Steve McQueen


Written by Jared Lynn
31 Tuesday 31st August 2010

Very few individuals transcend time as cultural icons of cool but Steve McQueen stakes a claim for being the master. The BFI held a McQueen season to mark the twentieth anniversary of the death of the king of cool whose effortless anti-hero persona has become the blueprint for the modern man.
Movie stars have lost their touch; a film no longer sells by clasping the audience’s eyes on their favourite actor. The days of the self-styled star lighting up show-business are gone, replaced by a conveyor belt of similarity based on arguably the coolest cat in cinema history: Steve McQueen.

McQueen’s magic lies in his widespread appeal. The anti-hero bad boy only gets a man so far but McQueen was laced with charming qualities. An unnerving passion to succeed,a professional talent blessed to only the select few, a sense of fragility beneath the hard exterior, a mystery of a man that no-one knew but himself with an effortless ability to breathe cool in a leather jacket, a Harrington or a smart suit. How many individuals have a Rolex watch named after them but could also inspire sales for rival brand Tag Heuer by simply wearing their product? Only Steve McQueen.
The modern movie star takes its dimensions from McQueen. The money-making leading men are portrayed as rebellious action stars who can also present themselves as the perfect gent. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, even Will Smith all follow the McQueen blueprint. The movie idol appeals to both men and women; people either crave a pint in a leather jacket or long for a romantic meal in a smart suit while quaffing Dom Perrier. The movie star offers everything for everyone.
Looking beyond style we can see McQueen’s deeper influence on the film industry. Today it’s no surprise to hear an actor performing their own stunts but McQueen had been there already. An expert motorcyclist and race car driver, McQueen insisted on doing the majority of his stunts and would only be stopped if the insurance company deemed it too dangerous. McQueen was never pleased to see a stuntman and rightly so, he represented his country in off-road biking and was even inducted into their hall of fame in 1978. If you thought Tom Cruise was fast on Top Gear then imagine what McQueen would have done.
A glance towards the music industry shows McQueen’s blueprint painted over many a rock star. In an industry saturated by image you need only look at the fashion staples worn by bands and be sure that McQueen helped facilitate their popularity. Aviators, polo shirts, sports jackets, cardigans, the Harrington, leather jackets, windbreakers and khaki’s. Fashion standards today but McQueen wore them better than anyone.
McQueen perfected the rock-and-roll lifestyle, loved as much for his acting as his carefree and reckless attitude to life McQueen could drink you under the table and smoked to excess. Throw in mountains of cocaine, marijuana and his fair share of arrests and he was the ultimate hell-raiser. But McQueen had his soft side; he would request hordes of free gifts from studios which he then donated to the same boy’s reformatory that helped him overcome his troubled youth. He would also pop in and visit the kids for a chat and a game of pool. McQueen was an actor with a human side; a persona longed for but missing from
today’s manufactured stars.
The motor industry also owes a debt to McQueen. Would the motorbike be such a fashion icon without the countless images of McQueen eased onto the seat of his Triumph, or that Great motorbike jump from a certain Escape movie? And the Ford Mustang can thank Bullitt for its iconic status, how many people secretly wish they could recreate that San Francisco
chase of a Dodge Viper? Come on, don’t lie.
There will never be another McQueen because we are now saturated with copycats. He is the ultimate fashion icon and cultural image. The conveyor belt will keep churning out the McQueen pretenders but they will never top the original, unpredictable and insatiable King of Cool.


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