Director Richard Martin has crafted an interesting account of the life of his friend Steve McQueen in his documentary, Steve McQueen: An American Rebel. While certainly reverential in it's tone, this documentary doesn't hold back from examining the entire persona of just who McQueen was. At once a commanding performer who could take on an array of movie roles, at the same time he was also a reform school boy who wasn't above some of the petty games of Hollywood. He lived fast and hard and did every thing he wanted to do. We start from his humble beginnings as a poor boy in Indiana, to his eventually stumbling into acting because he saw that a lot of girls were involved in it.
Eventually he landed a starring role in The Blob and from their the floodgates of memorable roles poured in. This film looks at how he purposly tried to upstage Yul Brenner in The Magnificent Seven, as well as his performance in The Great Escape. It examines how the film Bullitt came define him as an actor (and in his personal life), and it also looks at his rocky relationship with Dustin Hoffman on the set of Papillon. Amidst this we are treated to stories about girls, race car and motorcycle competitions, and how no matter how big McQueen got he never seemed comfortable. The section of this film which talks about The Towering Inferno was especially interesting. Who knew all the behind the scenes goings on? I for one had no idea about Paul Newman's and McQueen's interesting and tense off screen relationship.
At the heart of Steve McQueen: An American Rebel is a look a genuine, American anti-hero. He didn't go out of his way to get into trouble, he was merely being who he was. He didn't seem to care who he was dealing with. He had a way of acting and a way of living and he wasn't going to curtail one to advance the cause of the other. Richard Martin and his Editor Tom Walls did a very fine job in telling this story. Mixing motion picture footage, with easy still shots, this documentary is fluid and interesting without ever lapsing into sentementality. The richness with which this tale is narrated by Martin (an actor himself) and Jacqueline Bissett is also a nice touch. While there were times when I thought some of the voices played things up a tad too much, overall this movie seemed to get it right.
Playing like something to you might see on Turner Classic Movies or Bravo, Steve McQueen: An American Rebel as a comprehensive look at a true Hollywood maverick.