Steve McQueen set the film world on fire with HUNGER (2008) five years ago. His debut film pinpointed to a director that not only knew how to fill a frame but took the time to familiarize himself with the in and out’s of his topic at hand. I mean, his first film was a reconstruction of a 90 second videotape left from the Hunger strike and riot that occurred in 1981 in Ireland, holy moly! Its a film about politics in every way. Its about the politics regarding the IRA and British Government struggle. Its about body politics; how the human body has been used as a political statement. And lastly it is about the statement itself, the political statement, the power that comes through it.
Like Hunger, Shame (2011) has all the seriousness one can possibly expect from a McQueen film. Shame had notes of Hunger. There is still an analysis on the body and its treatment. Just as Hunger had its constant reminder shots of the topic at hand so does Shame. Both films frequently had tight frames fixated on body parts. Hunger fixated on broken flesh, protruding bones or hands, especially the hands…hands, hands, hands. Each shot was filled with how the human body became a political statement. His focus on hands in Hunger points to the power of the political statement. He shot them making political demands. We see them writing letters to pass along to those outside prison to using their hands to defy on walls using their shit, we even see the bloody hands of the guards. Shame also focused on the body but this time the camera was aimed at the face (other parts as well, of course, but I’ll leave that up to you to discover) for example the first scene is an observation on the power of the penetrative stare. Tough stuff.
Both films have very hard pills-to-swallow for topics: one is about the struggle of prisoners of war while the other deals with the crisis of deviant sexual behavior. Hard topics aren’t often found in theatres so it is so refreshing to see a direction that doesn’t pick subject matter that cater to the crowds. So it was a nice surprise to see a full house last night.
In regards to style the films followed a cinematography of detail. Frames were full of detail relating to the topics. Each had great montages: in Hunger the scene of “the fucking Bastard” comes to mind, where prisoners start destroying their cells after been given civilian cloths in a taunting manner; in Shame, its the removal of the porn. They also each had long takes of the central character, allowing the audience to really see them as they were. Style.
One has to ask, does two films alone make the stamp for Auteurship? I would probably make the safe bet and say, yes. He has delivered films that keep a style and a narrative that has been, lately, only been touched by McQueen. McQueen indicated in 2008 that he was a filmmaker to watch. His films aren’t something you take a first date to, no; but they are films that with every revisit their meaning sets another tone to your perspective on life. Make sure to check out Shame as it comes out today.