Saturday, 15 March 2008

Grand Prix – the film


The Grand Prix season begins today. I remember going to see the film “Grand Prix” when it came out in 1966. GB took me as a Christmas treat, accompanied by Ron Arbuckle and his partner, at The Abbey in Cinerama.

I thought it was the best film ever made.. The high-speed drama, filmed at Brandshatch, was brilliant in Cinerama and although it has dated somewhat I still enjoy watching it occasionally. Indeed, the fact that it has dated has added to its charm – they don’t make cars like that any more.

American Grand Prix driver Pete Aron is fired by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash at Monaco that injures his British teammate, Scott Stoddard. While Stoddard struggles to recover, Aron begins to drive for the Japanese Yamura team, and becomes romantically involved with Stoddard's estranged wife. A race day accident involving Jordan-BRM teammates Pete Aron (James Garner) and Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) leaves Stoddard critically injured. During Stoddard's recovery, Aron becomes involved with his wife (Jessica Walter) who seems determined to leave Scott. At the same time, drivers Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) and Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato) also have chronicled love affairs with Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint), an American journalist, and Lisa (the enigmatic Françoise Hardy).

Françoise Hardy (born Françoise Madeleine Hardy, January 17, 1944 in Paris) is a French singer, actress and astrologer. Hardy is considered an iconic figure in many respects (fashion, music style, personality) in the Francophile world. In Grand Prix she responds to the question "What do you do?" with a look that had every man in the audience swooning (or whatever the male equivalent is).

Awards: Won 3 Oscars. Another 4 nominations

The film is three hours long and I still wanted more. So did most of the others in the Abbey’s audience judging by the way they revved their cars up as they left the car park.

Some Trivia about "Grand Prix" (1966)

The cars that were used in the film, supposedly Formula 1 cars, were in fact Formula 3 cars made up to look like Formula 1's.

The helmet design that James Garner's character uses is that of then-Grand Prix race driver Chris Amon. The only difference was a silhouette of a Kiwi bird that was normally on the side of Amon's helmet (he was from New Zealand) was left off Garner's, as his character was an American.

The helmet design used by Brian Bedford is that of then second-year driver and future triple World Champion Jackie Stewart. Of the four actors, Bedford is the only one not to do any actual driving, which explains why in all segments where the Scott Stoddard character is shown driving, he has the balaclava up to his goggles.

During filming, Yves Montand spun out and subsequently was terrified to go fast again. The crew modified a racecar that was then towed behind a Ford GT40. This setup would reach speeds of 130 mph. Montand was more comfortable with this setup than with having to drive the car himself.

John Frankenheimer refused to film cars moving slowly, then speed the film up. He felt the average moviegoer would be able to notice the difference.

James Garner did all his own driving. During breaks in filming there were several mini races in which Garner either tied or bettered the professional drivers hired for filming.

The Formula 3 car's smaller engines could not spin the wider Formula 1 tires realistically on starts, so the tires were wet with gasoline for those shots, which not only allowed them to spin realistically but also caused them to smoke realistically as they spun.

The cars had to be fitted with spark plug radio noise suppression kits similar to the ones used on passenger cars because otherwise the static produced by their engine electrics interfered with the radio-controlled camera mounts on the cars.

Filming required the use of all existing Panavision cameras.

Steve McQueen wanted the role of Pete Aron but could not play it for one reason or another and lost the role to James Garner. According to Garner in a interview with Premiere magazine, McQueen lived beside Garner and would throw garbage in his yard because of the bitterness of losing the role.

Lots of the Formula One heroes of the day could be seen on set at various times including Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart.

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