Retro Active Critique #8
Lucky number eight. 'Grand Prix' is another film I've loved since I watched it on video(!), then owned the DVD.
I'm partial to the skillfully executed, lengthy racing scenes in 'Grand Prix'. I love the very detailed direction of John Frankenheimer. The characters at play and the ensemble cast are fascinating; the film features James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Jessica Walter and Antonio Sabata. The initial reason I sought and obtained a copy of the film is because it features one of my favorite people (if not the most favorite), Francoise Hardy, in a minor role as a racing groupie.
Many of the films shared here on 'Retro Active Critiques' began as happy accidents that I'd first encountered by way of an ulterior motive of finding rare appearances of cherished female icons (as in previous posts for 'The Boyfriend' and 'Privilege'.)
The storyline in 'Grand Prix', despite its suggestion of speed (and there's plenty of that), moves and builds gradually. It's similar to many of its contemporaries in terms of its style in plot development. A film like this can be considered boring by today's standards, but I relish in its stoic pace.
The characters are given ample time to develop. The business of Formula One racing is explored rather thoroughly. Of course the locations in 'Grand Prix' are fabulous. As are the wardrobes. It's a visual feast.
The racing scenes in 'Grand Prix' were so painstakingly filmed, it is a credit to the production team and Frankenheimer –– not to mention the actors portraying racers. They actually did some of the driving themselves. (For greater detail, watch the video posted here called 'Glamour on F1 1960s'.)
There are even profound moments. I came across one of my favorite lines of all time in this film. Montand's Frenchman –– the racer Jean-Pierre Sarti –– when asked by his love interest (played by Eva Marie Saint) how he can stand to continue the race when someone else is injured, speaks about his feelings at that difficult moment: instead of slowing down, like everyone else is apt to do, that is precisely the moment when he speeds up. 'I used to go to pieces... But I'm older now. When I see something really horrible, I put my foot down. Hard. Because I know that everyone else is lifting his.' It's a chilling perspective that he shares.
The character of Sarti voices a great lesson in life, the cold, harsh reality of competition. And of winning. He demonstrates that if you win enough, you may live to regret your choices. Ever since, I always keep that observation in my pocket. It has given me a certain strength and point of view in peculiar instances.
For me, that is evidence of a great film –– one that leaves even a single lasting impression for the rest of your life. I was so fully charged by the utterance of that phrase, I'm still reluctant to explain it fully here, as if I'd give away some secret from the character of Sarti to myself. A bit of advice that's rather existential. Just how I like it.
I couldn't have more fun watching the languid, ultra calm, cool (might some find her boring, as well?) Francoise Hardy. She might have been the hippest girl on the planet at that moment. The Gallic, other-wordly chanteuse never found the same popularity stateside as she had in Europe. Even back then. Her constant, looming presence remains here on this blog since she is my idol.
The following clip captures some of the beauty, excitement and reflection of 'Grand Prix' set to its luminous overture music.