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Ron Howard To Produce, "Rush" Movie Based On The 1976 F1 Grand Prix
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Ron Howard To Produce, "Rush" Movie Based On The 1976 F1 Grand Prix - March 20, 2012, 11:51 AM

Back in 1976, I was a racing-mad 11-year-old following James Hunt's quest for the Formula One World Championship. It wasn't easy in those pre-Internet days, not least because the sport had been chased off British TV screens, thanks in part to cigarette and condom sponsorship. You had to rely on radio and newspapers, and then the magazines that came out later in the week, to have any idea of what had happened.
Thankfully, when it came to the championship showdown at Fuji, those in charge saw sense. In fact, in the United Kingdom, we had race highlights on both the BBC and ITV, the rival commercial network, and the country duly celebrated when Hunt finished third and won the championship.

Of course I would have loved to have been at that race in Fuji some 36 years ago. Last week, I finally had a chance when I stepped into a time machine and was transported back to one of the most famous races in the sport's history. Everything was just right, including the rain--except that I was on a disused airfield runway in England and not in Japan.

As you may have guessed, my ticket to the past was provided by Ron Howard, who is hard at work shooting Rush, the story of the 1976 season and the battle between Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Rush is the first major racing film since Sylvester Stallone's disastrous Driven, and it's the first to follow in the slipstream of the hugely successful Ayrton Senna documentary. Many other racing movies are in various stages of preparation--some fictional, others, like Rush based on historical events--and the success or failure of Howard's film could help to determine how many of those projects eventually make it to the screen.

What makes Rush so special is the team behind it. Howard has an amazing résumé that includes the likes of A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. He won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for the first and was nominated for 2008's Frost/Nixon.

Rush sees Howard reunited with Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan, who was himself Oscar-nominated both for that film and for The Queen. The Brit has made something of an art out of telling stories about real people, having also created The Special Relationship (Bill Clinton/Tony Blair), The Last King of Scotland (Ugandan dictator Idi Amin) and The Damned United (1970s British soccer coach Brian Clough). He's not averse to fiction, however--his last movie was Hereafter, starring Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Howard's team also includes cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire) and his regular editor Dan Hanley (Oscar winner for Apollo 13).
My own involvement with Rush came about after I met Howard and Morgan at last year's British Grand Prix. I interviewed them both for Autoweek and said to Morgan that if the team ever needed help from someone with a passion for the Hunt/Lauda era, I'd be only too happy to volunteer.

We kept in touch, and the call came eventually. Thus for the past few weeks I've had the great privilege of watching these masters of the cinematic art up close.
For me movies are a serious passion, and my shelves are stacked with thousands of DVDs and hundreds of related books. Therefore it's been a surreal experience to meet people whose careers I have followed from afar--there have been times recently when I was the only guy in the room who had never received an Academy Award nomination.
I caught the last couple of weeks of planning and preproduction, a process that, in fact, began in early 2011. The shoot itself is just the tip of the iceberg. I've watched documentaries and listened to directors' commentaries, but nothing prepares you for the scale of the operation and the amount of sheer hard work that goes into creating a film.
Howard and his team are shooting from dawn until dusk pretty much every weekday from Feb. 22 through May 22. The crew is moving around to dozens of other locations, including a foray to Germany which involves a visit to the site of Lauda's accident at the Nürburgring. There is no margin for error as every day is full--it's all planned like a military campaign.

At the heart of it is the current three-week session at a former World War II bomber airfield to the southwest of London. There the team has created a pit-and-paddock complex that can be redressed to represent various tracks. In the quest for accuracy, Howard has gathered up many original cars, including Mario Andretti's Lotus 77, two McLaren M23s, two Ferrari 312Ts and two Tyrrell P34s, but in some cases, the prop magicians have had to adapt bodywork to the right specification for the year.
Howard's team has also created working replicas, not just because it's hard to source a 1976 Ligier JS5, but because wherever he shoots there are frustrating noise restrictions, and real Cosworth DFVs are a little too loud. The actual race cars will be used for some action sequences, but sparingly.

After principal photography wraps in May, Howard and his team move to the postproduction stage of editing and adding visual effects, sound and, of course, the musical score. The latter will be provided by Hans Zimmer, who won an Oscar for The Lion King and who was nominated for Gladiator and Inception.
Putting together the final film is very much like a huge jigsaw puzzle. I've viewed a few of the pieces, standing sometimes at Howard's shoulder as he watches shots progressing on digital monitors, and what I've seen looks fantastic. And if you caught the paparazzi pictures of Lauda and Hunt that have emerged online, you know that stars Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth look the part.
It's been an extraordinary and illuminating experience to visit a world that's so different from the one I'm used to. I've met some fantastic people, all of whom--inspired by the ball of energy that is Ron Howard--are absolutely dedicated to creating the best possible final product. Believe me, it certainly looks as though it will be worth the wait.
But now the 2012 F1 season-opening Grand Prix in Melbourne is calling, and it's time for me to step into the time machine and return to reality. Back to the future, you might say.

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires”.

- Nicolo Machiavelli 1469-1527

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March 20, 2012, 11:51 AM

and a bit on James Hunt. He was the Wilt Chamberlin of F1.
Turbo charged by lust: How Formula One womaniser James Hunt slept with 33 BA stewardesses before race that made him world champ

  • Driver also 'sold' his wife to Richard Burton for $1m
James Hunt was not known for *behaving *appropriately. But never was he more outrageous than in the last two weeks of October 1976, when he was in Tokyo *battling Niki Lauda for the title of *Formula One world motor racing *champion.

His preparations were unconventional, to say the least. He had spent the two weeks leading up to the race on a round-the-clock alcohol, *cannabis and cocaine binge with his friend Barry Sheene, who was world motorcycle champion that year.

While Jackie Stewart famously abstained from sex a week before a motor race, Hunt would often have sex minutes before climbing into the *cockpit.

Life in the fast lane: British F1 driver James Hunt with glamour model Susan Shaw. He slept with more than 5,000 women in his lifetime

He had a gigantic appetite for sex. Physically, he was unequalled even if, emotionally, he was, *perhaps, an amateur.

In Japan, his playground of choice was the Tokyo Hilton, where every morning British *Airways *stewardesses were dropped off at *reception for a 24-hour stopover.

Hunt unfailingly met them as they checked in and invited them to his suite for a party — they always said yes.

It wasn’t unusual for him and Sheene to have sex with all of the women, often together.

But, as Stirling Moss, who used to carouse with Hunt in Monte Carlo before he was married, said: ‘If you looked like James Hunt, what would you have done?’

High sex drive: Hunt shortly after marrying model Suzy Miller

No one watching Hunt that week in 1976 would have believed he was *preparing for the race of his life.

At the circuit, he had been behaving bizarrely — at one point dropping his overalls and urinating in full view of the crowds in the grandstand.

The *spectators, many of whom had *powerful binoculars trained on him, applauded once he had finished.
He waved back. Even on race day, his mind was on other things — and he didn’t care who knew it.

Nothing could have prepared Patrick Head, now co-owner of the Williams F1 team but then a young car designer, for the morning when he inadvertently walked into the wrong pit garage.

He found Hunt inside, with his racing overalls around his ankles, cavorting with a Japanese girl. Hunt laughed when he saw the interloper, who left, not quite believing what he had seen.

A few minutes later, Hunt left the garage and went around the side to carry out his pre-race ritual of vomiting — the result of extreme nerves *combined with overindulgence.

Finally ready for action, Hunt went out to drive the race of his life... and won the 1976 world championship, beating his nearest rival by one point.

The televised action was seen by more than 30million people around the world and his victory signalled a huge celebration.

It was 24 hours before he was due to return to Britain and, in the interim, Hunt drank himself silly.

At a British Embassy reception in his honour, Hunt was so drunk that the ambassador hesitated to let him in.

The return flight on Japan Airlines had been block-booked by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone’s travel company and was the scene for a riotous 12-hour party that drained the plane of alcohol.

When Hunt arrived back at Heathrow airport, 2,000 fans were waiting to greet him. He staggered down the steps of the aircraft, drunk, into the arms of his mother Sue and his beautiful, long-*suffering girlfriend Jane Birbeck.
Famous friends: Hunt with his wife Suzy. The couple would later divorce and she would go on to marry actor Richard Burton (right)

She had been seeing Hunt for nearly a year, but had no idea he’d bedded 33 British Airways *hostesses and countless young *Japanese fans during his two-week stay in Tokyo.

But ‘bedded’ is probably the wrong word — there was rarely time to get them into bed, such were Hunt’s demands. He took his women *whenever and wherever he could and slept with more than 5,000 in his lifetime.

The world championship win capped an *extraordinary year for Hunt, during which his personal life had gathered as many newspaper column inches as his race successes.

At the beginning of 1976, he had been married to the ex-model Suzy Miller. (But after Hunt’s antics they split up and — as I’ll explain — she went on to swap one hard-drinking, *womanising husband for another in the form of actor Richard Burton.)

Hunt and Suzy had met in Spain in 1974. She was a striking woman — a *willowy, small-breasted blonde — not classically beautiful, but her looks, presence and effect on people were similar to the late Princess Diana’s. She captivated everyone she met.

Drifting apart: Hunt expressed his regret at proposing to Miller soon after
Barely 24, a year younger than Hunt, she had spent much of her childhood in southern Rhodesia with her *expat parents, her twin sister, Vivienne, and brother, John.

Hunt and Miller fell into easy *conversation and, a few extraordinary weeks later, he proposed.

Immediately after the proposal, he expressed regret to his friends, saying he was not sure what he was doing.

He'd have sex just before climbing into the cockpit

He wanted Miller as his *girlfriend, but was sexually attracted to other women.

Miller, however, was *perfect for *parading as his partner.

She added a great deal of value to him — and he knew it. So he resolved to try to make the relationship work.

The engagement party was held at his brother Peter’s apartment in London and many of the guests were surprised James Hunt was getting married.

His ex-girlfriend, Taormina Rieck, had married in the intervening years since their break up and was also there. Hunt was still close to Rieck and had attended her *wedding the year before.

Now, Hunt stood before her *confessing that he didn’t want to marry Suzy.

He said: ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this.’ To which she retorted: ‘Well, why the hell are you, you silly clot?’

Playboy: Hunt had a reputation as a party animal off the track

He allegedly told her it had gone too far and he couldn’t get out of it. She remembers him appearing weak and confused, at odds with the confident Hunt everyone knew.

There was also the problem of being faithful.

Hunt loved having sex with his new fiancee, but it was over too quickly for his tastes. He was a sex addict before the term came into common usage and unfaithful to her almost from the start.

Yet, for a time, he enjoyed home life and was in love with her, or so he thought, and *undeniably proud of *having landed her. As his friend, the journalist Gerald *Donaldson, astutely observed: ‘The emotional component of a *relationship for James was still *virgin territory.’

'I couldn't handle the wedding, so I got roaring drunk'

The prospect of marriage had been haunting Hunt but, seeing no way out, he turned to drinking.

For the full four days leading up to the *wedding, held at the Brompton *Oratory in Kensington and *undoubtedly the society wedding of the year, he was never once sober.

The day of the wedding was a farce. At six o’clock that *morning, Hunt poured himself the first of many beers. Before leaving for the church, he knocked back a couple of Bloody Marys. By the time he walked up the aisle, he was hopelessly *intoxicated.

As Hunt *said later: ‘I just couldn’t handle the whole scene, so I went out and got blind, roaring drunk.’

Suzy smiled her way through it all, convinced it would be *different now he was a married man — even though the portents were not auspicious.

Racing for the bottle: Hunt poured the first of many beers on the day of his wedding - and was hopelessly intoxicated as he walked up the aisle

The following day, they left for their honeymoon in Antigua and, once more, the occasion proved to be *anything but straightforward.

He had invited his newly-*married best friend, the Hesketh *Formula One team *manager Anthony ‘Bubbles’ Horsley, to come along with his new bride.

While Suzy Miller and Bubbles’ wife had undoubtedly *envisaged honeymooning alone with their *husbands, the two men clearly *preferred each other’s company.

It was an entirely selfish gesture.

When the Hunts returned to Spain, things did not improve: Hunt was absent most of the time.

Suzy simply wanted a settled family life, but by 1975 admitted to friends: ‘I literally felt like a spare part. I was just there for the show.’ Within a few months, Suzy realised the marriage was not going to work. Still, she was prepared to give it time in the unlikely event that she was wrong.

Hunt’s mother was on her daughter-in-law’s side, saying: ‘Suzy is *gorgeous, but I can see that for James to be married is impossible. I love him, but I’d hate to have him for a husband.’

Relaxing: The Formula One driver was more than happy to embrace the glamorous temptations of the sport
Hunt soon began planning how to ditch her. He tried to explain what had gone wrong: ‘I thought that *marriage was what I wanted and needed to give me a nice, stable and quiet home life, but, in fact, it wasn’t. And the mistake was mine.’

Facing up to the possibility that she, too, had made a mistake, Suzy also wanted out.
Yet she remained supportive and sympathetic to Hunt, which only heightened his sense of responsibility towards her.

He said: ‘I was very anxious not to hurt her. There are nice and nasty ways to do things and I hope I can never be a hurtful person.’

'Relax Richard, you've done me a wonderful turn'

The marriage dragged on for another eight months as Suzy looked for a new partner.

Hunt knew he had to get out and prayed for a miracle. That miracle arrived in the shape of Richard Burton, who was then *Britain’s most famous actor.

At the end of December 1975, with their 14-month marriage in pieces, Hunt and Suzy Miller went to Gstaad in Switzerland for *Christmas with friends. Gstaad was the place to be that year, a festive playground for the rich and famous.

Coincidentally, Richard *Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were also staying there, at a villa called Chalet Arial.

Burton and Taylor had married in 1964. They divorced in 1974, but almost immediately got back together and, a year later in October 1975, they remarried.

Just as Hunt and Suzy *Miller’s marriage had been a fiasco, so, too, was Burton and *Taylor’s — both couples found *themselves *looking for an exit almost *immediately. In Gstaad, Burton first set eyes on Suzy Miller as they were travelling in opposite directions on a ski lift.

Burton turned to his assistant, Brook Williams, and asked who was the ‘vision that had just passed by’.

Legends: Hunt (pictured here with Stirling Moss) won the 1976 World Championship by a single point

He was struck down by Suzy’s sheer presence, as he would say later: ‘I turned around and there was this gorgeous *creature, about nine feet tall. She could stop a stampede.’

By then, Hunt had flown to São Paulo to compete in the Brazilian Grand Prix in the opening race of the 1976 season.

Williams sought out Suzy and invited her to a party in Gstaad a few days later and there Burton was captivated.

Williams invited her to come to the house the following day and, after that, Suzy started visiting Chalet Arial regularly. The affair, which began almost immediately, was Suzy’s first dalliance since her *marriage to Hunt.

He was 50 and she was 26 but, as Burton said: ‘She was mature far beyond her years.’

At the end of January, Burton told Elizabeth *Taylor that their *marriage was over.

He was a sex addict before the term came into common usage and unfaithful to his wife almost from the start

Suzy had kept Hunt fully informed by telephone of the developing affair and to say that he was delighted would have been an understatement.

In fact, when she told him Burton had invited her to join him in New York, he replied: ‘Fine, off you go.’

After he told Taylor it was over, *Burton summoned Suzy to New York and their relationship developed so quickly into a proposal of marriage that a request for a quickie divorce was made to Hunt, while he was in South Africa.

Hunt was delighted his wife had found Richard Burton. The two men immediately spoke on the *telephone to arrange what they called the ‘transfer’ of Suzy.

Burton offered to pay Hunt’s divorce settlement to Suzy: $1 *million. *Burton couldn’t believe that Hunt was so casual about *letting go of his *beautiful wife.

Hunt simply said: ‘Relax, *Richard. You’ve done me a wonderful turn by taking on the most alarming expense account in the country.’

Lapping it up: Hunt swigs champagne at Brands Hatch after breaking a lap record

Miller, effectively, had been sold to Burton by Hunt for $1 million and both were satisfied with the *transaction.

For Hunt, it couldn’t have worked out better; he had got rid of the wife he never wanted and saved himself the divorce costs.

In June 1976, the divorces of Taylor and Burton and Hunt and Miller were formalised in Port Au Prince, the *capital of Haiti, in the Caribbean. There, foreigners could get divorced in a day.

On August 21, Suzy and Burton were married in Virginia.

Meanwhile, Hunt’s mother, Sue, told journalists: ‘I’m quite *convinced that whomever my son had married, the same situation would have arisen.

‘Suzy was a delight, but James is just not the marrying kind.’

Read more: Formula 1 champion James Hunt slept with 33 BA air stewardesses before race | Mail Online

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires”.

- Nicolo Machiavelli 1469-1527

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March 20, 2012, 11:53 AM

ay ya yay
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March 20, 2012, 01:08 PM

Can't wait. Hopefully it's up there with Senna, Le Mans, and Gran Prix for car movies.

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March 20, 2012, 02:10 PM

Howard has a great track record for making bio-opics that ring very true while being entertaining. I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes the best "race" movie since LeMans.

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires”.

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March 20, 2012, 02:18 PM

Man this is going to be awesome.
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March 20, 2012, 05:04 PM


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