Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Fast and the Furious

Shame (2011, Steve McQueen) is irreducible. It is about a young marketing professional who's a sex addict (Micheal Fassbender) and his suicidal sister (Carey Mulligan), set in New York. By the end of the film, nothing changes.

I'm split between two ways to read this movie. My first response was positive. Knowing the premise beforehand (Brandon's a sex addict), every shot rang completely true to his symptom. When I first saw the opening shot of Brandon catatonically staring at the ceiling, I projected that he wakes up with one thing on his mind and nothing else--the look of a junkie. And I thought, "brilliant, wow, that's exactly what it's like." I also thought the music, pacing and composition were refined, and that the film did so much in such an understated way.

But after reflection, I was not so sure. Hunger (2008, Steve McQueen) is a bona fide masterpiece about an historical figure who sacrifices his self through starvation to make a political statement in a humanitarian way. Shame's Brandon is the opposite: he indulges his sexual appetite and cares for nothing and nobody. And as a character, what the hell do I care about some rich upper-East side yuppie who gets laid as much as humanly possible? Seriously? Sympathy? For that? I realized, with a different filmmaking approach, I would not be empathizing with this guy's misery, I'd be appalled by the audacity someone had to have to think anyone actually cares about this character's conquests--it might even be nothing more than high dollar softcore.

In conclusion, Steve McQueen is a brilliant visual artist. In the film's beginning, there is an edit that is joined by a shot of Brandon jacking off in the shower that goes soft (blurry) on an MCU of him, which is followed by a match cut of a soft focus MCU of Brandon on the subway.

Also, there's a now signature McQueen overhead shot, composed with perfect symmetry: Brandon taking a bathroom break during work and what he does in the stall.

Then there's the first POV of Marianne in Brandon's office: she appears naked from the shoulders up (even though in the diegetic world she's clothed), and the frame is disturbed--what are we looking at? Her shoulders? Her lips? One eye?

The other two big sequences are: the tracking dolly shot of Brandon running out in the city at night, which follows him as he falls off into black, then catches him sporadically as he approaches overhead sources (also similar to the technique employed for he and Marianne's first walk and, maybe, inspired by the EXT. night shots in Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)); and the six minute two shot of he and Sissy (Mulligan) talking on the couch. I probably don't need to point this out, but six minutes is an exceptionally long duration for a shot, especially in the modern cinematic climate of today. (And Steve McQueen's most famous shot from Hunger is an uninterrupted seventeen minute take of two guys talking that is unlikely to be rivaled anytime soon.)

Like I said, it's impressive how every shot works by staying with Brandon or Sissy and omits dialogue for moments of silence and stillness, but preserves focus and remains truthful to their story.


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2 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

I think, though, that "indulges appetite" is the wrong way to look at it. "Compulsively strains" is more accurate: there is essentially zero pleasure anywhere in this movie.

This doesn't quite solve the problem of "who cares", b/c, sure, it's still a rich handsome guy who's experiencing no pleasure and that's not necessarily all that interesting--but there is a lot more here than a guy piling up conquests...

It was a visually striking movie, and well-acted (although Mulligan's song was tired and overlong), but frankly trite: the movie demonstrates the character's complete degradation by having him engage in a homosexual hookup, a position that's untenable, offensive, and honestly just stupid.

About the only thing I really liked--other than the colors & the performances--was that it wasn't *that* prurient.

But in general, the movie was like the fucks it depicts: bland, pointless, and essentially unsatisfying.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Dregs Erroneous said...

Okay, I agree with most of your comments here. Brandon's visit with the male slut is actually the part of the movie that bothered me the most and also why I started trying to decode what exactly the message is here.

Although it's almost like the film safeguarded itself against reading that scene as degrading solely on the basis that the sexual partner was gay--at least that's what the ambiguous score may suggest: downfall or just another dish to indulge his decadent appetite. "Compulsively strains" probably is more accurate, but I don't quite have the aptitude to read that, yet.

Not to belabor the point, but I just wonder if maybe Brandon is enjoying it? What about that self satisfied smirk when he offers his finger to the boyfriend of the girl to smell? And the "golden" threeway after his gay date? After we see Brandon with his face in the posterior of one of those women, I swear he looks elated, with like a grin of relief and like he feels like that's as good as it gets for him.

9:13 AM  

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