IBJNews

LOU'S VIEWS: 'Escape' artist Steve McQueen stars in new biography

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

This week, a new look at Steve McQueen—by a fellow Hoosier. Plus Indianapolis Opera’s “La Boheme.”

__________

One of the first grown-up movies I attended on my own was “Papillon.” What drove my 10-year-old self to see this brutal 1973 escape film, I still don’t know.

But alone in the dark, with just a scattered group of others in the theater, I sat totally enraptured, caught up in the plight of this Devil’s Island prisoner whose intensity was palpable. He didn’t seem to do much—not on the surface. But the way he stared, the way he thought, and the way he ultimately acted, made it impossible not to watch him.

The actor was Steve McQueen, and I had no idea that he was iconic, having yet to experience the pleasures of “The Magnificent Seven” or “The Great Escape.” But that’s part of what makes a great screen actor. There’s no need to know his or her history. There’s no need for back story. Each performance stands on its own.

Steve McQueen attempts a getaway in “The Great Escape.” (Photo Courtesy Indiana History Center)

History, though, is why we read biographies. And while a good biographer can’t replace the experience of seeing the original work, he or she can connect the dots for us, filling in the gaps in our knowledge.

Wes D. Gehring does just that in his new book “Steve McQueen: The Great Escape” and while there’s little sense of anything new being revealed, the book works as a solid introduction to the troubled, difficult actor and human being.

One of Gehring’s strengths is that he doesn’t take enormous leaps in an effort to come up with a new “take” on a star (Gehring’s previous books have looked at Red Skelton, James Dean and others). There’s little written here that seems doubtful or dubious. On the other hand, Gehring has a habit of quoting unrelated material to make points that occasionally becomes tiresome—i.e. “Had McQueen lived long enough to hear Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ solo album … the actor would have greatly appreciated … .”

Such devices are unnecessary, especially considering the life he has to work with here, beginning with McQueen’s troubled childhood (include time in Beech Grove), his stumbling into an acting life, his rise to the top of the box office and his lifelong rivalry with Paul Newman (a thread Gehring handles particularly well). The author is up-front but not exploitative about his subject’s womanizing and brutality with women. And his appreciation for the actor’s on-screen work is palpable without being fan-ish.

  Perhaps the best endorsement I can give is that Gehring’s book inspired me to pay a visit to “Nevada Smith,” “The Reivers,” and other McQueen films that I’ve missed. And maybe it’s time to revisit “Papillon” as well.

__________

Even though Indianapolis Opera’s stage-filling production of “La Boheme” (Nov. 20, 22) didn’t score many emotional points, it nonetheless proved a treat for the ear and eye. Credit, in large part, goes to the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra in the pit and to a believable Maureen O’Flynn in the role of consumptive seamstress Mimi. Unfortunately, she spent her final scene, in a costume that made it seem like she’s recently returned from visiting her pals in Oz.

Set designer David Gano deserves credit for wisely keeping the artists’ garret décor to a minimum and maximizing the vibrant street scene (even if it was staged without a parade).

They had help, of course, from Puccini’s magical score. The Indianapolis Children’s Choir rounded out a boisterous Act II in which Laura Z. Pedersen skillfully kept Musetta from waltzing from mercurial to annoying (always a risk in this showy scene). On the male side, William Joyner and Sean David Anderson gave seemingly flip-of-the-coin interchangeable performances as Rodolfo and Marcello, although both were in strong voice. The supporting cast was well-chosen, too, contributing to a production that, while perhaps not memorable, certainly entertained.•

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.

ADVERTISEMENT