Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting Stoked for 'Shame'

I've been meaning to write about the upcoming movie Shame for a while now. The sophomore feature-length release from director Steve McQueen, Shame stars the incredible Michael Fassbender as a sex addict living in New York. When his younger sister (played by the increasingly daring Carey Mulligan) moves in with him, Fassbender's life begins to spiral out of control.

What's gotten me so excited for Shame is the bold approach distributor Fox Searchlight is taking with the film: they're embracing its NC-17 rating. More than that they're wearing it like "a badge of honour." This move is unusual in the extreme and it's strange but inspiring to see such a brave step forward coming from a member of the Fox family. Here's an incredible quote from Fox Searchlight director Steve Gilula:
I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner. The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It’s not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It’s a game changer.
The NC-17 rating has traditionally been a death mark for films that push the limits of social norms. When a film gets this rating most theatres typically won't play it, fearing public backlash against deviant content. Germaine Lussier over at /Film explains it best:

When a film gets branded with an NC-17 rating, most studios do one of four things. They re-cut it hoping to get an R-rating, release it unrated, doom it direct-to-DVD or suck it up and go for it.
That last option is a rarity because embracing the NC-17 rating means fighting an unfair, almost pornographic, connotation. The MPAA website itself explicitly states “NC-17 does not mean ‘obscene’ or ‘pornographic’ in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience.” But that doesn’t stop major theater chains from not playing the movies, major video distributors from not stocking the movies or TV channels from not advertising the movies. It’s a huge mountain to climb.

The resultant battles between filmmakers (at every level of the process) and the MPAA over ratings have been well documented. This phenomenon has spawned an interesting (albeit very one-sided) documentary, This Film is Not Yet Rated, that everyone who's interested in film should see.

Now to see a major indie distributor like Fox Searchlight coming out in support of a film that's been branded with the NC-17 rating is both refreshing and encouraging. Hopefully it's a sign that the stigma associated with the rating is deteriorating and that we'll be seeing more daring and unique cinema as a result.

Anyway, I bring this all up now because the red band trailer for Shame has been released and it is, in a word, electric. It's embedded below, but seeing as it's red band I'll warn you that it's definitely NSFW. The score and the acting are the highlights of this minimalistic but powerful taste of what we'll see. Without a single line of dialogue Fassbender manages to establish an incredible sense of tension and forced restraint. On top of that the music evokes memories of The Social Network and There Will Be Blood, two of my favourite film scores.

The trailer's gotten me excited for a film I would already have gone to see solely for the cinematic-political reasons stated above. Shame has received great reviews and this trailer gives credence to that buzz. Hopefully this film's success will match its quality so that it has the opportunity to positively impact the entire industry.

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