February 13, 2014

Watch: Director Steve McQueen Delves Into Representations of the Body in His Films

Steve McQueenIf 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.

[via Mentorless]

Your Comment

21 Comments

V Renée on FIRE with these posts!! Thank you!!

February 13, 2014 at 10:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jerome

seriously! your posts are why I keep coming to the site

February 14, 2014 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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McQueen borders on pretentiousness but saves it by making good films.

February 14, 2014 at 3:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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JPS

McQueen is pretentious and over rated, Shame is a poor film that wastes very interesting subject matter by being completely unengaging becasue Fassbender can't do anything other than cold and emotionless and is utterly alienating in almost everything I've seen him in. Technically it's amazing though, the cinematography was awesome, a real pity.

February 14, 2014 at 7:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Filthy Punt

You might want to watch 12 years a slave, Fassbender is sadistic, empassioned and fiery.

February 14, 2014 at 1:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I think were gonna see a lot more from Steve over the years. He seems real smart, Just from a small clip I saw "12 years a slave" looks amazing. Giamattis performance is stellar.

February 14, 2014 at 8:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Anthony Marino

McQueen does come across like an arrogant windbag in most of the interviews I've seen him in. Maybe it's the fine-art background he comes from? I really liked Hunger and 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender is badass; I think he can do far more than what we see of him in McQueen's films and the blockbusters he appears in. He was the best thing about A Dangerous Method.

February 14, 2014 at 8:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mak

Inspiring talk from a great filmmaker.

February 14, 2014 at 9:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Really engaging talk. Being able to bridge the technical filmmaker gear addiction with a thought-provoking and theoretically challenging visual approach means that his films use camera technique to tell us more about the situation, adding depth rather than branding an otherwise superficial story. Many of the filmmakers I encounter can take a lot from his filmmaking. Hurrah for those that have recognised this publicly.

February 14, 2014 at 10:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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He's Black and successful, no surprise the comment section is saturated with him being called all kinds of profane things and synonyms for 'uppity'.

Show some class guys.

February 14, 2014 at 11:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I know nothing about his personal character.
But if all his movies are like shame, the only way I could watch them is at gun-point.

February 14, 2014 at 12:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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VinceGortho

@Robert Task Smith Stupid comment you made there, designed to play up racism where there is none in the comments, so far. You should show some class.

February 14, 2014 at 1:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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ADC

Wow, that comment unintentionally displayed your clearly racist way of thinking.

February 14, 2014 at 1:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Christian Anderson

Terrible comment dude.
He's a pompous ass but a great director.
Black people can be assholes too.
I am.

February 14, 2014 at 3:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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J Scott.

A pompous ass? Really? Based on what exactly — his stammer? How is he pretentious in the context of what is being discussed beginning with fine art installations? Should he sound apologetic or unfamiliar with the venue in which his work is being discussed?

If his assertion in the video is that "everything is political" then, yes as a Black artist that is an integral part of the discussion, even referenced in the talk. Yes, anyone can be an 'asshole' but, McQueen was an invited guest being questioned about his career; so why aren't his points being discussed in these comments, only his alleged 'pomposity' or 'pretension' from his detractors?

February 14, 2014 at 7:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jerome

Two people have pointed out how pretentious he is/sounds, which completely obvious, only someone with serious issues about this sort of thing would try and bring race into this.

February 14, 2014 at 5:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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chris

An interesting talk. Three first rate movies from McQueen who seems to be making some of the smartest films out there.

February 14, 2014 at 1:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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ADC

Hmm, an hour and a half in and not a whiff of pretentiousness. Might you be smelling yourselves in your little rooms?

February 14, 2014 at 3:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Armin

I think 12 years a slave was boring, no developement in characters or story really. The protagonist didnt overcome any obsticles or or showed any bravery other than steeling a sheet of paper. Its prob gona get the oscar though but will only be cuz its an american historical piece.

February 19, 2014 at 5:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Chuanne

Beautiful film and great dialogue.

February 20, 2014 at 10:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Alien Astronauts

I think Static is his best film. I thought Hunger was pretty great. I thought Shame was ridiculous. The black and white handling of grey subject matter came off as prudish. The melodramatic ending even moreso. Great looking movie however. I haven't seen the new movie yet but plan to.

February 21, 2014 at 10:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Chris