|The king of cool and his need for speed|
By Frederic Brun
Hardcover, 192 pages, $40
At first glance, this looks like a large-format picture book of actor Steve McQueen's other life -- that of a race car driver. Most of the book's 192 pages are consumed by large photographs -- 100 in color, 60 in black and white -- accompanied by very brief captions.
Were that all the book has to offer, it still would be appealing to McQueen fans, those who share his passion for fast cars and gritty motorcycles, and those who saw him as a Hollywood sex symbol. Many of the photos, we're told, are being published for the first time (warning, ladies, there is a nude photo of McQueen in the book).
But there is much more to this book than those photographs. The book is divided into five chapters, each covering a portion of McQueen's life: The pursuit of speed, The body as tuned machine, Speed and the silver screen, Racing is life, and McQueen's garage. Each of those chapters includes an introduction by Brun that puts the photos that follow into context.
For example, in the introduction to the "garage" chapter, Brun writes, "McQueen wasn't really a collector from a curatorial perspective. Collecting implies thoughtfulness -- a focus that ultimately gives cohesion to the collection." He adds that McQueens well-stocked garage included cars, motorcycles and even airplanes purchased not for their investment value or visual appeal -- McQueen's 1970 Porsche 911 Turbo sold for $1.375 million earlier this year at a collector car auction and his 1931 Brought Superior motorcycle went for $176,000 at another sale -- but "to satisfy his wants and needs."
And, writes Brun, a political attache in the French Parliament, film historian, classic car expert and amateur auto racer, McQueen had a need for speed.
The author's Introduction to the book spans 11 pages and not only McQueen's need for speed but mankind's need for both speed and heroes.
"Speed was at the heart of the McQueen mystique," Brun writes, "a crucial dimension of his reputation as the 'King of Cool.' Speed raced him past other stars and defined his career."
It also gave McQueen anonymity.
"The guy next to me [on the track] couldn't care less what my name is," McQueen is quoted. "He just wants to beat me."
McQueen's need for speed traces back to his childhood in a broken home and a childhood and youth in which, he says, he was "constantly trying to prove myself."
Brun notes that McQueen was "a man of his time," exemplifying what French writer Francoise Sagan's contention that "for postwar man, the motorcar was more than a pleasure. It was his ticket to twentieth-century heaven."
Everyone drove, Brun notes, but only the special few could truly handle a sports or racing car, making McQueen the "perfect embodiment of his age," an age when the automobile empowered Americans to alter their relationship with the bounds of "time, distance, and freedom."