Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Steve McQueen Blog-a-thon

The Steve McQueen Blog-a-thon has ended. Many thanks to the event's contributors. There's lots of great reading here. Enjoy!

Day 4

The Blob (1958)
By Doniphon - The Long Voyage Home
Steve stutters, making up nonsense, eventually trailing off and laughing. But as he looks at the officer his dying laugh becomes something else, and even as Steve the character sets out to tell the aw shucks officer he'll never do "it" again, Steve the icon practically sneers. Those (goddamn soulful) eyes look out, that vein in his forehead we know emerges, and he seems to say, "I don't deserve this." It becomes clear; McQueen the star was McQueen the star long before he ever was one, and he ain't going to be doing this bullshit forever.

Bullitt Points on Steve McQueen
By Jason Bellamy - The Cooler
I expressed most of my Steve McQueen thoughts in my two previous submissions to the Steve McQueen Blog-a-thon: the “5 for the Day” piece at The House Next Door and the video essay “Steve McQueen: King of the Close-Up.” But here are a few more ruminations and ramblings related to the King of Cool.

Le Mans
By Tony Dayoub - Cinema Viewfinder
What's amazing about Le Mans, a film which was branded as McQueen's Folly even as it was being made, is how well it still holds up today. Racing films always seem so full of cinematic potential, speed being the most attractive factor. Yet with rare exception does it ever pan out. I'm speaking strictly from a cinephilic perspective since I am not qualified to render even the most basic opinion about auto racing or even cars (so this is your opportunity to take me to task in the comments section if you have a stronger argument). But contemporary auto racing films like Days of Thunder (1990), Driven (2001), even Pixar's Cars (2006) seem to place a priority on artificially raising tension through camera placement; if one's point-of-view resides amongst the vehicles jockeying for position, then one should get the feel for what it's like to be a driver in one of these competitions. It's just a bunch of horseshit, if you ask me.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) - Part 2 - The River Battle Sequence
By Hokahey - Little Worlds
Especially during the 1960s, the heyday of the widescreen historical epic, battle scenes were everywhere. But this one stands out. I like how it uses extreme long shots to establish the setting and the situation the San Pablo is in, and when it comes to the battle, close-ups are used sparingly for dramatic effect, and loosely framed medium to long shots capture the hand-to-hand combat, making the action clearer, unlike the claustrophobic, in-your-face framing of much of the battle action in films these days.

Day 3

For Steve
By Jay C. - Funny Farm
There's always this discussion on what people are actors and what people are stars. I'm no movie critic and McQueen's acting skills can be debated maybe, I don't know, I live in Holland and I can't remember him getting any big awards like an Oscar or anything at the time. Not that it matters, to me he is the real meaning of the word actor, more so than the word star, although he was that too, a big one.

The Kid's Break
By Jamie Yates - Chicago Ex-Patriate
When notes or conversations arise about Steve McQueen's beginnings, the first two names that understandably come up are The Blob and the television show Wanted: Dead or Alive. Further fame would come with his more memorable roles in the 1960s and 1970s, but a little-discussed aspect of his start is his first teaming with John Sturges in 1959's Never So Few. Perhaps the fact that this film doesn't garner much attention is because it's a movie weighed down with limitations and a generally poor script.

The McQueen Persona, Part II: The Imprisoned Free Spirit (The Great Escape & Papillon)
By Steven Santos - The Fine Cut
In Part 1 of this series (see Day 1), I discussed the one aspect of the McQueen Persona, the Righteous Rebel, in two of his films, Bullitt and An Enemy of the People. I had admitted that both films were both rather flawed films that were elevated by McQueen's performances, but never quite pushed him as far enough in challenging that aspect of his persona. As we take a look at a different aspect of the McQueen Persona, The Imprisoned Free Spirit, not only are both films much stronger, one of which I consider a genuine classic, but they do quite an effective job at building McQueen's image while almost cutting him back down to size in a way that few parts designed for movie stars rarely do these days.

Seeing The Great Escape (1963)
By Hokahey - Little Worlds
I was 11 years old, living in San Mateo, California, in a suburban home that had a small backyard with a lawn and a wooden shack used as a garden shed. The shack had a door, windows with glass, and a concrete floor with a hole in it. My two brothers and I, along with a couple of neighbor kids, pulled away more pieces of concrete and started digging straight down. Then we tunneled out under the foundation and the front wall. Surreptitiously, we dispersed the dirt in the backyard garden beds, sometimes holding handfuls in our hands, walking through the garden, and dropping them as we walked. A neighbor friend made a wooden tray that we filled with dirt and placed over the mouth of the tunnel to conceal it. Our secrecy fooled the German “guard” who sometimes looked over us from the kitchen window over the sink. (Well, she was my mother – but she really was German.)

Day 2

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
By Adam Zanzie - Icebox Movies
Before Jewison came onboard, the end result was destined to be something completely different from what it is now. Peckinpah's original vision for The Cincinnati Kid was to shoot the film in black-and-white, and fill the story (in typical Peckinpah fashion) with visceral sequences of sex and violence. But Hollywood was not yet ready for Peckinpah's “fascists works of art” (as dubbed by Pauline Kael in her Straw Dogs review), and with Jewison replacing Peckinpah as director, Steve McQueen's next anti-heroic vehicle was about to become something more passive, less aggressive. Arguably, it ultimately became a better film.

Regarding The Getaway
By Steve Saragossi - The Screen Lounge
The Getaway is first and foremost an action thriller. That is what all concerned were endeavouring to produce and, on the basis of its box-office receipts and Steve McQueen’s return to the top of the superstar tree, they succeeded. But a closer examination of the text reveals subtleties not usually at work in such a genre-piece.

Day 1 - Essays:

5 for the Day: Steve McQueen
By Jason Bellamy - The House Next Door
McQueen's was a career that started too late — in 1958's The Blob, his first starring role on the big screen, the already-developing wrinkles in McQueen's forehead give away that he isn't the high schooler he's pretending to be — and that ended too soon. ... What follows here is a list of what I consider to be McQueen's five most essential performances.

The Getaway
By J.D. - Radiator Heaven
Steve McQueen brings his trademark cool and intensity to the role of Doc and is not afraid to play a relatively unlikable character. We don’t know what Doc was like before his prison stretch, only how he behaves once he gets out. McQueen plays him as someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I find it interesting that two of his strongest performances came from back-to-back Peckinpah films: Junior Bonner and The Getaway. The former featured a very nuanced, introspective performance from McQueen, while this one is all on the surface as he plays an irredeemable criminal.

The Getaway
By Bryce Wilson – Things That Don’t Suck
The Getaway’s a strange movie to write about, a star at the height of his iconoclasm, a director in full possession of his incendiary talent, scripted by another badass filmmaker I’m quite fond of, coming from what is arguably the greatest novel from the greatest hardboiled novelist of all time. It’s a movie I wouldn’t hesitate to call a classic. And yet on some level I can’t help but find it unfulfilling.

Junior Bonner (1972)
By Kevin J. Olson - Decisions at Sundown
McQueen exudes cool throughout the film as Bonner (sunglasses and a cowboy hat have never looked so good on someone), a man who has spent his best years on the rodeo circuit, immersed in the ways of the Old West, but now that he has returned home he sees modernism and the counter culture of America in the 70's starting to creep into his home. He's a dying breed, and much like the way Faulkner wrote about Modernism penetrating the old South in "The Bear," so too does Peckinpah seem enamored with this theme of things never being the same.

Le Mans (1971)
By Vuk Radic - SeeItWith.Me
Steve McQueen's vision was simple: Create the best, most realistic movie about motorsports ever made. It was a story that began years before filming took place during the summer of 1970, and its aftermath impacted McQueen for the rest of his life. Le Mans was a huge project; 20,000 props, 26 high-performance racing cars with 52 drivers from seven countries, along with 350,000 French-speaking extras. And no finished script. There were few lines, even for a McQueen film, and no intelligible structure. "Cars," he told everyone. "We film the fucking cars." And from the very inception of the idea it was riddled with problems.

McQueen, Gleason, and a Couple of Guys Who Had It Coming
By Bill R. - The Kind of Face You Hate
There are a couple of things that happen during this fight that are a bit hard to swallow, but they gain a certain level of verisimilitude due to the clumsy brutality of everything else. It's strange to watch this moody little comedy, and then find yourself smack in the middle of a terrific, bone-crunching beatdown -- these guys are pounding the shit out of each other, and it makes them tired.

The McQueen Persona, Part 1: The Righteous Rebel (Bullitt & An Enemy of the People)
By Steven Santos – The Fine Cut
I never considered Steve McQueen the greatest actor, as much as I considered him a great presence. One has to look at today's "movie stars" to truly appreciate what McQueen brought to movies that were, for the most part, mostly memorable due to him. He seemed to have a mature, been around the block quality even in his early thirties, while many present-day actors are more pretty and boyish even when some of them are approaching forty. He may have been considered too cool, and, by turn, too unemotional by some, but he still represents to me more how men really are or perhaps should be. Maybe, these days, pop psychology has infected male characterizations so much that I prefer some of the mystery that McQueen's opaque performance style offers.

Non-Expressionism: The Gift of Steve McQueen
By Greg - Cinema Styles
I started going to the movies in the seventies and Steve McQueen was one of the first stars I got to know in current releases. When I saw his last film in the theatre, The Hunter, on opening weekend no less, so excited was I to see it, I felt I knew him well. I didn't. Even though I loved movies like The Blob, The Great Escape, Bullitt, Papillon and, yes, The Hunter, mediocre as it may be, I didn't fully understand Steve McQueen as an actor. I liked him and his movies but never felt he was doing the job I thought others were doing when it came to big screen acting. I certainly didn't think he was bad, I just never gave him much thought as an actor overall. But then, very recently in fact, I had a revelation.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) - Part 1
By Hokahey - Little Worlds
McQueen well deserved his nomination for his portrayal of Holman. He creates a simple soul who just wants to be left alone. In one scene straight from the wonderful novel by Richard McKenna, Holman actually talks to the ship’s engine he loves to work with. When he first arrives on the boat, he lovingly adjusts valves, wipes pipes, and declares. “Hello, engine. I’m Jake Holman.” This might be the type of language that works in a novel but should probably be left out of the film version, but McQueen puts touching believability into his delivery and it works.

Steve McQueen, an acting racer or a racing actor? Whatever ... He loved cars
By Vuk Radic - SeeItWith.Me
Steve McQueen really did have it all. He was supposedly smoking insane amounts of marijuana every day, wasn’t a stranger to mounds of cocaine, he was married three times and died at 50. Which takes on an ironical twist to another racing quote of his: “Racing is the most exciting thing there is. But unlike drugs, you get high with dignity.”

Steve McQueen and the Evolution of the Action Hero
By Clarence Ewing – GLI Press
McQueen’s heyday was mainly in the 1960s and '70s and he had all the tools to succeed in the era of Technicolor – the looks, the screen presence, and the persona. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to declare that McQueen wasn’t the most spectacular thespian in the world, but neither were hundreds of other actors who came along before or after him. His screen presence was something that comes along a few times a decade, and his directors made full use of it.

Steve McQueen: King of the Close-Up (Video Essay)
By Jason Bellamy – The Cooler
Not quite 30 years removed from his death, McQueen tends to be remembered for his role in two of cinema’s most famous action sequences, in The Great Escape and Bullitt, and for his blazing blue eyes, his physical grace and his effortless swagger, which were the substance of several of his films. These were the ingredients that helped McQueen earn the honorary title “The King of Cool,” and rightfully so. But to come to the conclusion that McQueen’s success was simply the result of a handsome, athletic and naturally suave guy playing too-cool-for-school characters is to miss McQueen’s true cinematic gift: He was devastating in a close-up.

Day 1 - Photos:

Behind the Scenes With My Favorite Actors: Steve McQueen in Bullitt
By Jeremy Richey – Moon In The Gutter

Steve McQueen: 20 Never-Before-Seen Photos*
Photos by John Dominis - Life Magazine
(*Not technically a submission to the blog-a-thon, though LIFE was kind enough to email the link. Very cool!)

Steve McQueen's Women
By Vuk Radic - SeeItWith.Me

Steve McQueen Film Posters
By Vuk Radic - SeeItWith.Me

Steve McQueen's Cars
By Vuk Radic - SeeItWith.Me


The following isn’t an official contribution to the blog-a-thon, but it’s a wonderful place to start. Back in May 2009, Matt Zoller Seitz created the following video essay, which calls into question McQueen’s credentials as a leading man. If you’re a fan of McQueen, you might not agree with Seitz’s conclusion, but his arguments are almost impossible to refute. It's essential viewing.

Too Cool (Video Essay)
By Matt Zoller Seitz – L Magazine
This self-willed aura of confidence is the source of my own early admiration for McQueen. He was everything I wasn't — everything almost no one is; as much a cinematic demigod as Burt Lancaster, but humbler, more human scaled. Nevertheless, at some point second thoughts on McQueen took root in my mind and made it difficult to adore him uncritically, and made even his most acclaimed star turns feel unsatisfying. And at the risk of inviting a flood of angry email from dudes with subject headers along the lines of "Dear McQueen-hating pansy," I'll attempt to explain why.


Richard Bellamy said...

Looks like a great line up!
I have posted a review of The Sand Pebbles at Little Worlds as my first contribution to this great blogathon about one of my favorite film stars.

Unknown said...

Looks good so far! Here's my submission:

Craig said...

I'll probably just be a spectator here, having nothing to say about McQueen beyond the obvious. But the awesomeness of these posts is already enough to keep me busy reading. Great idea, Jason.

Greg said...

Jason, I have my post up at Cinema Styles here. Hope you like it.

bill r. said...

Wish I had time to do more, but here's what I got...

Vuk Radic said...

I was so excited when you announced the blog-a-thon. I was so excited, in fact, that I couldn't write about McQueen. And then I had to start working full time on my master thesis. So I had a day to come up with something. And now I'm kicking myself to sleep. Anyways, this is what i have now: two posts on McQueen and his racing life. One is a general one, and the other is on the production of Le Mans

i also put together three photo posts, just because I felt bad for not having more time to work on this

Also, unfortunately, I have to dump all of my posts on you at the same time, but I doubt I will have any extra time to write. The thesis draft is due Monday. There may be one more post hiding up my sleeve, but I'll see if I have time to write it.

Steve Saragossi said...

Great initiative, here's my meditation on The Getaway

Adam Zanzie said...

Jason, I'll be submitting a piece on The Cincinnati Kid (1965):

Can't wait to read what everybody's written!

Richard said...

I remember working at MGM studios back in I think it was 1979-80. I was walking through the lot one afternoon and I noticed a man walking in my direction. He had messy long hair and a rather unkempt long beard. Certainly not the type seen on the lot and he almost looked homeless, but there was something about the walk and as he got nearer I focused on those blue eyes and recognized the face of Steve McQueen under all that hair. I smiled and said "What a pleasure it is to meet you. You've really given me so much enjoyment over the years through your TV and film work." Even under that beard I saw that McQueen smile and he put his hand out and I shook it and he said "Thanks, nice to meet you too." And then continued on his way down the lane. I watch him walk away until he made a turn around a corner and out of sight. I knew I was very lucky just to have a few words with the man aptly named "The King of Cool" Steve was working on "An Enemy of the People" at the time.

Joanna said...

I think I'll join Craig here, and just be a spectator, because as he said, there's just the obvious to be said about Steve McQueen and I don't have as much talent as everyone else that has written here. But the idea is great, I'll stick around to see what's to be said next.

htales said...

Steve McQueen fans might enjoy this video slide show:

The Hollywood said...

We posted this tribute to the King of Cool yesterday:

Richard Bellamy said...

Jason - here's my contribution for Day 3: Seeing The Great Escape. May this great blogathon continue

James Yates said...

Hey Jason:

I just posted a write-up on Never So Few.

I've read a handful of the posts, and so far, they've been amazing. I'm going to get myself caught up this evening.

Richard Bellamy said...

Here's my final contribution to this wonderful sharing of Steve McQueen stuff: The Sand Pebbles - Part 2.

Doniphon said...

I've got a post up on The Blob on my blog.

Tony Dayoub said...


I'm on my cell, so I can't copy it here right now, but I sent a link to my blog-a-thon contribution to your email a little while ago.

The Film Doctor said...

Congratulations, Jason, for your success with this exemplary blog-at-thon.

And thanks for the link.

Jason Bellamy said...

FilmDr: Thanks for the compliment, which really goes to all this blog-a-thon's terrific contributions!

Many thanks to everyone who took part, and to all the readers. Throwing a party is only fun when people show up.

Jason Bellamy said...

** Shutting down comments on this post, due to annoying spam. **