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Shame (AF)


Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan , James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

Director: Steve McQueen

The Internet has a lot to answer for. Especially for lovers of ‘adult’ films who no longer have to skulk through London’s Soho and equivalent backstreet locales abroad to look for porn cinemas or shops which sell porn DVDs. Now porn of every conceivable (and, I’m given to understand, inconceivable as well) kind is available at the click of an icon on the World Wide Web.

But don’t just take my word for it. On being asked why he was giving up using the internet, Jack Nicholson was quoted as saying: "There's so much darn porn out there, I never got out of the house”.

Commercial moviemakers have always been able to get round accusations of celluloid titillation by making ‘art’ movies featuring nudity and sex. Subtitles helped, too, since it was easier to claim a sex-ridden foreign movie was an art film. And slowly edgy sex has invaded commercial cinema, with artists like Peter Greenaway, notably with ‘9 Songs’, blazing a culture-acceptable take on celluloid sex.

Which. for my money, makes Steve McQueen’s banal follow up to Hunger which, despite its Turner Prize-winning co-writer and director, porn masquerading as art.

McQueen and his TV writer co-scenarist Abi Morgan (also responsible for the less than sanitary The Iron Lady) set their story in New York where thirtysomething executive Fassbender who suffers from sexual obsession spends his spare time having emotionless sex with pickups, hookers and, frequently, with himself. And, to fill in the gaps, he masturbates to porn on his laptop.

(On reflection, suffers might not be the right word: Fassbender patently enjoys himself having sex).

He certainly doesn’t hold back, strutting the screen in full frontal nudity, simulating sex with considerable energy and, impressively, keeping a straight face in the face of a screenplay which concentrates on his sexual obsession without bothering to supply any interesting emotional reason for his condition, leaving Fassbender to try and bring a hormone-driven cipher to some sort of viable screen life.

Then Fassbender’s sex-driven life goes badly pear shaped when his sister Mulligan (who bravely bares all as well) unexpectedly turns up at his apartment, stays on and proceeds to disrupt his life…

McQueen does what he can to bring the increasingly tedious drama to life but, given the two characterless central characters he ultimately fails to deliver. He deserves a tad of praise, however, for making a shameless pornflick that art movie addicts can go to see in a commercial cinema.

(Unsurprisingly, Shame was co-funded by the optimistically avant-garde British television company Channel 4 television and with cash from the British Lottery).

Alan Frank

UK 2011. UK Distributor: Momentum Pictures. Colour.
100 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 11 Jan 2012