This week: My Predictions the Future, Review of 1966 film Grand Prix and Progress on Short Stirling Replica project.
My Predictions the Future
And now for a bit of fun! Here are my predictions of what will happen (and what what won’t) during my lifetime. I am 51 now so let’s assume I will live another 30 years:
- A real Short Stirling wreck will be recovered and restored to museum standard, but I don’t think a real one will fly again. See further down the page for news on a real Stirling replica project.
- Fusion power will work but will not significantly affect energy prices yet
- Alexander the Great’s tomb will be found
- Whoever ordered John F Kennedy’s assassination will not be revealed and proven.
- NASA will not have sent a manned-mission to Mars yet
Now, what are yours?
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Review of 1966 film Grand Prix
To mark death of James Garner, the 1966 John Frankenheimer film Grand Prix was shown on TV last week. If you love Formula One I am sure you will agree with me; what a film!
I first saw Garner in The Great Escape and The Rockford Files. I always found him likable although not an incredibly deep acting talent. Time has proved his ability to choose great projects to be a talent in itself. The earliest films I have seen him in are Sayonara (1957) with Marlon Brando and The Children’s Hour (1961) with Audrey Hepburn. He always seems to pick the right project and did a stirling job (if you will allow the pun) in The Great Escape. He is almost always the likable rogue with a warm smile. Only in Grand Prix does he play the anti-hero. His thoughtful acting will be missed.
Back to Grand Prix. It opens with a Saul Bass (one of the two best title sequence writers ever) intro that rivals anything else. We hear the roar of the Grand Prix engines, watch the exhausts vibrate and mechanics tightening bolts to the stirring march that accompanies the film.
Then there is a long in-car sequence, interspersed with track-side camera footage of a race at Monaco, in which Garner as the selfish and ambitious American driver, Pete Aron seems to force a BRM driver off the track and they both end up in the sea, losing Aron his drive for the rest of the year.
In fact, he defends his actions and we see that other drivers like and trust him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, so we do too. Yves Montand is the romantic lead in the film and fights for the love of Eva Maria Saint, winning her but at a huge cost.
There are bad crashes, as there were then, deaths and fights back to drive again but in the end it comes down to the last race of the year and four drivers who can win. It’s nail-biting stuff.
What I love about the film, apart from the beautiful photography and choreography of the driving shots, is that the film doesn’t pull any punches and dips right into the politics of Formula One which we still see today. I must mention here that Grand Prix races existed before there was a Formula One World Championship. In those days, not all races contributed to the World Championship. But the Formula (Formula One being the fuel quality) is the same.
As for the politics, the Ferrari demagogue uses the driver’s wives and girlfriends as levers to put pressure on the drivers and even delivers cars too late for them to be properly prepared for the race. I sometimes wonder if second driver’s cars these days are tampered with in the same way.
Frankenheimer has put together some cinematic poetry here; there is a beautiful sequence with no location sound but only a beautiful, classical arrangement of the theme (with harpsichord if my hears serve me well). The cars are mirrored, multiplied and dance across the screen like ballerinas. It is half way between Swan Lake and the lovely sequence of William Walton in Battle of Britain.
One should note of course, that not all was as it seemed in this film. The drivers all had to drive their own cars and had intensive lessons before shooting began. Formula One cars were felt to be too fast and dangerous so Formula Three cars were dressed up to look like Formula One cars for the in-car sequences. Some of the drivers were too scared to use real Formula Three cars so the director had them towed around the circuits behind a Ford Gt 40. Garner did all his own driving (except perhaps the most difficult scenes) and was so taken with racing that he commenced his own racing career shortly after and did quite well.
Possibly the best sequence is shot at full speed in the last race of the season at Monza. The director chose to use the old banked curves, even though they had not been used for the real Formula One for a few years. It’s dramatic and documents what racing used to be like. It all adds to the feeling of a documentary and one in which Frankenheimer was trying to capture the true spirit of the old racing before it began to change. I am glad it is a lot safer now but you have to admire the courage of the drivers racing those tiny cars without roll bars, proper helmets or proper fire-proof suits.
Another thing I really like about the film is the lack of special effects. There is a lovely sequence when James Garner is talking to Pat (Jessica Walter), one of the other driver’s wives, in his new Ford Mustang. It must be one of the few such scenes where you can tell that the driver really is driving the car, and flat out at that, while performing a long dialogue in the car. Nice one Jim!
So, I may have rose-tinted glasses about the 1960s but, if you love car racing, give this old classic a go. Here is the title sequence:
Short Stirling Restoration
For those who have been following my updates on the project to build a replica Short Stirling, the first British 4-engined bomber built during World War II and the only major British type to have no survivor, here is a brief update:
Recently, I came across a video on youtube purporting to show a newly discovered Short Stirling wreck near the French coast. I told John who heads the replica construction project and contacted the powers that be to get the ball rolling. Unfortunately, the news isn’t good. Here is John’s reply to recent message from me, asking how things were going:
“Not much I’m afraid, the group were helpful but French law precludes recovery of any parts from the site unfortunately”
You can read and see more about the project progress here.