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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

New on Video: Retro-Machismo in I Am Steve McQueen

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 11:30 AM


For most people these days, the name "Steve McQueen" refers to the British-born, Oscar-winning director of 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, and as well it should. For some, it's also the (incorrect) answer to the question, "Who is Bart Simpson's hero?"

Jeff Renfroe's 2014 documentary I Am Steve McQueen, which Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-ray on April 14, is a flashy but shallow look at the life of the large-faced gentleman on the cover (Homer Simpson's hero, not Bart's, by the way). He was a tremendous movie star in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but has fallen into the memory hole since his untimely death at the age of 50 in 1980.


As is perhaps to be expected for a documentary with the Spike TV stamp, I Am Steve McQueen plays up the badassery of his persona, both onscreen and off. Pierce Brosnan, Gary Oldman, and some people who you probably only know if you watch Spike speak glowingly of him, and though there's plenty of footage from his films and some archival interviews, it never feels like the personal document the title suggests, and a more appropriate title might have been This Is Who Steve McQueen Was To Us; as the saying goes, the legend is being printed, not the fact. But it's a swell legend. (Testify, Sheryl! And pick better thumbnails, SherylCrowVEVO channel on YouTube!)


McQueen is praised endlessly for a being a pussyhound with a taste for fast cars. The first of his three wives, Neile Adams, puts it bluntly: "Speed, machinery, were his balls." Regarding his infidelities in the 1960s, she says, "There was free love and free everything, and sometimes he would come to me and say, 'Why do I have to work for love at home when I can get it for free outside?'" This is presented as just another facet of his bad-boy personality, and she seems to have forgiven him for that — or at least come to terms with it — and I know those were different times, but yeesh, what a dick move.

McQueen did love cars and other motor vehicles, and the picture spends a lot of its 93-minutes time on his gearheadery. Like, a lot. Hell, one of the extras is the 15-minute "McQueen's Garage," which is pretty much what it sounds like. But as a result, certain elements of his filmography are skipped over, like the 1969 comedy The Reivers, about men that went insane at the edge of space and became savages a fanciful road trip between Jefferson and Memphis in 1912 based on William Faulkner's novel. Even more notable is the skipping-over of what was arguably his final passion project: An Enemy of the People, based on a Henrik Ibsen's play, in which McQueen tried to shed his tough-guy image.


But that's not what I Am Steve McQueen is all about, and as a primer for a largely forgotten action hero, it does its job.
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About The Author

Sherilyn Connelly


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