Friday, 24 February 2012


Portrait of a self loathing man.

On our RBC Film Club nights there’s always a lot of comment on what constitutes a good Monday night film. My own definition is that it must be a challenging watch and invoke a good follow on discussion (and preferable one that does not have a happy ending!)  This week’s film certainly fitted the bill. Shame (2011) described as a sex-addiction drama it was bravely introduced, at very short notice, by Rachel Findlay who started her verbal presentation by giving some background to tonight’s director. 

43 year old Steve McQueen was born in London and studied art and design at the Chelsea College of Art and Design moving on to study fine art at Goldsmiths College, it was here he first become interested in film and made his first short’s. After leaving Goldsmiths in 1993 he travelled to New York and studied briefly at the Tisch School of Arts but left because he deemed it not experimental enough. Citing his influences as the French New Wave and Andy Warhol his first major work was Bear (1993) although one of his best-known short films is Deadpan (1997) a restaging of the famous Buster Keaton movie where a house collapses around him leaving him unscathed, for which he won the Turner Prize in 1999. Both these films were in black and white and silent. He has also exhibited sculpture and photographs. In 2006 he went to Iraq as the official war artist. The following year he presented Queen and Country, a piece that commemorated the deaths of British soldiers who died in the Iraq War by presenting their portraits as a sheet of stamps.
Fassbender with Steve McQueen.
Rachel went on to tell us that McQueen’s first feature film was the award winning Hunger (2008) it starred Michael Fassbender who played Bobby Sands, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who participated in a ‘no wash’ protest and led a hunger strike to apply pressure on the British government to grant the Maze prisoners political status. A story of a man that pay’s the ultimate price for his beliefs. 
Which brought us nicely to tonight’s film which like Hunger stars Michael Fassbender, whose debut was the award winning TV mini series Band of Brothers (2001) and has appeared in many feature films including 300 (2007) Angel (2007) Eden Lake (2008) Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Andrea Arnolds Fish Tank in 2009. His co-star is Carey Mulligan whose feature film debut was only 7 years ago as Kitty Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Her best-known film to date is An Education (2009) for which she won various Best Actress Awards you may also have seen her in And When Did You Last See Your Father (2007) Public Enemies (2009) Never Let Go (2010) and the brilliant Drive (2011) with Ryan Gosling.
Carey Mulligan comes of age.
McQueen’s second feature film Shame co-written by Abi Morgan (Sex Traffic 2004, Brick Lane 2007) is set in New York City and relates the tale of alienated loner Brandon (Fassbender) whose life revolves around sex without commitment, he’s a man that cannot form relationships feeding his fetish with prostitutes and porno from his laptop. He lives in a minimalist impersonal apartment in Manhattan. But his mundane existence is jarred by the arrival of his uninvited fragile sister who has nowhere else to stay at present. A larger than life character, Sissy (Mulligan) unwittingly changes Brandon’s masturbatory habits throwing his very existence into turmoil.
"New York, New York"
Following our normal break for refreshment a larger than normal group of audience members returned to the auditorium to participate in the discussion. It was generally agreed that McQueen’s film was about addiction and not about sex and was a particularly challenging watch, being both disturbing and graphically realistic. I was impressed with the acting from both our leads particularly Carey Mulligan who really came of age in this movie with Fassbender giving a great portrait of a self loathing man that was trapped inside himself. The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt (Hunger) was brilliantly executed with some exceptional long shots including Brandon’s midnight run across Manhattan from the East River along 28th Street in a single shot of extraordinary beauty. McQueen is a very clever director that encourages us to connect with the characters by drawing inferences from the clues he assembles, acknowledging the intelligence of the audience unlike many films. Coming away from the theatre I was unsure about this film with it’s depiction of joyless sex and its lack of humour, but on reflection I believe this to be a benchmark in British film making and can’t understand why it has not been nominated in this years Academy Awards?

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