XAVIER POULIS: STEVE MCQUEEN’S POSTHUMOUS CAREER

Our resident cheese expert and Switzerland’s foremost film critic Xavier Poulis profiles an unsung come back.
 

GENEVA – The unprecedented creative revival of Steve McQueen has gone largely unnoticed in critical circles and it is time to set that right. Born in March 1930, Stephen McQueen had a troubled childhood, but found release in music and acting. He was to become the epitome of cool, jumping fences, driving fast cars and exuding a calmness that belied the personal demons and sometimes tormented emotional life of the human being. The Great Escape, Bullitt and Papillon proved him to be an actor of range as well as commercial pulling power.
Following his death in 1980 of cancer, the star of such films as The Blob and The Towering Inferno as well as the under-rated Tom Horn, withdrew somewhat from public life. Obviously considering his options and mulling over what many actors would have considered a terminal setback, it is now clear that McQueen was simply biding his time. Eschewing his former trade, McQueen came to realize he was more inclined to work behind the camera, as he thought his presence there would allow him to avoid the glare of the media which had so plagued him in life. 

His first film Hunger won a debut prize at the 2008 Cannes film festival. It starred Michael Fassbender and this would begin a fruitful collaboration. Upon winning the prize it became apparent that the appearance of the long dead McQueen would cause problems especially with the IRS, so in a bid to avoid this he applied for British citizenship, put on some weight and became black. Shame his second film proved just as critically popular as his first and yet very few connected these bold visions of cinema with the young man who had burned a hole in the screen on Wanted: Dead or Alive. His new film 12 Years a Slave will be the moment when the critical community – led by me – will finally reveal the astonishing breadth of what was and still is an astonishing career.  

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