As a Child of the ’80s and a life-long fan of Robert Zemeckis’ time-traveling trilogy, I’ve always been curious about the man, the myth, the legendary car creator, John DeLorean. Even though I was too young to remember his life story (and subsequent legal troubles) back in the day, a three-part Netflix documentary series manages to fill in many of the gaps with Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean.
Driven by the demons of his childhood and an abusive family, John DeLorean was a complicated guy. Motivated by status and money, this self-made man lived the life of a rock star, rising to become the youngest corporate executive at General Motors, eventually leaving the company to start his own business. He went from a buttoned-down square to a Hollywood socialite. Subtle as a sledgehammer, his background as an engineer would soon lead him to a tragic midlife crisis.
Attempting to design, build and sell his very own automobile from scratch, the DMC-12 would become not only the pinnacle for DeLorean’s career, but also his downfall. His goal was to build a stainless steel race car that would compete with the Europeans, while being fuel-efficient and relatively good for the environment. The actual results were somewhat different.
Described as charismatic without empathy, as well as a malignant narcissist, this docuseries takes a deep dive into his personality as a good student growing up, a party animal in college, a lady’s man, as well as a perfectionist engineer. Business reporters, documentarians, automobile magazine writers, investigative reporters, former execs and even his family members chime in about his past.
A variety of people saw the man differently, but winning over people and becoming popular constantly seemed important to DeLorean. Always needing more time and money to reach completion goals, he eventually ran out of government grants (while spending a portion of someone else’s money on himself).
His secretary turned on him, taking evidence to the press and he was later charged with narcotics smuggling by undercover FBI agents. Pornographer Larry Flynt somewhat came to his rescue by releasing the undercover set-up video to the public, which played a part in the 12-person jury deciding he was not guilty.
“I knew he was capable of doing something desperate and illegal, because he had so much to hide…”
DeLorean died in 2005 as an internet watch salesman, planning to start a new car company. This is definitely the stuff of movies!
There’s a good chance DeLorean was the multi-faceted monster he was made out to be by multiple people in this documentary, but we’ll never really know his side of the story, as he died 16 years before it was released — that’s my biggest complaint. You can pile up all the evidence in the world against someone, but the least you can do is allow them to defend themselves. This doesn’t happen here (as in many other accusational documentaries).
The timeline for Myth & Mogul is a little erratic, going back and forth as necessary, to tell the story. Interviews while driving vehicles may fit the subject matter, but the speakers’ attention remains elsewhere. Archived footage and audio tapes help the exposition move along. I would have liked to learn a little more about his last few years after DMC shut down, though.
What ended with the drug trial of the century really faded out at its conclusion. It’s tragic story, really, kinda mimicked in Back to the Future (which never gets mentioned — not once!), as arms dealers (not drugs) lead to the downfall of a technical genius.
John DeLorean may have made promises he couldn’t keep, desperate to keep his company afloat, which led to bad business deals, hoping to cash in a quick buck. But one truth sticks in my head: As each year goes by, the subject matter loses effectiveness. This could have been award-winning journalism decades ago. Instead, it feels kinda like the government’s entrapment dilemma: Should we accuse the man of horrible crimes many years after his death, without allowing for any sort of response to said accusations? A character assassination, indeed.
I would love for the man of the past to hop into Hollywood’s time machine today in order to defend himself. If only Zemeckis could make it happen. That would be the perfect sequel to wrap up his film franchise.