A major theme of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series is West Indian joy. West Indian immigrants’ struggles against state resistance to everyday black life. In a rather profound contrast to McQueen’s other work—in which long takes of suffering bodies draw the viewer into the inescapability of the pain experienced by his subjects—joy disrupted provides the counterpoint to bodies in pain. Striking this balance between suffering and joyous bodies is one of the reasons that McQueen’s series may be his best effort yet to move between art cinema and popular genres.
James S. Williams From Film Quarterly, Summer 2021, Volume 74, Number 4 Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Ugly, hurtful, joyous, painful. —Steve McQueen This is how Steve McQueen presents his project in “Small Axe” (2020) to honor recent Black British history—a story of systemic injustice and discrimination, protest and resistance, that has never before been properly narrated in British cinema. 1 Yet despite its compelling period re-creation of London from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and its eminently accessible, linear and realist style (aided by low-lit, muted browns, greens, and blues shot by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner), the experience of watching this sweeping pentalogy—Mangrove; Red, White and Blue; Alex Wheatle; Lovers Rock; Education—often seems, paradoxically, to work against the historical record, even to the point of swerving away from Black history at the very moment of retrieving it. 2 One sees this most graphically in Mangrove, the only film to provide a date and location (“Notting Hill, London, 1968”) as a formal element. The film is just settling …
Steve McQueen’s anthology film series “Small Axe” (2020) enacts a visual historiography of West Indian life in London from the Windrush generation of the 1960s through the early 1980s. 1 Across Mangrove; Lover’s Rock; Red, White and Blue; Alex Wheatle; and Education, the series devises this history with distinct formats (film and digital, 16 mm and 35 mm), postproduction processes, and aspect ratios.
Mark Fisher reviews Steve McQueen’s bleak, blank tale of New York addiction and emptiness, starring Michael Fassbender, Shame.
Report from the London Film Festival 2011: Dark Horse (Todd Solondz), We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay), Shame (Steve McQueen), Carnage (Roman Polanski), A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg), and Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos).
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