Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 42 Things I Love About SHAME (that no one talks about)

Steve McQueen’s Shame is my favorite film made in the last decade. I’m forever in love with its pain, and the brutal dedication Michael Fassbender brought to his leading role. I’m also utterly indebted to the film, as its style, tone, look and feel have influenced my own filmmaking beyond all measure. It’s a masterful character study that deserves continual exploration.


The sound of the neighbor’s alarm clock. If you can’t hear it, then you aren’t watching the film loudly enough.

The title card fading in as Brandon raises the blinds.


The fact that this shot starts with Brandon standing very close to the subway tracks. There’s no need for him to be standing that close. A great bit of subtle foreshadowing.


The moment Brandon sees the woman on the train, we start to hear sounds of him having sex with a woman. Most anyone would deduce that the woman we’re hearing is the woman on the train. Nope. With Steve McQueen, nothing is what it seems.


The production design of the film never gets enough credit. I mean just look at his apartment. It’s so lifeless.


The way the bathroom changes colors through the film. In the beginning it’s a warm yellow, and later it’s harshly overexposed.


This shot. So simple and telling.


“How is this possible?” I don’t know, you tell me.


The way Brandon stares at Marianne during their work meeting.


The shame on his face as he watches his work computer being taken away.


The brief fantasy of a naked, out of focus Marianne (Nicole Beharie) is very significant for a number of reasons. One: there is nothing else like it in the film. We never see Brandon fantasize about having sex with anyone in this visual way. In that regard, McQueen is temporarily abandoning the narrative he maintains throughout the film. Why? Because he can. Two: the fantasy looks like it is taking place at the Standard Hotel, where Brandon eventually does take Marianne. It’s a great insight into Brandon’s psyche – he’s already thinking about how he’s going to bed Marianne. When and where and how.


The audacity of James Badge Dale’s outfit in this scene. He’s a business owner pitching a bunch of guys in sharp suits, and he’s dressed casually (perhaps mockingly) in a tee-shirt, hoodie and blazer. (Note: I have since adopted this look and regularly wear it in offices and to meetings. It always gets compliments. Fuckin’ Badge Dale, man.)


A quick word about subtitles. I always watch movies with subtitles on. Even if the film is in English. Why? Because you never know what you miss. For the longest time, I thought Brandon said, “Grace who?” in the scene when his boss, David, is checking out a woman from across the bar. I assumed he was saying “Grace who?” ironically, as if “Grace” was the name of David’s wife. Nope, he’s saying “Gray suit,” as in, Yeah, you go and get her, and I’ll come in later for the steal.


This actress playing Elizabeth (real name: Elizabeth Masucci) is a sensation. In a very brief amount of time, she nails the annoyance of being hit on, the pleasures of being pursued, and the tap dance of flirtation.


Brandon walking by and making eye contact with Elizabeth.


“You’re a strong, independent woman. I like that.”


It’s very interesting that Brandon turns down a dance from Elizabeth’s friend. It shows that, despite his addiction, he’s still selective.

This is the most essential use of sexuality in the film. Think about the psychology of this scene – what kind of siblings would have a conversation under these circumstances?


Another great bit of foreshadowing. McQueen is establishing that the audience doesn’t need to see Sissy and Brandon’s faces in order for them to conduct an effective conversation.


“‘Yeah, I will.’ Like, ‘Yeah, I will’ like last time?” What a perfect line.


The way Sissy shuffles her feet when Brandon agrees to come listen to her sing.


The fact that this is probably the most emotion Brandon has showed in months.


McQueen directed Fassbender to get on the elevator as soon as it opened. Him waiting for the door to close and then sitting down on the chair was completely improvised.


For those wondering: Brandon lives at 9 W. 31st St at the corner of 5th Ave and W. 31st Street. A block south from the Empire State Building. And a block and a half east from Madison Square Garden.


I love Brandon’s tortured expression as he watches Marianne waiting for him in the restaurant. That is his pain.


Much of what makes the date scene so great is Brandon’s complete and utter inability to engage. He isn’t being rude when he doesn’t ask Marianne personal details about herself. He simply doesn’t know how.


The audacious (non)lighting of the post-dinner scene.


The dangerous power of this shot. The first time I saw this film, I had no idea what was going to happen here.


The frantic energy of the cleaning sequence. Its pace is unlike anything else in the film. Again, McQueen breaks the rules.


The amount of substances Brandon consumes. Whether it’s caffeine, booze, coke or cigarettes, he’s never fully clean.


Marianne’s choice of underwear during the hookup scene. She’s wearing normal underwear because when she woke up, she assumed it was going to be a normal day. An assumption that most other females fail to make in movies, as they are always dressed in expensive lingerie. Basically, I love this scene because it’s real.


I’ve never been able to decide if the woman from the Standard is a hooker or not. If she is, then she’s far more curious than a hooker needs to be (by going through Brandon’s things and such). The credits refer to her as “Hotel Lover,” and I just love not knowing for certain.


One of my favorite shots from any film, ever. It was the inspiration for the bottom shot, from my short film, Earrings.


If you look hard enough, you can see that Sissy’s face is red from Brandon grabbing her. Fassbender must have really grabbed her. Such intensity.


I love how Carly seems scared by her boyfriend. It adds a layer of fear to a scene that already has plenty.


The skillful blocking of the gay club scene.


The cinematography of the three-way scene, particularly how focus dips in and out, and the camera occasionally shakes violently to set up a new angle. Evocative and bold cinematography for an equally bold scene.


I love the naturalism of the small woman on the subway. It’s such an authentic reaction.


The first time I saw this movie, I remember how fucking shocked I was that it was daylight when Brandon emerged from the subway. The man has been out all night.


The way the natural sound dips out as Brandon walks into the bathroom to help Sissy.


Again, for you geography buffs, the tall building behind him camera right is the Standard Hotel, where Brandon had his failed sexual escapade with Marianne.



When we cut back to Brandon for the final scene, notice that he’s not standing near the edge of the platform. He’s safe and secure. Unharmed. For now.



Click here for more lists from And So it Begins, including:
Top 44 Things I Love About Magnolia (that no one talks about)
Top 31 Things I Love About The Departed (that no one talks about)
Top 29 Things I Love About American Psycho (that no one talks about)
Top 27 Things I Love About Scream (that no one talks about)
Top 30 Things I Love About Se7en (that no one talks about)
Top 28 Things I Love About Heat (that no one talks about)
Top 22 Things I Love About Goodfellas (that no one talks about)
Top 13 Things I Love About Mulholland Dr. (that no one talks about)

52 comments:

  1. That's fucking great man. It makes me want to see the film even more now than ever as I hope it gets major DVD/Blu-Ray release from Criterion.

    One aspect of the film that I love is that scene where Brandon returns to his apartment and hears Chic's "I Want Your Love" playing and wonders who is in his house and lo and behold, it's his sister Sissy. I also notice that she has some wristband where it's obvious she just got out of the hospital.

    Truly one of the best films of the last few years.

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    1. Awesome, so glad you dug the post. A Criterion release of this would be incredible. It's so deserving of one.

      I love the shot of Sissy's wrists at the end of the film. The new scars rest fresh on top of the older ones. That shot really encapsulates the crippling grip of depression. Very telling.

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  2. Some of these make me really sad. This film is so devastating. And I didn't notice a lot of these so I'm going to put in my DVD right now. Lol yes @ the panties one. So true. The amount of detail put into this film (and your list for that matter) showcases just how much McQueen invested into it.
    Your shot from Earrings looks like it could come straight out of Altman's Short Cuts. So gorgeous.

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    1. My friend, you've always been so supportive of Earrings, and it really does mean the world to me. Thanks so much for those kind words.

      The very specific detail of this film never gets discussed enough, so I love hearing you point that out. Hope you had a nice rewatch!

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  3. Great work! This is an amazing film that I've only watched once. Though I loved it I felt like there were things I missed. This confirms it.

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    1. Thanks man! I honestly get more from this film every time I see it, and I've seen it a lot. One of my all-time favorites.

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  4. Oh man, this is a phenomenal piece, really enjoyed it. I absolutely love Shame, it's already become one of my favourite films and it's precisely for the kind of reasons you've listed here. Time for another re-watch I think.

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    1. Thanks so much man! I had no idea you loved this film so much. It's one of the all-time greats for me. Perfect in every way. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Loooooove this post! There's so many great things about this movie. Fassbender's package normally takes all of the credit. lol

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  6. Brilliant post! This is such a great film, and these reasons have given me new insight and more reasons to rewatch this. For me, this is clearly McQueen's masterpiece and it makes me with that 12 Years a Slave was so much better.

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    1. Thanks buddy! Shame is definitely McQueen's masterpiece. And, in my eye, he's made three perfect films, so that's saying something. So glad to hear you're a fan of this one.

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  7. I love, love, love this movie: I've watched it a few times already and still hadn't noticed all these though. That shot, the one that inspired the shot from your own short film (nailed it, by the way) always reminds me of Apocalypse Now a lot, another beautiful looking movie.

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    1. Wow, thanks for the kind words about my flick! And you're so right, that shot definitely does have an Apocalypse Now vibe to it. Very unsettling. Really happy to hear you're a fan of this film.

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  8. Oh, really great work here! I never noticed some of those like Brandon standing closer/further to the platform, that is a very good catch. Another little thing I like is the first line of the movie and how panicked Brandon is - he is completely scared someone will see his addiction, maybe that's why he needs to be constantly distracted with all those substances you mentioned.

    Good catch with the cold and lifeless apartment, it really looks like something Patrick Bateman would love.

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    1. Those first clearly spoken lines are such a jolt, aren't they? Definitely feels like David is speaking to him. And Fassbender's reaction is so shocked... ah, I just love it.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

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    2. BTW while on the subject of Shame, what are your thoughts on accusations that the movie is homophobic? I find them totally ridiculous.

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    3. The only person I've heard make such a claim is James Franco, an artist I appreciate, but one whose opinions I rarely agree with. This being a prime example.

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    4. I keep seeing those on imdb and in today's Playlist article on movies about sex. It's just such a far-fetched claim, what's worse is that those who claim it really seem to believe McQueen was trying to be homophobic.

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    5. Yep, I fully agree with you. Also, as entertaining as those Playlist comments can be (I don't get around to IMDb threads too much, but I'm sure they're great as well), they mostly feel like rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric.

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    6. You wouldn't happen to be that "MRS.ISSLEY" commenter, would you? I completely agree with what that person said.

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    7. I am! This is my Playlist alias whenever I give them shit :lol:

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    8. Haha that's awesome. I definitely think I've seen you post on there before. I do love that site, but sometimes there opinions are so wildly off base.

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  9. I love love love love love this film, it is literally about 95% of the reason I want to make films. Your favourite shot is my favourite shot too! I just love how that boat crosses through the screen, and the lighting, and the colour...it's just so perfect. Steve McQueen is such an amazing director, he's probably going to be the best our generation will have.

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    1. And I love that you love it, my friend. So happy to hear that we share the same favorite shot. It's really a perfect film, all things considered. Like I said, I'm forever indebted to it.

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  10. If for no other reason, the dialog in this film is spot on! The conversations between Brandon and everyone else are so tense and bitter (or at least that's how I always interpreted it) and I love it. Never before has addiction been so perfectly clear in the way in which someone speaks (on film), and while I do prefer Hunger to Shame, there's no faulting this film.
    I also feel like a bit of an idiot for never realizing the look in Carly's eyes when her boyfriend comes over. I love that scene and yet I never saw that. Good on you sir!

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    1. Ha, thanks man. That chick looks so fuckin' freaked out, which makes us even more scared. I love it.

      I too think the dialogue is essential. Every word of it. It's so sparse and specific, just perfect. My god, how I love this film.

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  11. This post made my eyes water.

    What a beautiful overview of McQueen's masterful film. Man, that title fade, I never noticed that. Only McQueen.

    As you may know Alex, Shame is one of my favorite films of all time as well. I wrote an article about it, I've written many essays about it, almost as many as my two favorite films Taxi Driver and The Apartment. Shame is a film that is baffling on first view and beautiful during subsequent viewings. A real contemporary classic if there ever was one, I hope it gets inducted into the Criterion Collection, few films are as deserving.

    I would like to bring up the score during the lead up to the bar pick up, bath-house and three way scenes, the tapping. I've mentioned this in the past but the score simulates the sound of what is clearly self-gratification. For all of these scenes to have Brandon in congress with different men and women and yet have the sound of lonely masturbation might be the most telling cue of all.

    Shame is a film that I'm sure will live on as a piece of true cinema. The sterility in the production design, the organic camera work, the flawless acting, Shame is a real masterpiece. Maybe less recognized by the public than his recent 12 Years A Slave or maybe less polarizing than Hunger, I would go ahead and say that Shame is his finest effort.

    Also James Badge Dale is damn sartorial with that tee, hoodie, blazer fit. That's some next level business casual shit!

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    1. Also oh shit, just remembered. The use of Chic's I Want Your Love when Brandon is entering his apartment to then find Sissy in his shower. Holy shit, this movie. I hope I can make a movie this fucking good. God.

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    2. Wow, thanks so much man! I love that we share such an immense passion for this film. You're spot on about the music, that tapping is so purposeful. Great insight there. I agree that this is McQueen's finest effort yet, and I say that as a grand admirer of all his work (including his shorts). There is literally nothing about this film that I don't value. From the original score, to the camera work, to, yes, that goddamn blazer. Love, love, love it.

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  12. This is a hell of a post, Alex. Amazing work.

    BTW, it's great to hear I'm not the only one who uses subtitles when possible. They are especially helpful in picking up some of the rapid-fire one-liners in old noirs and other classics.

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    1. Thanks Eric! Yeah man, I've never found watching a movie with subtitles to be unworthy. There's usually always something going on that I missed before. Love that you do that as well!

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  13. This post is brilliant. I love Shame as much as you do, and I think McQueen is one of the most talented directors out there these days, so it's always nice to read more about this film. I noticed the alarm clock and the title credits. I loved that sequence, best credits I've seen in a long time. When I got out of the theatre I was still thinking about them and the Harry Escott's theme.

    I love the blurry shot of Brandon's face on the subway and I also noticed about the 'How is this possible' poster, I always look at the posters and signs on the subway or the street on films. I love the production design as much as you do. That apartment, the minimalistic design and the blue/grey colors on the places and Brandon's clothes are perfect to create the isolation feeling. It's like a Picasso's Blue period painting. I feel the same vibes than with the Charlotte's hotel room in Lost in Translation.

    I also thought he said Grace who? the first time I watched this! I also like a lot the moment when he makes eye contact with Elizabeth, I noticed that 'cause I think it's connected to how he later knows her eye color. I think it represents how he notices every female, he's kind of a "predator" in those terms.

    I liked a lot the thing with Sissy's feet on the subway, 'cause as you've pointed about Brandon being close and at the end far from the edge, when I saw Sissy there, it made me think that something could happen to her, a feeling of danger.

    The dinner scene is perfect for me, best date scene I've seen in a long time, it feels really natural like the detail about the underwear.

    Your favorite shot is my favorite too, what a beautiful image. And the three-way scene, the way is shot and the light on it, and Fassbender's expression, having pleasure but at the same time like in pain, is amazing.

    I'm really impressed with the brief fantasy of Marianne. I never noticed that! I have to see this flawless film again, right now. I was doing captures of it a couple of days ago, to do a post, and now I've just noticed new things, so thanks for doing this great post!

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    1. Wow, Mara, this comment is amazing. Thank you so much for leaving it!

      I love everything you said here, but I really caught on to your “predator” comment. That is so, so true. He’s always on the hunt, looking for easy prey. The dinner scene is so perfect, and I’m not sure how many people realize how strong of actors you need to be able to pull that off in one shot. It’s really quite fascinating to sell that whole thing in one master.

      I love that we have so much in common about our appreciation of this movie. Please do a post on it – I would love to see what you come up with. Your posts are lovingly intricate and superb.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

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    2. Thanks to you for making this!

      I've been looking through your recent posts and we have so many things in common besides the appreciation of this movie, and I've just seen you also like Bret Easton Ellis, he's one of my top favorite writers! Sadly, here in Spain, not many people know him and finding his books is like an Odyssey.

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    3. I LOVE Bret Easton Ellis. His writing style was the one that impacted me most when I first discovered that I actually enjoyed writing. So sorry to hear that you can't get ahold of his books very easily. Which ones have you read?

      Really appreciate you checking out my posts!

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    4. Mara, I do likewise re. signs/posters/graffiti etc. in film. I thought the "sex" next to his head on the subway window was a bit much though. Ah, American films. Everything must be spelled out.

      Those windows talk. It is a little disconcerting actually.

      The "predator" aspect is obvious right from the start. I enjoyed the meeting scene following the "hunt" scene when the speaker says, "I find you disgusting. I find you inconsolable. I find you invasive." and although those penetrating insights describe our man to perfection they are not actually aimed at him.

      He seems to think they are. He's so vain.

      b

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    5. So very vain, and I love that about the character. McQueen never asks you to sympathize with Brandon, which so many films about tortured people do.

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  14. Bravo! It took multiple viewings for me to appreciate this film (and Fassy's performance), but it really is a fantastic movie.

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    1. Thanks! Awesome man, really love hearing that you've grown to appreciate this one.

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  15. Amazing insight into this film. Shame is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the decade and one of the best to come out in maybe the past 15 years.

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    1. Hey Matt, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I couldn't agree more, Shame is easily one of the (if not THE) best films of the last several years. So happy to hear you dug this post.

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  16. Please explain #4.

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    1. Seconds after Brandon notices the woman on the train (in the purple cap), we start to hear the sound of a man and woman having sex. It would be fair to assume that we're hearing the sound of Brandon and the woman in the purple cap having sex - perhaps mere minutes after the train ride, or perhaps in Brandon's internal fantasy. But when we do cut to the sex scene, we notice that it isn't the woman in the purple cap, but someone else entirely (which is soon revealed to be the prostitute Brandon ordered the night before).

      It's a great, subtle play with perception. McQueen is basically establishing to not assume anything about the film. Expect the unexpected.

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  17. Please explain #8.

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    1. I just love how that is the only sign we can see in that shot. I mean, McQueen put it in there for a reason, you know? What's the reason? I'm not entirely sure, but I love trying to figure it out.

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  18. One of the things I noticed in the old Hollywood films is that most of the conversations happen from behind the actors head. This strangely enough happens in Shame a lot but more effectively. https://vimeo.com/133342682

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  19. i love this movie very much. i recently watched it again and as usual it started on hunt for articles about. This is a very beatifull list about a beatifull masterpiece.
    There is a moment that i find represents brandon's self loathing brilliantly; the way he looks up when his boss says at the work meeting;"i find you disgusting",brandon thinkks for a moment that he was talking about him,because,he thinks; why wouldn't he!?"

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I'm so happy you like this movie, it will forever be one of my all time favorites. I love that moment you highlighted to. The way it is staged and edited is genius.

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  20. This is a great movie, one of the best of the decade so far. It's telling of McQueen's talent that even though Shame is probably one of my twenty or thirty favourite movies ever, I think that Hunger is even better.

    You've highlighted some of the brilliant and beautiful subtleties of the movie, and they're a testament to McQueen's excellence. As usual, a great piece Alex.

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    1. Thanks Tyler! Man, I really need to rewatch this film, it's been far too long. But it's certainly in my top 10 of all time. Game changer for me. So happy you liked the post.

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