We know a lot about Steve McQueen by this point; great looking guy, appeared in several tent pole films, and succumbed to cancer far too early. But he was also a racing devotee of both motorcycles and cars, getting into racing discussions and occasional activities with co-star James Garner on the set of The Great Escape in the early ‘60s. McQueen wanted to eventually make a movie about racing (and eventually did make one about motorcycle racing with documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown with On Any Sunday). Garner beat him to the punch with the Monaco-set film Grand Prix, but McQueen eventually did one on Le Mans, which this documentary attempts to touch on.
Subtitled The Man & Le Mans, the film chronicles McQueen's attempt to make a film similar to Grand Prix, set during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Titled Le Mans, the film was a critical and popular disappointment when it was first released, and cost McQueen in terms of some money and reputation. The documentary's achievement, along with the interviews of many within the cast, along with McQueen family and friends, was the discovery of a wealth of film shot for Le Mans, and several audio interviews, a good deal of which was introduced into this documentary to the pleasant surprise of many.
Not having seen Le Mans and having a topical knowledge of the film itself, for someone appreciative of McQueen's stature as an actor and/or an icon, the struggles for him to get Le Mans made are fascinating. Plagued by production and financial issues, complicating McQueen's life was the deteriorating relationship to his first wife, and learning that he was a potential target for the Manson family (McQueen friends Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring were among those victims during the 1969 murders), the film helps show the desire for McQueen to realize his vision and passion, despite multiple issues. Le Mans has a sizable following almost a half century later, by people who admire the photography and authenticity in the film. McQueen did much of his driving in the film, and used multiple cameras to capture the thrill of the speed.
The Man & Le Mans interviews McQueen's oldest son Chad and first wife Niele, but also interviews many of the racers in the film who were impressed and pleasantly surprised with his abundance of knowledge of the sport. The film also provides some depth as to McQueen's love of racing, and shows him as part of a 12-hour endurance race in Florida, where he finished second while racing with a broken foot. So along with the story of the production, we get more of the man, using pre-existing audio and video interviews, including one early in the film that apparently was done in the final months of his life. He wanted to show the world why he liked racing, and was willing to risk most everything to do so.
Similar to in later years how Paul Newman became a fan of racing (which Adam Carolla illustrates well in Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman), The Man & Le Mans does a good job of not only showing the passion Steve McQueen had for racing, but the desire to convey it, using people that were just as, if not more familiar with the craft. He remained loyal to them long after production wrapped on Le Mans, and remained a fan of racing until his death, passing his love for it to Chad. Chad's love for racing, and Steve's film of Le Mans are just as vital to the McQueen legacy as his other work, and the film does well to explain it.The Disc:
The Man & Le Mans is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, but also uses 2.40:1 widescreen footage throughout the feature, and news reel on rare occasion for the Manson murders. The rediscovered film generally looks good with occasional image degradation inherent in the source (at least, as much as one has from being discovered in a New Jersey warehouse), colors are replicated nicely and there is little postproduction image enhancement to the film. With all the things going on in the film, it looks very nice.The Sound:
The Man & Le Mans gets a chance to show off the reving and roaring of numerous powerful car engines in its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with crashes and other dynamic noises possessing a dusting of low end fidelity. Interview footage is clean with no drop-offs and while directional effects and panning are nil, the channels do get a minor workout through the doc.Extras:
The one thing I wanted to do after watching Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans was to watch Le Mans to see how the sausage looked on the plate after seeing how it was made. Regardless of that desire, seeing the lengths McQueen had to go and where his mind was at the time of shooting the film is a fascinating look and serves as a worthy complement to the film that the documentary is examining. Technically the disc is fine and the lack of extras are disconcerting, but even if you haven't seen Le Mans, you should certainly see this.