Steve McQueen on your coffee table

 

Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films

Andrew Antoniades and Mike Siegel

Dalton Watson Fine Books, $69

Steve McQueen, born in Indianapolis in 1930 and died in Mexico, just 50 years later, has left the world an enduring visual legacy. His image continues to sell all manner of luxury items, from upscale watches to Italian shoes and British outerwear. The man’s look is such a correlative for cool that it can be easy to forget that the basis for all these pictures had to do with his ability to act.

This new book about the actor’s screen career attempts to split the difference between McQueen the actor and the image by arriving in the form of a lavishly illustrated coffee table tome, packed with pictures, but so loaded with text it seems programmed to make any but the sturdiest pieces of furniture buckle.

McQueen’s depressing life story has been covered exhaustively by biographer Marshall Terrill. Antoniades and Siegel take a different tack by concentrating on McQueen’s film career, devoting long chapters to each of his 29 films, chronicling production histories, back stories, placing the film in the context of McQueen’s career and analyzing key scenes. The book also contains over 1000 color and black and white images, including international posters, lobby cards and advertising materials, as well as a plethora of production stills.

To their credit, the authors establish a gush-free tone. While they rightly identify McQueen’s uncanny use of props as perhaps his greatest artistic attribute, a studied quality of on-screen behavior responsible for a remarkable number of iconic cinematic moments, they are judicious in their assessments of the various films and capable of pointing out some of McQueen’s more egregious limitations — his self-conscious inability to make much of comedy, for example. In many cases, they argue, McQueen’s profound insecurities, brought on by abandonment by his mother and lifelong dyslexia, hobbled his instinctive brilliance and kept him from fully realizing his creative potential.

While the number of truly great McQueen films is relatively few, his cultural staying power has proven to be formidable. His career deserves to be placed within its cultural context and examined for its metaphoric potential. Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films isn’t that book but, for McQueen’s stalwart fans, it’s a feast.

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