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  • Ravi Swami

"Steve McQueen - The Lost Movie", Dir: Alex Rodger, 2020

Call anything "The Lost Movie" and I'm instantly reeled in, which is why I took time out from past cinema classics to watch this 2020 documentary film that reveals a failed attempt by film legend Steve McQueen at mounting the ultimate motor racing film in 1965, ahead of John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix".

McQueen was mad about motor racing and cars and this passion took him to the U.K where he became aware early on of the great strides being made there in the sport in the late 50's and into the 60's, arguably the period when the sport really took off. With his reputation sealed at that point via a series of commercially successful films he could pursue an ambition to cover the sport in a way that had never been done before in a film, ie, without using the usual cinematic devices like actors driving in dummy vehicles in front of rear-projection screens and using stunt doubles - this would be the real thing or as close to real as the film technology of the time would allow.

Following extensive development, camera rigs were custom built to attach directly to the car chassis' resulting in never-before-seen footage from the POV of the drivers, who for the most part were actual motor racing stars like Jackie Stewart and Sterling Moss, who was also an advisor on the film.

Since the film was never completed and released, hence the "Lost Movie" in the title - killed off by Warner Brothers when Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix" pipped it to the post by a narrow margin - an irony considering the subjects of the two films - the existing filmed cinemascope footage is stunning to watch besides being in pristine condition having remained in film cans since the mid 1960's, and an era previously defined cinematically by monochrome, grain and narrow film formats, comes back to life in a spectacular way.

While I'm a big fan of "Grand Prix", the combination of "real" thrills and spills that use the same technical innovations as used in McQueen's film, bolted onto a conventional romance plot featuring sport and love rivals Yves Montand and James Garner, both pursuing a Golden Cup and love interest French "chanteuse" and 60's pop idol Françoise Hardy, McQueens film veers more toward being a drama documentary, with its feet and heart firmly planted in a love for the sport itself.

This may have been it's weakness from a commercial standpoint but of course we will never know. McQueen had to depart the project mid-stream to star in another film, during which he became ill, and by the time of his return, "Grand Prix" had been released to great and justifiable acclaim, and it wasn't until much later in the mid 1970's that he was able to revive the project in the form of "Le Mans", which similarly focused less on any peripheral fictional drama.

In the era of digital visual effects and high-worth actors it's unlikely that we'll see films like "Grand Prix" or McQueens intended film, though 2019's "Le Mans 66" came very close to conveying the reckless excitement of motor racing in the golden years of the 1960's - that "lost" footage though, makes the film all the more worthwhile in checking out whether you are a "petrol head" or not.

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