9 Comment

  • “Anyway the movie is doing well and what it is supposed to do, which is make $20 million.”
    -Sam Peckinpah to Ali McGraw, on The Getaway.

    I think Junior Bonner, meanwhile, is one of the really great American films. (Though upon reflection Robert Preston and Ida Lupino kind of fill in a lot of the space of McQueen.) Particularly the way Peckinpah uses the beat-up body of a cinematic axiom of American masculinity to represent the flagging national spirit.

    (An ideal triple feature: Junior Bonner, Slap Shot and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, about which I’ll have lots more to say later incidentally.)

    For those reasons — and much more specific ones having to do with certain editing choices — The Wrestler is basically a remake of Junior Bonner. Aronofsky’s no Peckinpah (and actually, Robert D. Siegel’s no Jeb Rosebrook), but now I’m reconsidering McQueen’s (very fine, stoic) performance in light of Rourke, who’s similarly minimal, but — like Newman in the Hud clip, and as is frequently the case with the big lug — daringly effeminate at times.

  • Steve MEHcQueen?

    sorry, couldn’t resist…

  • I love that triple feature idea. It’s going on the calendar for the Repertory Theater of Matt’s Imagination.

    I hadn’t thought of “The Wrestler” as a reimagining of “Junior Bonner” with steroids and mullets, but the description totally fits.

    Agreed that both Rourke and Newman have a facility for playing soft/effeminate in a playful way, without ever compromising their machismo. That’s a gift that McQueen didn’t have or chose not to exercise, and it’s one of the qualities that elevates the great leading men above the rest. Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were also good at it; in fact Beatty’s career, in particular, seems an exercise in seeing how helpless, vulnerable and otherwise not in control he can seem while maintaining his heterosexual ladykiller cred.

  • Oh, totally. Not to take this too far afield, but there’s that locker room scene in The Wrestler where Aronofsky cuts from The Ram getting his wounds treated to flashbacks of how he got them — that’s basically the conceit of the opening credits of Junior Bonner.

    (So we’re apparently in agreement that McQueen did his best work in the opening credit montages of Sam Peckinpah movies. Huh.)

    (I seem to recall reading that Peckinpah let his assistant editors do a lot of The Getaway’s credit sequence, but will have to look that up.)

    The story is that Warren Beatty was really excited to play Clyde Barrow as impotent, but, as producer, he stipulated to Benton and Newman: “I gotta do it once.”

  • “(So we’re apparently in agreement that McQueen did his best work in the opening credit montages of Sam Peckinpah movies. Huh.)”

    Yeah. That sounds a little weird at first, but when you think about montages as the purest expression of cinematic language — putting shots together to create ideas, and putting ideas together to create a statement — it makes sense. McQueen by himself, thinking, in a long take, could be boring or shallow or just opaque if he wasn’t kicking ass. But cut shots of McQueen thinking together with other shots that seem to create a complicated argument within McQueen’s mind or heart, and you’ve got pure movie gold.

    Terence Stamp is obviously a much deeper actor than McQueen, but I think Steven Soderbergh was hip to the same dynamic in “The Limey” and exploited it extraordinarily well. That entire movie is basically the Kuleshov Effect illustrated over the course of 90 badass minutes.

  • Yes I like this too. And nice that Lincoln Center offers series passes…

    Personally, I’d go with “Junior Bonner”, “Towering Inferno” and McQ’s last film “The Hunter” which is pretty rarely seen although available on DVD. At time of release I think that was considered one of his softer or more nuanced roles. Anyway, sentimental favorites.

    Also, when you’re talking about tough guys with a soft/effeminate side that brings to my mind “This Sporting Life”, with Richard Harris playing the lead.(and the flashback structure, triggered by Harris getting his teeth broken in the opening scenes.) so maybe- “This Sporting Life”, “Junior Bonner”, “The Wrestler”.

  • Good work. However, I have to say that pointing out that McQueen was not a great actor is beside the point because he really was not an ‘actor’ to begin with.

    McQueen was a screen ‘star’ because of a certain something that no else had. It is hard to put my finger on it. But let me put it this way, he was able to say lines, like Clint Eastwood – I am surprised you did not make a comparison with Clint – that few if any other actors could say.

    Also, he was able to convey things without saying anything at all. Maybe that was the extent of his ‘acting’ ability. But whatever his ability was he could do things that if anyone else (save Clint Eastwood) attempted them would seem silly or not credible.

    Consider the fact that McQueen was not good looking by the traditional standards of Hollywood. In another, earlier time, McQueen would have been relegated to a fill-in character actor status because of his looks. But he had, as I say, a certain something that made him attractive to the camera.

    Lastly, I am really surprised you did not examine more closely one scene in the movie ‘Papillon’ which deserves careful consideration. When Papillon is put in solitary confinement for an extended time and the warden (played by Bill Smithers) asks him for the name of the person who helped him (which we know is Dega), McQueen, with his head stuck through the window in the prison door, delivers a performance or, let’s say, creates a moment, which I do not see anyone else giving – not Newman, or Bogie, or even, dare I say it, Clint or Cagney – without calling attention to the fact that they were ‘acting.’

    Mind you, I do not disagree with the thrust of what you are saying, but merely offering my own clarification of McQueen’s ability, whatever you call it.

    Just my two cents. Thanks again for what you put together.

  • I am OK with McQueen not being seen as a good actor He probably wasn’t. He didn’t have much of a range. He seems good enough for what he was though. I can’t blame him for not stretching that much; the video points out how much he did suck when he tried to stretch. I disagree with this being seen as a personal failure. He was who he was.

    He embodied a certain type of masculinity. Pretty metrosexual. Adventure oriented. Aloof and cool. Kind of narcissistic. For a while that was good enough to make him a movie star.

  • Sonds to me like the green-eyed Seitz main diet consists of sour grapes. “Thise that can’t do…critisize…