Watch: How Steve McQueen’s Camera Highlights the Shame in ‘Shame’

Watch: How Steve McQueen’s Camera Highlights the Shame in ‘Shame’

If your back is turned to another person, that usually indicates a number of things in conventional body language: Stay away. The conversation is over. Do not communicate with me. But it can also indicate a conscious disavowal of an action or state of affairs. If a camera, as in Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame,’ shows us someone’s back, it could mean a number of things–that the character is not someone whose full identity we are meant to know, for instance. Or, in ‘Shame,’ it could mean the character onscreen, namely Michael Fassbender’s Brandon, is not able to entirely face his actions. The newest entry for "Between Frames" on Vimeo shows us a collection of shots of Brandon from behind: as he moves through his apartment, as he enters the subway, as he has sex. These shots all build towards… what, exactly? It seems that McQueen is showing us Brandon as Brandon wishes to be seen, a curious move for such a controlled filmmaker. The character doesn’t want his addictive behavior to be entirely known, despite the fact that his compulsion drives him and shapes his life within the film. This is a chilling assembly of scenes which makes its point memorably.

WATCH: Steve McQueen’s Lingering Camera: A Video Essay

WATCH: Steve McQueen’s Lingering Camera: A Video Essay

In an era that is saturated with lavish and complex camera movement,
Steve McQueen stands out for implicating the contrary. McQueen often
employs the static shot in crucial situations, a technique that
partially defines the unique style of the director’s three
feature-length films: 12 Years a Slave, Shame, and Hunger. Rather than using a slow dolly or handheld
movement to convey poignancy, McQueen chooses to simply leave the camera
be. In doing so, he urges us to fully absorb the moment–there are no
pans to guide us away, or even a rack focus to slightly divert our
attention. McQueen seems to especially favor the static shot during
gruesome struggles and times of extreme distress. He often lingers on
these moments for extended periods of time, yet the camera remains
motionless. Like the characters, we cannot escape the moment and we are
forced to endure every second.

Jacob T. Swinney is an industrious film editor and filmmaker, as well as a recent graduate of Salisbury University.