Sunday, December 11, 2011

Awards Daily slams Irresponsible Criticism of Shame

I don't see eye to eye with Sasha Stone, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Awards Daily on quite a few things, but that doesn't mean I don't respect her. A few months ago she saw Shame and said it was the most impressive film of 2011 to her and she raved about it. And like me, in the past few weeks, she has been sickened by some of the critical reviews of Shame that have been way off base and juvenile in form. Some of the comments from very popular critics have been jaw-droppingly mind boggling and offensive. Such unconstructive criticism has affected the metacritic score of Shame (71). However, a seasoned high art-film movie goer will be able to discern the good reviews from the immature rude reviews. That's not to say that there aren't valid negative reviews... I can respect those, especially if the criticism is based in reason and has a mature and professional tone to the review. But the popular ones all appear to be written by guys who are First Class morons who need to be spoon fed the entire plot of Shame in order to understand the nuances of the film that are not clearly articulated.

Before I post Sasha's article, I want to point you to an article I found that speaks about what a critic is suppose to do. It is about professional critics and their responsibilities. The article was written in early 2010 when an upheaval occurred at Variety that shocked a lot of us who were paying attention to what was going on. But the author makes references to the special place in the film industry culture that critics hold, but now, it's getting blurred when some people abuse that power. It's a good read.

The Utter Lack of Imagination and Dumbass Critical Response to Shame

December 10, 2011, by Sasha Stone (link)
I mostly stand up for critics. In an age when everyone is a critic and old media film critics are losing their jobs faster than anyone, I feel that as a blogger it’s important to stand up for them so that what they bring to the table doesn’t get lost in the shuffle; I cut my teeth in an era where you actually had to know a good deal about film, and know how to write, in order to write film reviews. But what I forgot is how boneheaded they can sometimes be — to the point where they can utterly and completely miss the point of a film, as some have done with Steve McQueen’s Shame. You can tell an awful lot about a person by how they regard McQueen’s Shame. I know immediately, in a carnal way, what kind of a man they are. I can bet you that I probably could tell much more about them from their reviews, but their views on sexuality ring through loud and clear when they’re trying to tread waters of sexual addiction.

If I were younger and stupider I might actually take them at their word, believe that their ridiculous dismissal of McQueen’s film had some validity. But being of an age and having lived a life and watched a lot of films I can tell you, in this case, they are way, way off. Right at the top of the list is our new fan of the limelight, the New Yorker’s David Denby, who had no problem bathing in the juices of Lisbeth Salander’s sexuality in Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo. Straight up and down sexuality at the hands of a woman who is in control of it is a powerful thing. But as in control of her own sexuality as Salander is, that is how out of control Michael Fassbender’s character is in Shame.

Here is what Denby wrote in a piece dumbly called “Don’t Let Shame Fool You” in which he writes:
I can’t resist adding a few words to Anthony Lane’s terrific review of “Shame.” Let’s not pretend that the subject isn’t … interesting. “Shame” is a movie about the hell —- the utter hell —- of being a young, good-looking, well-employed, straight single man in New York. Most people, after all, don’t get enough sex. Michael Fassbender’s Brandon Sullivan gets too much. He never stops; he heads for a men’s-room stall for a tryst with himself when he can’t find a woman. He has an infinite number of orgasms, yet feels no pleasure at all. (Exactly my problem —- and yours, too.)
Oh, honey, we can already tell by your Dragon Tattoo review that to you if it involves sex it’s interesting. No great leap of logic required. Shame is NOT about any of those things.
I can’t say I was bored,
Well that’s good. Was worried there for a second.
but I think “Shame” is borderline absurd, and I’m amazed that so many people seem to be taking it seriously, or not seeing the film for what it is. Some critics spoke of a wasted or half-fulfilled opportunity: we aren’t shown what makes Brandon tick, what’s inside him, what his background is, and the sex scenes “aren’t really sexy.” Sorry, but such humanist objections are comically besides the point.
Comically? I can think of a different word. What people are trying to say but can’t seem to find the confidence to say it is — where’s the money shot? They were all waiting for a juicy bit of fucking that would make the torture worthwhile. We live in the most hypocritical society – our sexuality is either repressed within the confines of marriages (in which case a lot of American males are either cheating online or addicted to porn — either which way, spanking the monkey is going to come into play probably a lot more than a regular sex life) or else it’s contorted into virtual reality. This is where Shame is dead on about the complex world of modern sex — it’s not okay anymore to be expressive. Those days died with the 1970s. It must be subverted in all sorts of awful ways. So much so that most men find it difficult to find women who can live up to the fantasy version of women and sex. This is partly Brandon’s problem. Why no one — why none of these usually smart men and women who write about film — is getting the point of what Brandon and Sissy are REALLY running from is, well, a shame. (continue to read)

Perhaps you have to have to lived through something shameful — perhaps you’ve had to run from that feeling of ugliness inside for having done something or been subjected to something that makes you feel so empty you can’t connect with anyone. You can’t run fast enough or far enough. You can’t fuck hard enough. You can’t use people enough so that the vessel is finally free. I would hope that there are critics out there who have lived complex enough lives to understand this aspect of the film — obviously there aren’t many. And how disappointing. So I guess this time I have to rely not on the traditional film critics, who really are missing the point. Perhaps their lives are too comfortable to ever be able to really get the kind of desperation portrayed here.
Those absences in the movie, and the overall coldness—the indifferentism, the emptiness, mixed with a quasi-religious purity of self-defilement—are hardly the result of creative uncertainty or failure. The icy style and alienated tone, I’m sure, are exactly what the British writer-director Steve McQueen was aiming for. Before he turned to feature filmmaking, McQueen did art installations, some of them using video. “Shame” is an art-project sex movie, just as McQueen’s last, “Hunger” (2009), was an art-project political movie. “Shame” has a rigorously color-co√∂rdinated silver-gray design, a formal perfection of imagery, and, as Anthony pointed out, very little of the mess and spill of ordinary life—particularly of the tumultuous life of a man who constantly changes sex partners. The movie offers a controlled aestheticization of out-of-control behavior.
It’s very possible that a serious movie could be made about sex addiction—say, if the man, in pursuit of his obsessions, had a family that he tore up along the way. But this hero is single. And, if you accept the terms of the movie, he’s an isolated sufferer, haplessly driven, mainly hurting himself. But I can’t accept those terms. The solemnity of “Shame” —- the moral disapproval, the grim misery, the lowering music—is very strange, a sombre form of titillation which congratulates the audience for its higher values while giving it plenty of handsome flesh to look at.
So what’s the real problem here? He sees the film as art but imagines that if the guy were married and torn up by porn THEN he’d get sexual addiction. But boy, is that again missing the point. Why isn’t BRANDON MARRIED? Because BRANDON CAN’T GET MARRIED. Getting married in the first place requires an ability to be intimate with someone at some time in your life. If you are so thwarted by your past that this is impossible, that you must dwell in secret worlds to feel SOME intimacy, honey, you ain’t gonna be married to any woman.

Finally, it saddens me that many films critics have revealed themselves, with this film, to be very much of a certain class of people. Are they really so insulated and “cultured” that they don’t realize how some people really do live? Sure, Brandon has all the makings of a success. He’s a financial success. He’s gorgeous. He is a predator with power over women. But Shame isn’t about who he has become. It’s about the person he can’t leave behind. It’s about his past. His memories. That is how people live with shame inside of them from something. Be it incest, molestation, or guilt left over from a traumatic — perhaps even erotic — sexual encounter early in life. This is never over-explained in Shame because then we’d be dealing with the kind of film David Denby and his ilk would never deign to watch, no matter how horny they were on a Saturday night.

Read more

Shame is, to me, one of the best films of 2011. If it is an art installation then it is an art installation. It contains multitudes. I am appreciative of most of the filmmakers this year who have tried to step outside their comfort zone. So many others have turned in films they could do blindfolded with both hands tied behind their backs. A few of them tried to do something different. Some succeeded, some failed. But I guess, in the end, failure is in the eye of the beholder.


LEJ said...

According to research, people who say that they didn't like the movie seem more intelligent to peers than people who say they did like the movie. I have noticed that sometimes when a movie gets a lot of hype at the beginning and everyone is saying it is excellent, critics will suddenly start to write negative reviews. I obviously can't say for certain, but this may be an unconscious, or conscious, attempt to seem smarter than others. Shame is an excellent film, and no, it isn't 'enjoyable' to watch in the traditional sense, but it is important. It pushes the viewer to examine themselves, and their ideas of sexuality. It attempts to understand issues of mental health, isolation, and compulsion, and does it well. It asks people to grow a little, to move outside themselves, and for me, that is what makes a good film.

Dionne said...

"...she has been sickened by some of the critical reviews of Shame that have been way off base and juvenile in form. Some of the comments from very popular critics have been jaw-droppingly mind boggling and offensive. Such unconstructive criticism has affected the metacritic score of Shame (71)".

I noticed this exact thing! I think it speaks to the immaturity of our nation as a whole. It appears that some critics will find something wrong with a film if most people enjoy it. Roger Ebert seems to have gotten right, so that is my consolation.
Even with some critics unfounded and immature criticism, 'Shame' is still moving along quite nicely. Michael has been coming out in the top 3 most of the time if he doesn't win...
An Oscar nod would definitely be a nice slap in the face to certain "critics" who have nothing better to do than put out elementary commentary based on their biased opinions, and call it criticism.

Anonymous said...

Actually neither Denby nor Lane have good opinion as intelligent or insightful critics. Some people comment that they are film critics who hate films. Just generally hate them. One would wonder why they didn't change their job then. Well maybe they are masochists. They like to watch films just so they can tear them apart later.

If you want to read good and intelligent reviews of Shame, check the already mentioned Roger Ebert or Turan from LAFCA group, or Shame reviews published in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Those are brilliant and really intelligently written reviews.


dshultz said...

I agree 100% with this. I just went onto Rotten Tomatoes, and shame has a 77%! Fucking 77%! And almost all the negative reviews either said that the film was exploitative, or that it was just an exercise in monotony. That's the whole damn point, you idiots! At least there was universal acclaim for Fassy's performance. If there wasn't, I'd be buying me some ammunition for my M14 and some plane tickets.