Monthly Archives: January 2012

  • Shame Steve McQueen (UK 2011)

    Shame Steve McQueen (UK 2011) Michael Fassbender; Carey Mulligan

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 24/01/2012; Ticket price: £7.95

    Shame about shame

    My reading of the opening shot of Shame, is that it
    was faked. We see Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lying on his bed. Brandon’s torso is naked his lower body
    entwined in white sheets (Christ-like ?). Eyes open he lies completely still: still as death. At last the eyes tremble; he
    moves. I think this is a shot faked in the editing, using the freeze frame tool
    to control the immobility of the opening part of the shot. Why does Steve
    McQueen start his movie with an image set up by the editing software? Is it a
    structured statement about the film’s concerns; or a device used to create an
    affect to make the shot appropriately dramatic; an unwitting
    sign that this movie is be about image not substance.

    Steve McQueen’s (SM) reputation after his first movie Hunger, it is appropriate
    to probe into the film’s form structure and content, and to conject as to purpose
    and intention behind the project: to appraise the moral content of the
    movie. By moral I am not referring
    to a code of ethics or morality but to a consistency in internal logic, a
    refusal to compromise a line of vision.

    Hunger’s key
    attribute was that it was locked into specific context: the death of Bobby
    Sands in the Maze Prison. The
    historical biographical context provided the basis for the three chapters,
    which explored the realms of Body Mind and Spirit that SM incorporated into
    Hunger. The situations in the film
    developed out of these categorical loci. They were grounded in the real. They
    were not metaphorical.

    The first two
    sections in Hunger were based about body and mind (dialogue) presented as
    filmic installations. The images
    proposed a series of oppositions that allowed the audience to see and make
    their own interpretation of what was happening. Two shots, both scenes in themselves: the long
    duration shot of the warder using a janitorial squeegee to sluice the piss down
    the length of the prison corridor; the 17 minute dialogue between BS and the
    priest on the morality of the hunger strike. The audience are put into the
    position where they have to look and listen in order to understand. SM’s film did not manipulate the viewer
    but open up for the viewer a process of understanding.

    I thought the
    first two chapters of Hunger much better than the third which sloped into
    sentimentality. Nevertheless on
    viewing, Hunger has a consistent moral line: the inexorable logic of oppositions in action. In exposition and discourse it
    does not indulge either in emotive sub prime acting or the politics of
    pre-formed and implied judgments.

    There are perhaps
    some specious similarities between Hunger and Shame. Hunger about a man imprisoned by external forces moving
    inwards; Shame a man imprisoned by internal forces trying to move outwards.

    Unlike Hunger,
    Shame completely lacks context.
    The film is set in New York but it is not a context, it’s a symbolic
    backdrop for the events that take place in the film. In relation to subject matter the background to these
    events might be anywhere: Clermont Ferrand, Birmingham or Boston. Shame might have benefited from a
    lower profile background. But New
    York it is; chosen for its symbolic resonance, its streets and skyscrapers
    ready made code for contemporary alienation. It’s a city that Shame castes as a
    metaphysical entity with a population of replicants and lost souls. There is even a performance of the
    Sinatra hit ‘New York New York’ as
    a set piece in the film: it’s deconstructed but sung for affect. (the piano accompaniment was great but
    I didn’t catch who played it on the credits) SM exploits New York as a city that is already a cliché and
    defaults in the film to shots of the city that simply reinforce this

    The key settings
    of Shame are all metaphorical rather than real. They are all decontextualised, with substance extracted
    leaving a sort of filmic shell within which the film’s events take place. The subway system with its sexually
    charged rides is a metaphorical underworld of id; the office whose function we
    never learn, is a little like the superego – a place where Brandon’s represses
    his sexual needs (except in the toilet);
    and his apartment, painted white like a Swiss sanitarium is where
    Brandon is himself. Metaphorical
    psychic zones rather than real spaces.

    Shame comprises
    metaphorical zones contained within a metaphysical city. It’s problem is that
    within all these unreal spaces Brandon never seems real. His problems are never
    real and he is never interesting from the point of view of giving the audience
    something to contain. Had Von Treer
    made such a movie he would have understood that the film needed an
    uncompromising moral line to work. The film might have been about: becoming Cock. Brandon literally
    overwhelmed by, flooded out both internally and externally by sexual desires
    becomes: Cock. A epic line with the possibility of
    deadly mordant humour that would overwhelm devastate and destroy Brandon and
    all those he touches. With a
    script that takes a line, the viewer is presented with a situation which they
    have to confront.

    Instead Brandon
    wanders about the non-spaces of the movie becoming… a non entity. SM uses a sort of sub plot to try and
    rescue the movie . This involves
    Brandon’s sister, Cissie, who’s a singer (and a cutter) who has an affair with
    his boss. The brother sister stories intertwine. (perhaps they are supposed to
    intertwine as schizoid individuals?) But their relationship fails to energise
    the movie. The extent of
    their synergy in the film is to reveal, unsurprisingly, that they are both
    trapped in infantile sexual circuitry; there again so is the whole
    country. Brandon realizes in the
    course of another coy subplot that he is unable to have a normal loving relationship. His response is an orgy of fucking.
    This scene is particularly crude.
    It looks like SM asked
    Fassbender to overact, so that during the orgy with two whores we have to watch
    as he pulls back his mouth in a rictus of pain and grimacing throughout the
    whole fuck. The loaded emotive
    gesturing kept this viewer bored but cued him as to what to think.

    A significant
    feature of addiction is tolerance. Alcohol drugs sex: for users all have the same equation of need, you always
    need more of what you want to get the same effect. There is a core to sexual activity that is about
    control. The sexual imposition of will can easily lead to
    sadistic violence, and constitutes a line of action a line that is visible for
    example, at Abu Ghraib. This is the
    line, part of the becoming cock line, that Shame never takes that SM seems to
    inhibited to explore.

    Shame ends on
    shots of the brother sister reunion/reconciliation. The which doesn’t seem to mean anything, but is presumably a
    measure of SM’s desperation as to what to do with his material. Some of the dialogue, especially in the
    public interstitial spaces captures the banality of the social strata of the
    settings. But coming out of
    familiar soap opera provenance
    ‘Oscar acceptance speech exchanges’ are parodies of parodies.

    I found the use of
    the Bach compositions interesting.
    They related to nothing that I saw or experienced in Shame. Bach’s selection for the sound track
    seemed an attempt to exploit the
    music so that it would lend a sort of spiritual lamination to a film in
    which spirit was otherwise honoured in its absence. I found its use more annoying than relevant

    The film might have been made out of the cynical
    motivation that sex sells. Any movie preceded by a clinical disclaimer about its
    concern with sex addiction, yet featuring a measure of full on tits bums and
    cock will make its money back. It
    panders to the conceit of the art house crowd who like sex in films to be
    presented with a veneer of mitigating intellectual legitimation. I think SM’s initial ambition may
    have been to make a statement about how sex has become twisted and
    depersonalized in strata of our society.
    On the evidence SM didn’t have the artistic or intellectual flair to
    make such a film. Instead he
    produces Shame which comprises a jumble of images and sounds put together in
    the hope that they might have the hoped for effect. They don’t.

    adrin neatrour

  • The Artist Michel Hazanavicius (France 2011) Jean Dujardin; Benernice Beja

    The Artist Michel Hazanavicius (France 2011) Jean Dujardin; Benernice Beja

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 10 01 2012 Ticket: £8.00

    Soap without the verbals….

    Of course Hitchcock knew what a MacGuffin was and made ever more intensive use of the idea to drive his psychosexual obsessions into the heart of the films. The plot to Michel Hazanavicius’ (MH) movie is a Macguffin with an empty centre. When you look for the driving force there’s nothing there. A meaningless plot encircled by vacuous framing devices that signify to the audience that this is a ‘take’ on the silent movie form. We have silence on the dialogue and the effects tracks, (most of the time) but not on the music track. There are intertitle cards for the dialogue, iris fades, other period wipes and vignetting (fuzzy or dark edges at corners of frame) for the picture These outer markers of form enclose a sort of voided centre where the main action consists of a series of old ideas raided from the history of Hollywood, which history has already been heavily quarried by other tomb robbers. The film is premised on the conceit ( accurate) that the fake form of the Artist is sufficient for the films commercial success.

    You can fool some of the people all of the time….(Abe Lincoln: attributed)

    The acting style in the Artist is not so much of the ‘silent ‘ era, but rather of today. This is not surprising. Contemporary audiences would have little patience with the etiolated expressive gesturing of silent movie acting. They are more comfortable with the exaggerated but cursive expressive gesturing of the TV soap opera: so it’s no surprise that this is what the producers give them. Soap without the verbals.

    As regards plot the team behind the Artist decided against a plot line generated by an original idea: they chose to exploit plot as a feeble vehicle for retreading bits and bobs of Hollywood movie history. The decision is of course at one with the rationale behind the movie of playing to audience conceit. We have film as a: ‘spot the references/hommages game’. Film as quiz night. So we have a parade of movie ghosts: Fairbanks Jn, Chaplin (which ref gives Georges Valentin the unconvincing line: ‘I am an artist) Jack Warner, Gloria Swanson, Rin Tin Tin (a major Warner 20’s Star) Lubitsch, and of course Hitchcock.

    MH ‘ borrows’ the sound track from Vertigo to try and locate the Artist in the psychotic key that is core to Vertigo’s impact. It’s significant of course that MH has to use the Vertigo sound track to try and point his audience towards the emotional zone he wants to suggest. The decision to recycle the Vertigo soundtrack might have been masterful but the film simply cannot live with it, or rather live it out. The point MH wants to locate in the material seems to be an inverse replication of the fetish sexual fixation that Scotty has with Madeliene. In the Artist we have Pappy and George, and it is the female who is driven to possess the male by her fetish, the magical means of possession through object relations. But the idea doesn’t work in the movie. There is no room for darkness in the relations, and the force of the fetish is only feeble expressed and alluded to in a flimsy sort of way before the mechanics of creaking plot drive the couple on to their last movie reference point: Ginger ‘n Fred.

    The role of ‘the dog’ is interesting (real name Uggie – I didn’t notice any credit for his trainer).

    The dog is accorded an ambivalent role in the film. He exists for his mechanics and his cuteness but is not allowed to make any other claims. Without these other claims his role becomes that of an automaton, not a personality. By claims I point to the fact that there is not a scene in the film where Georges relates to or engages with the dog. He never feeds it, we never see him talk to it (all pet owners talk to their animals), train it or reward it. George never worries about the animal or cares for it. It is simply an automaton that does as it is bid; aside from the Rin Tin Tin sequence when the dog fetches a cop to rescue his master from the flames. Of course audience love the dog. His performance (enhanced by CGI?) is wondrous, but his role is anomalous. Peppy never relates to him nor does the Chauffeur, and in the last Fred ‘n Ginger sequence he seems to have vanished. Has Peppy murdered the dog as part of her pact with her fetish? The dog in the Artist has a highly circumscribed role: as if the actors, aware of WC Fields dictum, had a contractual clause that limited the role of the mut: no emotional baggage allowed only trix.

    The pacing of the Artist is dire. It is relieved by some structured wit as when the film breaks into sound, and the occasional amusing use of a intertitle. The pacing is leaden and accompanied by an original score that is monotonous in both rhythm and tempo. The sequences and scenes grind through the material, without tension or counterpoint. The grim mechanics of the plot, the progress from reference to homage to reference make this a dire filmic experience. It is the triumph of marketing over merit and personal judgement. Sales: it’s the old story: you tell them what they’re going to see; you show it to them….and then tell them they’ve seen it…

    Adrin Neatrour