appeared to be so authentic.
Voyeuristically, we screamed along the Mulsanne Straight in the rain, at night and in the home stretch. And that’s what makes the film more of a documentary, that insider’s perspective. At the time, a good percentage of us truly had no idea we were watching the real deal as we munched popcorn and steamed up the windows of our own rides.
Today, aside from in-home, Blu-Ray screenings, the chance to revisit “Le Mans” on the big screen is almost never going to happen. But the opportunity did arise recently, and what better venue than The Chinese Theater in LaLa Land? Hollywood is not only the land of the star, but playground to the luxurious, the fast, the cool, the expensive automobile. These attributes converged at the Turner Classic Movie Festival with Porsche Cars North America joining the celebration by hosting Club TCM, held at a venerable hotel. A pre-screening discussion presented two of racing’s own cool cats, Derek Bell and Vic Elford, on the dias, and rounding out the expertise was McQueen’s son, Chad. Each reminisced about a simpler time in racing, about McQueen and his driving, his personality and their own experiences during the filming of the movie.
Basking in the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, the approach to Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel revealed two Porsches positioned on their own crimson runner; a brand-new, bright yellow 991, and a black, completely original 1965 911. Needing no introductions, the pair stood in silent welcome as fans of the film and the marque arrived to revisit 1971 in the comfort of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater.
It may not have been the Starlight, but then again, I’ve been driving for a long time now.
Lizett Bond, May 2013
Photos courtesy of Lizett and scans courtesy of Michael Keyser, taken from my review of his book on the making of the movie