ShameShame by Steve McQueen

A disturbing movie for unexpected reasons.

First off, it’s not shocking, which says something about how pornographic images of sex (as opposed to other kinds of images) have saturated our culture, public spaces, private imaginaries. The desire to show all is matched today it seems by a sense of having seen all.

The movie is most interesting for how it imagines a private space in the city. The city in this story is merely the backdrop for an intensely private drama and the occasion for beautiful photography. The landscape is window dressing (literally in the many scenes where characters are seen in front of or through window glass). And other characters simply don’t exist as anything other than place holders. The protagonist is alone and to the extent he feels shame at any particular moment, the feeling emerges from his brief recognition of his loss of contact with others. When others break contact with him–in a bar, in a restaurant, at work, in an apartment–and look away, then he has failed and shame is what he feels.

If the pornographic desire to show all can become a vehicle for carving out a private space for individual experience and then remind us that this private experience can support our need for emotional connection with others  (which is what I think this movie suggests), then feeling shame may be the most positive emotional experience available to us today. And if that is the case, then all that queer work on abjection and identity construction in marginal communities might become a major tool for understanding dominant cultures in the age of Facebook. Holy shit, right?

ps–my main annoyance with the film was that (and maybe this relates to my last point?) “rock bottom” is signalled in the movie by two queer encounters. One anonymous in a gay bar, the other bought with two women. Why is such a “risky”, “taboo-breaking” film about sex so boring in its sense of the bounds of what shameful sex is? Apparently treating women like meat might be bad, especially if it goes too far or happens too often, but anything not one man, one woman is really really bad bad bad right from the very start. …Stupid stupid stupid.

The Devil’s Double

The Devil's DoubleThe Devil’s Double by Lee Tamahori

I haven’t looked but, judging by the visual style and celebration of tastefully ostentatious consumption, I’m assuming the director of this film started out in fashion photography or bling-centric music videos. For all its self-importance, the film looks like an advertisement. The problem is that it wants to celebrate, revel in, and mythologize the very things the narrative uses to characterize the antagonist as villainous.

So watching this film is a bit like watching someone hitch a donkey to the front and the back of their cart and say “Giddyup!” Both start pulling and throwing up dust, but they don’t really get anywhere.

The best work is done by the main actor…but again, like the movie, he’s playing both the hero and the villain. So his energies cancel each other out too.

All in all, a noisy, busy bit of tastefully done fashion photography. And boring.


Rango Theatrical posterA friend suggested this film, and I’m glad. It was a smart, funny movie that looked great. I guess the kids were into the animals on-screen, the site gags and the over-arching story? Otherwise, this movie is all for adults and is constructed around an elaborate set of movie references. It’s a fun and well done movie about Hollywood film culture.

Update: I just reread my off-the-cuff thoughts and realize I’ve made this sound like every other animated movie for the past fifteen years:  kiddie story dressed up in pop-culture references to keep mom and dad happy and smug. So just to be clear, that’s not what I mean. This movie’s narrative is built in relation to to Johnny Depp’s career, the western (but especially Eastwood’s Leone films), and importantly, Polanski’s Chinatown. These references are not “nods toward” but instead are full-blown allusions that enable and enrich the story. I’m risking making the movie out to be bigger than it is here, but it is good enough to make “too big” safer ground than the “too small” my original comment mapped out.