Steve McQueen on Shame's Iconic Scenes

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Maichael Fasbbender in the opening scene of Shame, 2011
Maichael Fasbbender in the opening scene of Shame, 2011Directed by Steve McQueen

To celebrate the release of Shame in UK cinemas today, Steve McQueen discusses the aesthetic of some of the film's iconic scenes, a surprisingly simple approach which further highlight his instinctive nature and talents as a feature filmmaker...

"I've been asked a lot about the opening shot in the film – the landscape shot of Brandon [Michael Fassbender] lying on a bed with blue sheets – and how it came about. The answer is that there was a cupboard and there were blue sheets and white sheets. I said use the blue ones, The white ones wouldn't have worked with the far camera; the blue balanced it out. The camerman, Sean Bobbit, who I've worked with for 11 years,  and I never storyboard, we just 'find'. On Shame, I think often the rest of the team were really frustrated because they were used to having shot lists. We simply look around and use what's there. The scene where Brandon is on the couch is a good example [a pivotal scene between Fassbender and Mulligan's characters]. We looked around the apartment – there was a couch and a black and white animation on TV. I walked around the back of the sofa and realised that was the shot. It's about the limitations of the space and using what's there. I was staying in the same Chelsea high-rise, two floors down from the apartment where Brandon lives. I had the same view of New York City. It was pretty lonely."

"The camerman, Sean Bobbit, who I've worked with for 11 years,  and I never storyboard, we just 'find'"

A bird's eye view of Michael Fassbender lying on a dishevelled bed, hand ready to slide under the sheets; a mesmerising, emotive vocal performance from Carey Mulligan in a New York bar; a tantalising subway flirtation; a late-night run through the streets of New York, set to Glenn Gould, the soundtrack to Fassbender's character's life routines. Shame, which opens in UK cinemas today, is loaded with similarly standout scenes, each of them lengthy, powerful and beautifully simple. The film is the follow-up to Turner Prize winning artist-turned-director Steve McQueen's feature film debut Hunger, the story of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands which also incorporated equally intense shots.

Since its inaugural showing at the Venice Film Festival, the film, co-written with Abi Morgan, has quickly become known as "the one about sex addiction"; the first film to be focused on the subject. True, it is portrait of a New York-based man struggling to deal with an unhealthy obsession with sex in its various guises, but the film's real success is the other themes that run through the story, none of them made explicit. Loneliness, infidelity, OCD, self-harm, maybe even incest or domestic violence. As a story, it sounds complex, but McQueen's talent is lacing these themes into a narrative that is compelling and deeply thought provoking for its audience.

Suggested Reading: Read director Steve McQueen and lead Michael Fassbender in conversation about Shame at the Toronoto International Film Festival last September here.

Text by Laura Bradley