Archive for May, 2016

Passion or Hubris

SteveMcQueen

Just try to find a list of top movie car chases without Steve McQueen’s legendary chase in Bullit near the top. He was a fine actor, but his true passion was auto racing, which culminated in him finally getting to make the movie of his dreams. In 1970, at the height of his career, he set out to make a “real” racing film, and used a real race in which to do it. A car fitted with a special camera (the first of its kind) drove in the actual 1970 Le Mans race – one of the most difficult and grueling races ever devised by man – while other cameras stationed around the course captured the live racing action. Steve himself had wanted to drive in the race, citing “authenticity” as the motivation, but the insurance company underwriting the film would not allow it. He had in fact just placed second to the legendary Mario Andretti in the 12 Hours of Sebring race a few weeks before (with a cast on his foot from a motorcycle accident). That car became the camera car for Le Mans.

He was a real racer. Imagine the intrigue of finally getting to make a major motion picture about it. He went for maximum authenticity. He wanted the film to tell the real story of what his love was all about. This would be the crowning jewel of his career, and arguably his life.

But it all went wrong. Production ran way over budget and time. Of course the scenes captured at the actual race weren’t sufficient to make a movie with a story, so months of additional filming ensued, and by most accounts the process had little to no direction. Steve wasn’t interested in much of a story beyond the race itself, for which his perfectionism in getting the details right drove the crew bonkers. Over 1 million feet of film was used as he tried to orchestrate complicated racing maneuvers at authentic race speeds on the track. Other costs mounted. A few severe driving accidents occurred, resulting in one race driver having a career ending leg amputation and another with burns on his face. He ended up getting divorced around that time. One of the biggest writers in Hollywood, who had worked on prior films with Steve, never worked again. The actress who costarred in the movie never worked again.

Everyone thought they were working on a theatrical release. Steve was making an authentic film about racing. He wanted to show what it was like rather than talk about it. He said, a racer can’t explain why he races, but he can show you. Eventually the financiers backing the production brought in a new director and relieved Steve of all control. The film was finished and released, still with very little dialog, and not much more than hints of a greater story or context beyond that one race. In later years it became a cult film due in large part to how accurately things were portrayed, but at the box office it was a failure, only partly being saved by the cachet of McQueen himself as the star.

His acting career continued, but people close to Steve say he was never the same after that. He seemed to lose his passion for driving and filmmaking. Like Icarus, he had flown too close to the sun and fallen. From that point he was going through the motions until dying of cancer in 1980. A cancer that in the ultimate twist of irony some say may have been caused by asbestos in the fire suits he wore as a race driver. He said in a recording that while the cancer may have been caused by those materials, he also felt he was ready to “let go.” Not sure if that means give up on life, or what, but it sounds ominous on the recording. It sort of reminds me of how when one spouse dies, the other is sometimes soon to follow, as if when a reason to live is taken away, the body may follow suit.

He lost his wife, his film and several friends. He may well have even lost himself.

Was this negative turning point in his life a result of passion or hubris? I suppose those can be two sides of the same coin in some ways. It would be hard to argue he hadn’t lost his objectivity as a filmmaker. But art works that way. The best stuff is inherently not objective. It’s passionate. Visionary. Did HE think the film was a failure? I speculate that the outside world’s interpretation of success had nothing to do with why he wanted to make that art. And lo and behold, it turns out that it has stood the test of time as the de facto standard against which all subsequent racing films have been measured.

What may look like hubris from one perspective, can in fact just be passion when viewed from another. And vice-versa. But when one’s passion starts to result in mounting costs for others, it may well be time for them to take stock and make tough decisions. In the end we all make our choices about how much we will endure, or how much pain we are willing to inflict to fulfill a promise or chase a dream. On either side of that coin these choices are ours. What will you put up with? What are you willing to do?

Steve made his film. It came at great cost to him and others, but he chased his dream and got something close. While there may have been some regrets surrounding it, he never had to face the regret of not having tried.

“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.”   – Steve McQueen

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No Wins; You Lose

AnvilClockManWoman

No inherently wins over yes. Take almost any group of people who weigh in on what to do. If the vote is split, “no” will win. Such a shame because most of the best stuff comes from yes.

Yes is nearly always a risk. A beautiful risk to thwart the status quo. To grow or add something.

No keeps us where we are, which is ironic because many who are most prone to saying no aren’t usually that happy with where they are. Coincidence?

No is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So is yes. Should you choose to take the risk of yes, or let no win? The comforting news is you can do either.



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