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“The Only Time Any Man Ever Looked Cool In A Cardigan”

By Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 27, 2008

Steve McQueen as Frank BullittNot to go all Pauline Kael on you, but “Bullitt” — the 1968 crime drama starring a Ford Mustang GT390 and some guy named Steve McQueen — is a fairly tedious bit of Aquarian cinema: the chicka-chicka-waah soundtrack, the inscrutable plot, the anaerobic dullness of every second that McQueen is off-camera.

“Bullitt” scrabbles to its minor footnote status in film history on two counts. The first: It marks the only time any man ever looked cool in a cardigan — McQueen should have gotten the academy’s knitwear award. The second is the movie’s remarkable seven-minute chase scene, with real cars (the Mustang and a black Dodge Charger), real drivers and real stunts, no special effects. The only blue screen in this movie is the perpetual scrim of cigarette smoke.

McQueen — who would have turned 78 this March — made some fine movies, and some of his movies have great car action in them, but rarely, if ever, do the two qualities overlap. McQueen’s magnum opus, “Le Mans,” is about as strange a movie as can be found. The dialogue, such as it is, could be transcribed onto an index card. The plot is somewhere between furtive and nonexistent. It’s like Samuel Beckett at 200 mph. And yet, it’s a completely captivating document about endurance racing at its most glamorous. If you know what a Porsche 917 or a Ferrari 512M is, then odds are “Le Mans” is one of your all-time favorite films. Only please, don’t sit next to me on a plane.

Personally and professionally, I try very hard to separate Steve McQueen the actor — who was never better than in “Papillon” — and McQueen the motorsports idol, the patron saint of petrol, the king of cool, the hero to millions of gray-heads lost in an automotive time warp. Give me a break. I have no doubt that McQueen was a very hip cat. He smoked weed. He drove a Jaguar SS. He absolutely rocked a black turtleneck in a way Tom Cruise could never hope to.

[ click to read full LA Times article ]

Posted on February 27, 2008 by Editor

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