For Shame

December 21, 2011

Those fortunate enough to have been in my company of late may have heard me lament the extent to which I’ve devoted time on this blog to covering centipede movies and other oddball horror fare. I’ll be looking to redress this in the coming year for, despite the time and energy devoted to these gruesome amusements here, they are by no means the films I take the greatest pleasure in watching and that has been as true this year as it has always been. I’m not a horror fanboy.

One recent film that I’m eagerly anticipating is Steve McQueen’s Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. I thought it hadn’t yet been released but apparently it opened in limited cinemas in the states on December 2nd. The consensus opinion is that Fassbender is excellent in it as a sex-addicted yuppie in Manhattan steadily fucking his life up with implacably empty promiscuity, and the previews promise a tone that is both intriguingly grim and beautifully composed. Visual artist-turned-director, McQueen, apparently had final cut privilege on the film and refused to change a frame of the sexually explicit content resulting in Shame earning an NC-17 rating in the states. Normally, this rare rating, equivalent to “adults only”, can be a huge obstacle to a film’s commercial success in America (and, ergo, overall) as, astonishingly, both large home movie distribution franchises like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video refuse to stock NC-17 films as a matter of policy and major cinema chains AMC and Regal will not show them. Such policies, of course, are merely cowardly compromises in the face of the bullying and interference by organized religious fundamentalists who seek to control and deny precisely what other people can consume for entertainment. I’ve had a lifelong antipathy for such people, and seriously doubt their net worth to the human species, so initial word of the controversy surrounding this film had me preparing to rail bitterly against those foul villains in both my private life and amidst the vast detritus of the blogosphere. However, a cursory bit of research has revealed that Fox Searchlight, the distributors behind Shame, have chosen to support the filmmakers and fully embrace the rating decision. Searchlight president, Steve Gilula, has said

“I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner,” says Gilula. “The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It’s not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It’s a game changer.”

That’s a wholly admirable position, and a very welcome one. Searchlight, who have enjoyed great award success behind recent films, also managed to distribute the NC-17 rated The Dreamers several years ago, so this is not unchartered territory for them. Their goal here is to overcome the ludicrous stigma attached to the adult rating by marketing Shame slowly and steadily on the basis of its critical acclaim and strong reviews, banking on audiences accepting the film as a serious and compelling piece with much more than explicit nudity to offer. It seems a tad early to tell if Gilula’s concluding sentence above is on the money but we can only hope, when it often seems we are in a race to reduce the entirety of popular entertainment to one homogenous mass of Disneyfied fuckwittery, that mainstream media companies will continue to support and produce art that’s not afraid or ashamed to be aimed at grown-ups only.



  1. There’s a decent documentary about the MPAA and how they come up with their ratings. Trailer here:

    The MPAA ratings system is rather outmoded with a generally conservative bias in regards to the films they rate. Its also surprising how secretive the whole process is. Saw this trailer and am intrigued myself.

  2. Is that This Film is Not Yet Rated?

    Yeah, I should really get around to seeing that one day. I’ve read the broad gist of it.

  3. This is high on my list of must-sees, too. Fassbender has become a fascinating actor to watch. And the tone I get from the trailer is irresistible.

    I can’t get over how charged and almost overwhelming this scene is. And it’s all in the actor’s eyes.

    (there’s a better version of this scene out there somewhere – but you’ve probably already seen it)

  4. I have McQueen’s debut feature, Hunger, sitting there waiting to be watched. I likethe similarity in titles and one critic has remarked that the two films seem like companion pieces. I’m interested in seeing Fassbender as Bobby Sands as well, and how far he takes the role physically.

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