Behind Le Mans

Behind Le Mans

by Michael Keyser

When is a great picture book also a great read?

Behind LE MANS – The Film in Photographs by Michael Keyser

This week a package containing a book of images landed on my desk. The book, “Behind LE MANS” is comprised of 195 black and white images. Like most motorsports fans that have seen the movie Le Mans and read the behind the scenes stories about how it was made, I was intrigued. My first pass through the book satisfied my “need to know” what it was all about. A book of pictures is not War and Peace. I put the book aside, got back to my pressing issues and picked it up again later for a closer look.

Most of the images are by Nigel Snowdon, who I learned, played himself in the film. He was the photographer doing in the film what he did in real life, shooting pictures of what was happening. Those pictures, shot during the filming of Le Mans add yet another dimension to our knowledge of the making of the movie, a story with a far more interesting plot than the one contrived for the film. (If you haven’t read Michael Keyser’s A French Kiss with Death, you are missing a riveting read).

On my second pass, I took more time to read the captions and to appreciate the settings and people other than the principals who populate each picture. Three things stuck out. One is that movie stars and race care drivers of that day were physically attractive people. The drivers suits of the time were positively virginal compared to the billboards worn by today’s heroes. So the driving suits, the young fit men, the cars of different colors and shapes and the pits or straights of Le Mans all contribute to creating an idyllic image of what real sports car racing was all about. The images of the support people and the film crews seem pedestrian and out of place, as well they were, when contrasted with the complete Le Mans racing scene.

The technical aspects of racing cars and photography at that time were both quite mechanical when compared to today’s computerized versions. The book’s images of the blending of the two disciplines, the required daily maintenance of the race cars and cameras and the effort to which the film people went to successfully capture the feeling of racing at Le Mans is very impressive.

The other notable fact is that a number of the people in the images are no longer with us, notably Steve McQueen, Juan Manuel Fangio, Masten Gregory, Mike Parkes and Jo Siffert. But sad as that is, candid shots of them and Derek Bell, David Piper, Brian Redman, Richard Attwood and Jonathan Williams, all interacting with Steve McQueen, the film crew and each other are hugely satisfying.  

I have a few favorite pictures; Steve positively beaming in conversation with a bemused Fangio. Opposite that page is a picture of Steve, down on one knee and grimacing into the sunlight and camera while standing behind him and looking down are four nuns. No one in the picture seems particularly comfortable.  

So if you are a Steve McQueen fan… buy the book! If you can’t get enough of images of Porsche 917’s, Ferrari and Lolas… buy the book! And if you believe, as I do, that this period and these cars and people were the last hurrah of racing’s great age, buy this book and keep it handy. You will never cease to be entertained at what you find in the background and the details of these images.   

8 1/2" x 11" - 196 pages
192 Duotone Black & White Images

$49.95 plus shipping and handling