Every Story Has Already Been Told: Steve McQueen Interview and Portfolio

By Simmons, William J. | Framework, Spring 2020 | Go to article overview

Every Story Has Already Been Told: Steve McQueen Interview and Portfolio


Simmons, William J., Framework


Many years after queer and queer-of-color theories made such a binary indefensible, art history and film studies remain committed to a distinction between criticality and pleasure. The former remains a desirable activist strategy and the

Click to view image in larger frame. Use arrow keys to navigate images, escape to close. Caption follows: Figure 1. Carey Mulligan as Sissy, singing "New York, New York" in Steve McQueen's Shame (2011). Copyright: New Amsterdam Films.

Click to view image in larger frame. Use arrow keys to navigate images, escape to close. Caption follows: Figure 2. Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008) by Steve McQueen. Photo credit: © Blast! Films–Hunger Ltd. 2008 All Rights Reserved, an IFC Films release.

Click to view image in larger frame. Use arrow keys to navigate images, escape to close. Caption follows: Figure 3. Steve McQueen, Ashes (1997), Still, two-channel synchronized HD video transferred from 8mm and 16mm film, with audio, projected onto a two-sided screen, 20:31 min. Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris and Thomas Dane Gallery, London. © Steve McQueen.

latter is deemed banal, complicit, and expendable. Many have troubled these reductive categories. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, for instance, proposes reparative reading and the ongoing necessity for marginalized subjects to connect meaningfully and perhaps unexpectedly with problematic cultural phenomena. In a similar vein, C. Namwali Serpell has suggested the numerous (and pleasurable) critical possibilities in something as debased and thrilling as the cliché. 1

Yet we often continue to relate to culture with a paranoid expectation that there must be more than pleasure, indeed a space that refutes the pleasurable as a mere superficial layer to be peeled back for a truer cross-section of the film's deconstructive musculature. The excision performed by criticality has deep psychic and material ramifications for minoritarian subjects, especially artists of color, whose cultural output is frequently aligned with a documentary status, that is, some sort of truth about the community allegedly represented by the individual or a truth about that community's oppositional struggle.

Steve McQueen's work has been lauded for its realism, criticality, and transcendence of the caricatures of genre, but, as I wonder in a recent essay in Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media , how then might we locate works like Widows (UK/USA, 2018) whose relationship to "truth" is entirely different? 2 The truth of Widows and other McQueen films seems to lie in a pleasurable space. With Widows, the pleasure manifests in McQueen's enjoyment of the original ITV series as a young person, and certainly the pleasure of being able to remake that youthful attachment into something else, something his own. A TV show that in retrospect might seem overwrought and problematic is for McQueen the source of fascination, which, following Sedgwick, could be a deeply queer form of attachment. …

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