As the racing season begins to come to a close, I’ve started transitioning to my favorite off-season activity: watching movies about racing. This weekend, I had the pleasure of watching The Racing Scene for the first time just after revisiting Le Mans, and I have to say — I think I prefer James Garner’s version of the racing “documentary” to Steve McQueen’s.
I’m sure that probably constitutes heresy in most car circles, but I’m going to be totally honest: I’m kind of over the whole “tortured artist” thing, and after I watched Steve McQueen: The Mans and Le Mans, something about the 1971 film just feels meh. I fully understand and endorse the single-minded aim to get your passion in front of viewers, but also, maybe don’t be a megalomaniac about it?
From a purely artistic and cinematic perspective, Le Mans is still a formidable stunner — but it feels so grandiose and a little Mary Sue in ways, which can happen in a fictional setting.
But there’s something so special about the realism of that era, the down-home grit that it took to put together a racing program, that I think comes through a little better in The Racing Scene. (And yes, comparing Le Mans to The Racing Scene is admittedly a little like comparing apples to oranges, but I’d argue that there are still merits in discussing how both fit into the overarching genre of “racing movie” in the same way that you could discuss how both apples and oranges are fruits.)
Released in 1969, The Racing Scene is a documentary about Garner’s racing career, which was directed by sports broadcaster Andy Sidaris. Where Le Mans shows McQueen’s hyperfocus on one specific event, The Racing Scene shows what it was like to be a general fan of motorsport, wanting to dip your toes into that world in any possible way. As a result, you get to see the progress of Garner’s team as it exists in off-road racing during the Baja, in endurance racing with the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 Hours, and in open-wheel with Formula A (aka Formula 5000).
With that wide of a scope and only 90 minutes of runtime, you’re obviously not going to get a ton of detail about what it takes to run a race team overall, but Garner delivers a lot of fun and insightful (if a little cheesy) lines in the voice-over that provides a sense of the tension and emotion of competition in a variety of different disciplines of the time.
I mean, just watch this clip. If that doesn’t sell you on the film’s premise, I don’t know what will: