Watch: Director Steve McQueen Delves Into Representations of the Body in His Films
If filmgoers didn't know about Steve McQueen, surely they do now. Though 12 Years a Slave, nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, is McQueen's most commercial film to date, it bares a striking resemblance to his two previous films Shame and Hunger -- not necessarily in cinematography or subject matter, but in the way McQueen approaches "the body". To understand exactly what that means, check out this 2-hour long conversation between the incredible director and chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art Stuart Comer, in which they discuss McQueen's films, career, and artistic approach.
For those of you without the time to settle in on this conversation, let me tell you -- it's worth the commitment. Because this discussion takes place within the "art world", we get two full hours of McQueen divulging his artistic approach to his films -- not in terms of the more technical aspects, like cinematography or even screenwriting, but in aspects like his intentions or the meanings behind his films.
McQueen and Comer begin with talking about McQueen's start in contemporary art, making short films that found success in art galleries, particularly his short film Bear (1993). It's apparent in this early film how he molds and shapes the idea of "the body", as well as "absence and presence", or as Comer puts it, "the disappearing body", in Just Above My Head, within his narratives. Film.com explains it well:
"Bear" finds the artist [McQueen] exploring many of the qualities toward which his features would eventually come to gravitate: an intense physicality, an acute appreciation for the politics of the body, the conflation of sexuality and violence.
McQueen talks at length about different aspects of "the body", from its uses, whether it be as a weapon for change (Hunger) or as a vehicle for addiction (Shame), to the "disappearing body" -- the disembodiment that shows up in McQueen's films. Sex and violence, possibly the two most extreme ways humans use their bodies, took center stage on both of McQueen's first feature films, Hunger and Shame, as you can see in the trailers below:
The idea that ties all three of McQueen's features together is this idea of "the body" -- a body that can either be ours to control (Hunger), or not control (Shame), or forcibly taken control of (12 Year's a Slave). His career-long study of the human body, outside of the typical realm of its form, is one that deserves its own study.
Without any further ado, check out the discussion between McQueen and Comer below.
What do you think about this idea of "the body" in film? Have you noticed other filmmakers treat "the body" differently? Similarly? Let us know in the comments below.