Friday, August 21, 2015

Origin Of An Auteur Blogathon: Steve McQueen

Hello, Bloggers, John over at Hitchcock's World has started his own Blogathon known as Origin of An Auteur where you analyze the first feature film of an artistic director. Here are the rules:

1) Pick one director and identify his or her first feature film. It must be the first feature film (i.e. over one hour runtime) listed in her/his filmography. 

2) While you will be primarily discussing that one film, you should have an understanding at least some of the director's later films, enough to be able to recognize his or her style. 

3) Analyze your chosen film in relation to the director's later projects. What elements of his or her style do you see here? 

4) Keep in mind that this blogathon is based on critical thinking and analysis, not simply on whether you liked the film. Your post should not be so much on the film itself as what it says about the director. 

5) Repeats (i.e. two people writing about the same director and film) are acceptable, but discouraged. If you do choose a topic someone else is writing about, try to find something different to say on the subject. 

6) Include a banner and a link back to this post. There are several banners to choose from below, and you are permitted to create your own provided they fit the blogathon's themes.

So the director I went with is Steve McQueen. His first film is the 2008 biopic Hunger. Even though he has made only three feature films to date, he still managed to create his own distinctive vision. 

One technique that McQueen often uses is long takes. There is one scene where Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender, is talking with a priest about his plans for a hunger strike and its take lasts for about 17 to 20 minutes. As the scene progresses, the tension isn't released until the camera cuts away.

But there is one scene in his sophomore effort Shame where the long take technique is put to even greater use. In a scene where Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, is singing a rendition of "New York, New York", as the camera focuses closely on her face, both McQueen and Mulligan reveal the sadness and broken dreams in her eyes behind that songbird singing voice. (Seriously, how the FUCK was Mulligan not nominated for this?!) 

But that actually brings me to my next point. Not only does McQueen never cut away from the raw realism present in his work, but he is also a visual storyteller that hardly ever relies on dialogue to have the characters demonstrate their feelings or their background. In about the first 20 minutes of Hunger, there is hardly any dialogue spoken. Instead, McQueen films the horrible conditions the prisoners lived in. 

This kind of visual storytelling is also present in McQueen's most recent film 12 Years A Slave. One scene where he films a long take to tell the story is when Solomon Northup is hanging from a tree and as he is fighting for his life, his fellow slaves walk by out of fear and his master's wife just looks on from her house, standing still without much sympathy. 

I'll also go back to Shame. Much like how in Hunger, the first 20 minutes are nearly free of dialogue, in the climax of Shame, Brandon goes on a night of binge sex. With each place that he goes to, we see how a bodily experience so enriching for many causes him such suffering. For a scene filled with sex, it is interestingly sexless. 

So I think what makes McQueen's style so effective is how he films important fragments to make his films feel like fictional documentaries. Whether it'd be the filming of horrendous prison conditions, or a closeup into the eyes of a broken dreamer, or a slave fearing for his life, McQueen manages to tell his stories through the use of eyes and walls rather than focusing on words. 

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