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John DeLorean drives onto the big screen

John DeLorean with his iconic car in 1980


By Ray O’Hanlon

So did the man make the car immortal, or did the car make the many immortal?

This is a question that swirls around the life and legacy of John Zachary DeLorean, a designer of cars – and one very particular car – but also a man with a larger than life persona who, more than many, exemplified the American Dream, its glories and its flaws.

If the jury is always out on DeLorean it will have a chance to examine more evidence on the man presented in a new movie, “Framing John DeLorean” which sees Alec Baldwin, somewhat larger than life himself, play DeLorean in what is a combination drama and documentary portrayal.

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DeLorean died in Morristown, New Jersey in 2005 at age 80. His onetime farm in Bedminster was gone. Today, it is one of President Trump’s golf courses.

Alec Baldwin, of course, is lately famous anew for portraying the president on “Saturday Night Live.”

The wheels indeed go round.

What is not gone with regard to DeLorean is his abiding grasp on the popular imagination, fueled in considerable part by the “Back to the Future” movies in which the gull-winged DeLorean sports car, built, of course, in Belfast, plays a starring role.

The Hollywood Reporter stated that the “hybrid documentary” about John DeLorean (played by Baldwin in reenactments) hits theaters in June after making its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

According to the Reporter, in 2004, Baldwin got a phone call from DeLorean. At the time, there were several movies in the works about DeLorean's life story and the “infamous automaker” wanted Baldwin to portray him on the big screen.

When DeLorean died the following years the various movie plans were mothballed.

But now a JZD movie, with Baldwin at the wheel, is finally rolling out.

Stated the Hollywood Reporter: “Framing John DeLorean made its world premiere at New York's Tribeca Film Festival on April 30, where a fleet of DeLorean sports cars followed the cast and team from their packed Chelsea premiere to a party downtown where guests lined up to take pictures of the cars on display.

“While to many the DeLorean car is famously associated with the Back to the Future franchise, Framing John DeLorean — utilizing a hybrid documentary-narrative form — reframes the Hollywood symbol as one that represents a man's legacy.”

This in part answers the question at the top of this story. But not entirely.

Rotten Tomatoes noted that “Framing John DeLorean” aims to finally crack the mystery of its titular subject.

The Chicago Sun Times described “Framing John DeLorean” as an assembling of “mismatched parts, and a “hybrid film” but concluded that it was “still a heck of a ride.”

Suffice it to say, the film doesn’t fully succeed in cracking the mystery surrounding the man and DeLorean would appear destined to remain a complex and mysterious figure far into the future. He would smile at the thought.

This reporter knows all about John DeLorean’s smile and his abundant charm.

He emerged from years of self-imposed silence in 1990 and reached out to the Irish Echo in order to launch a four-wheeled broadside against the British government, specifically the Thatcher one.

The story ran over two issues in the spring of that year and also over three parts in the Sunday Life newspaper in Belfast.

An attempt to have the Belfast series stopped in its tracks went as far as the British attorney general’s office in London, but failed.

DeLorean accused the British government at the time of pursuing a vendetta against him and claimed that no matter what he did to settle his affairs with London he could never succeed in doing so.

This reporter met with DeLorean and subsequently spent many hours with him on the phone. It was plainly evident as to why this was a man destined to make his mark in the world.

When he died in 2005, the Echo published an obituary. And here it is reproduced: “The man in question was not a Hollywood actor or a rock star, nor even a well-intentioned politician. He was a maverick car engineer.

“Many Irish people felt more than a twinge of sadness to hear of the death of John Zachary DeLorean. All his well-documented flaws and failures never quite erased the fondness with which he was regarded in Belfast and beyond.

“DeLorean’s trajectory through life was dramatic — in both up and down directions. Born in Detroit in 1925 to poor European immigrants — his abusive, alcoholic father walked out of the family home, leaving his mother to raise her four sons alone — DeLorean never supped from the silver spoon.

“But he was startlingly intelligent. After spells at a high school for gifted students and a Detroit technology institute, he took the auto industry by storm.

“We outline some of DeLorean’s astonishing early achievements elsewhere in this issue of the Irish Echo. Here, suffice it to say that by his 40th birthday, he was already spoken of as the greatest car engineer of his generation.

“DeLorean could certainly be hubristic. Yet when he said at the end of his career, “I don’t think there’s a car in the world that doesn’t have something I created on it even now,” he was merely stating a fact.

“He left General Motors, where he had made his name, in 1973. He wanted to start his own company. The notion of locating the plant that would build a revolutionary sports car in Belfast seemed a quixotic chimera. DeLorean made it a reality.

“The successive British governments that gave financial backing to the DeLorean Motor Company had their own agenda, of course — they believed that the creation of thousands of jobs in West Belfast would reduce support for the IRA.

“The people who became DeLorean employees didn’t concern themselves about that, one way or another. They were happy to see jobs come to a city pockmarked not only by years of conflict, but by economic deprivation and large-scale unemployment. At its peak, 2,600 people worked at the DeLorean factory.”

Those Belfast workers produced about 9,000 stainless steel DeLorean sports cars and given the bodywork most of those cars are still on the road today, often as part of DeLorean car clubs around the world.

John DeLorean, then, is rather like his car. The memory of the man doesn’t rust. And with “Framing John DeLorean” it gets to shine again on the silver screen.

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