In the late 1960s, as both an actor and a race-car driver, Steve McQueen was pretty legit. In 1970, he sought to combine Hollywood and auto racing by making a film centered on LeMans, a 24-hour French race, using real drivers. This new documentary from Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna describes the six-month filming process of McQueen’s passion project, and gives the viewers a full picture of why the film became a critical and box-office bomb.
The doc uses interviews as well as ample footage from the production previously thought to be lost. The film explores McQueen’s conflicts with directors, studios and his own production partner. McQueen’s film focused on the cars and the drivers rather than a story, and production went for 10 weeks without a script. Clarke and McKenna do a good job interspersing the personal interviews with the racing footage and a great musical score to capture the drama and the tension that unfolded on set.
Two very important events happened in McQueen’s life around the time of LeMans’ production: the deterioration of his marriage and the fact that he was targeted for death by the Manson family. Both of these subjects are slightly addressed here, but neither serves to advance the documentary’s purpose. Perhaps they’re meant broaden the story and create a fuller picture of McQueen. But because neither is examined in any serious depth, they’re just distracting. In a way, it’s sort of the same problem that McQueen had with LeMans — the unnecessary addition of drama to a documentary.