Ain't That A Shame – Steve McQueen's New Movie Is Another Turkey!

Shame is a film about a really boring suit in New York who has a troubled relationship with his sister (Carey Mulligan). The suit (Michael Fassbender) not only has a really tiresome office job, his leisure time is equally tedious – it is mostly spent looking for nookie (both with and without his vapid boss). The suit often buys sex and it is precisely because he thinks that human relationships can be commoditised that his love life is as dull as ditch water.
Imagine the most lacklustre out-take from a story by a forgotten eighties literary brat-pack also ran and then make whatever you’ve dreamt up about a hundred times worse, and you’ll just about have a handle on Shame. The film is set in the present but its addled reinvention of New York owes more to the way the city was depicted by the likes of Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz about 25 years ago. And by drawing on outdated clichés, McQueen manages to make Manhattan look way less exciting than Cleethorpes.
The sex scenes are ultra-tame softcore with no come shots, no erect pork swords, and a focus on brief glimpses of female tits and ass. Shame is squarely aimed at middle-brow audiences from middle England and middle America who are easily shocked and incredibly prudish. There are lots of shots of faces and heads (and I mean the type of head primped by a regular hairdresser – not anything sexual) with out-of-focus backgrounds to make the movie look mildly arty. Typical of this over-used trope is a scene where we see the backs of the heads of the brother and sister with an out-of-focus TV playing cartoons to provide visual ‘interest’. Overall the cinematography sucks as badly as a rubber slave with a dirty butt plug jammed down their throat. The soundtrack is really crass as well – with way too much Bach.
Shame is a movie that will appeal to repressed and aesthetically-challenged saddos who consider TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing sexually charged. If you don’t fit this category then avoid Shame like the plague. I thought McQueen’s first film Hunger was unadulterated middle-brow crap, but Shame manages to be even worse! There’s more excitement to be had from watching flies swarm around a dog turd for ninety minutes than in McQueen’s cinematic slumber parties. But if you like Merchant Ivory Productions, you’ll probably love Steve McQeeen. Me? I prefer watching paint dry!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Quiet Riot Girl on 2012-01-29 13:45:29 +0000

I liked Hunger but have avoided Shame so far and probably will not watch it.
I will just mention though, that film makers with a normal 18 cert are not allowed to show erect penises I believe in the UK anyway.
I have had a couple of arguments about this with film buffs, and I think the BBFC may not be quite so tough as it used to on this, but it is definitely a tradition and it has affected how films depict sex and men’s sexuality in particular over the years.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-29 14:12:10 +0000

I take your point about censorship in historically shaping the depiction of sexuality in film… but there have been way more explicit movies than this put on release in the UK. One of the things I was trying to point up without going into it in any depth (I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on this film) was that Shame is not at all sexually explicity, and I think a lot of people in the cinema when I saw it last night (in central London) felt ripped off and cheated because the movie has been hyped up as being sexually explicit which it is not in any way at all. It is the same old same old… as well as just being a really bad and boring film…. I went to see Andy Milligan’s The Body Beneath at the BFI on Thursday night and that isn’t sexually explicit either (in fact there isn’t even any nudity)… so I can happily watch a movie without nudity or explicit sex scenes; but I do find it telling that the publicity for McQueen’s Shame seems to rely on fooling people into thinking they’re going to see something that isn’t in it in order to get them to watch it at all. This is a complete con.

Comment by Caroline on 2012-01-29 15:39:04 +0000

“makes New York look way less exciting than Cleethorpes” !! love your review Stewart!

Comment by Shell on 2012-01-29 16:37:21 +0000

Sounds very much like I’d prefer to watch paint dry too. Super review, Stew

Comment by Ian Marchant on 2012-01-29 17:03:36 +0000

Great review. But I have to say I’ve just come back from Cleethorpes, and it’s a top place. Breakfast at the Hawaiian Eye Cafe is a must.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-29 17:07:41 +0000

I’ll try the Hawaiian Eye Cafe next time I’m in Cleethorpes…. but given the choice between an all expenses paid trip to New York or Cleethorpes which would you choose? I’d take the former every time!

Comment by Ian Dutch on 2012-01-29 17:41:10 +0000

Hunger is firstly a flat out masterpiece. Shame is a very fine film about a deeply unlikable person and Fassbender gives another great performance and Shame isn’t suppose to be sexually stimulating at all and it certainly isn’t and it’s brilliantly shot.

Comment by ian on 2012-01-29 18:16:32 +0000

Great review…I look forward to your Damien Hirst piece when his mega retrospective takes over the world and flies swarm around it like a Steve McQueen movie.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-29 18:37:17 +0000

Might take me a while to get onto Hirst, so in the meantime you might like to check this one out…
@ Ian Dutch – Shame isn’t brilliantly shot, compare the use an exploitation director like Lucio Fulci makes of split lenses so you have two figures placed one behind the other both in focus to the fuzz tedium of many backgrounds in Shame. Both Hunger and Shame are worthless and boring…. Likewise Shame has been hyped as sexually explicit which it isn’t – as for it being sexually stimulating, that isn’t necessarily the same thing as explicit and I made no comment about that. McQueen is one of the most boring film directors of all time….
A groovy coincidence too that everyone commenting on here for the past few hours should be called Ian…

Comment by TM on 2012-01-29 19:23:26 +0000

Maybe he should have quit at ripping off Keaton.

Comment by Fiona on 2012-01-29 20:01:30 +0000

ouch. But revealing.

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2012-01-29 20:54:59 +0000

I stopped reading after ‘no erect p;ork swords’. There simply was no point. Literally.

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2012-01-29 20:56:36 +0000

Oh and they used to have a really good record fair in Cleethores back in the 90s. Now, Skegness, there’s a place that is dull.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-29 21:42:12 +0000

I’ve been to Skegness but I can’t remember much about it…. but I do like mudflats and you certainly get them when the tide is out at Cleethorpes….

Comment by Laura on 2012-01-29 22:11:20 +0000

okay true story here.. almost went to see Shame last night, then watched Hunger and my partner said “yeah, Stewart Home didn’t like it either from what I remember when he reviewed it ages ago…” Needless to say watching Hunger stopped me going to watch Shame last night…

Comment by Sid Wood on 2012-01-29 23:07:19 +0000

It’s a fucking nuisance films like this get made let alone released.

Comment by dutch oven on 2012-01-29 23:11:19 +0000

I liked the fact that the ‘explicit’ lure and esp the final scenes of a threesome were , while fairly graphic in terms of mainstream cinema, so unsexual exactly like watching paint dry… but I do think that was the point.
My biggest question was about the portrayal of the gay club as the gates of hell, all red lights and like he was sucked in, or overwhelmed. Seemed that the director was saying this is as low as it gets… Dunno felt uncomfortable.
I also hated the long shots of his sister singing. I agree that some of it just didn’t work esp the ending where I felt he could have been braver.
I liked some of the intimacy/lack of intimacy riffing is a word I’v seen used before and I actually enjoyed the soundtrack especially of overheard laptop lapping and grunts, I like the way he just took off the record.
I haven’t seen all the films you are talking about a lot of that exploitation stuff is obscure to me and most audiences…

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-29 23:35:49 +0000

You may have seen the boredom of the softcore scenes being the point, but I just saw it as a cop out compared to real avant-garde deployments of boredom which take such things much futher and thus actually become more interesting coz they genuinely throw you back on yourself (lettrist cinema for example).
I’ve heard other people comment in a way similar to you on his problematic relation to gay male sex (mostly gay men)…
I too hated the long shots of the sister singing…. it would have been better if he’d just held that single shot for the whole film and really pushed us with that….
Basically Shame is middle-brow tedium and like all middle-brow crap it panders to reactionary (petit) bourgeois tastes and has none of the plus points of exploitation movies or genuinely high-brow art film (and we know middle-brow will never break with bourgeois values). I was bored throughout and just thought it sucked….

Comment by Joan Collins on 2012-01-29 23:58:40 +0000

And there I was thinking Shame was a chic new brand of perfume!

Comment by Charlie Harper on 2012-01-30 00:11:07 +0000

I thought Steve McQueen was great in Cool Hand Luke, so it’s a real shame to hear he’s such a terrible director.

Comment by HH on 2012-01-31 05:14:32 +0000

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