making a Racing Movie in the old Days
Though not a commercial success following its 1971 release, the groundbreaking movie Le Mans
is still regarded as one of the best films about racing ever produced. Big screen showings are rare, and screenings preceded by a discussion from those involved in making the movie are virtually unheard of. However, racing fans lucky enough to be in Los Angeles this weekend will get to see just that, as Vic Elford, Derek Bell, and Steve McQueen’s son, Chad, will discuss the filming of Le Mans
before a special screening that’s part of the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.
The epic 1971 film starred Steve McQueen as racer Michael Delaney, a man haunted by the mistakes of his past yet still driven to win on the track. The movie has very little dialogue and perhaps less acting; in fact, it centers as much on the Porsche 917, the Ferrari 512 and the mystique of Le Mans as it does on any of its main characters.
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was shot long before the dawn of computer animation, so many of its racing sequences are real (in fact, much of the film was captured during the 1970 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans). Though the danger of the period is perhaps over-dramatized, driver David Piper was critically injured in a crash during the movie’s filming, and Derek Bell suffered burns when his Ferrari 512 caught fire while staging a scene.
Vic Elford (the first to lap Le Mans at over 150 MPH, driving a long-tail Porsche 917) was recruited by McQueen for the Porsche 917 high-speed driving scenes (some of which were filmed by the now-record-breaking $11 million GT40
), while Derek Bell was chosen to drive the Ferrari 512. Though Chad McQueen was just nine years old when Le Mans
was filmed, the story goes that the young McQueen gained Porsche 917 seat time, in his father’s lap, during production.