Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1996
Bear (10 minutes, 35 seconds) was Steve McQueen's first major film. Although not an overtly political work, for many viewers it raises sensitive issues about race, homoeroticism and violence. It depicts two naked men-one of whom is the artist-tussling and teasing one another in an encounter which shifts between tenderness and aggression. The film is silent but a series of stares, glances and winks between the protagonists creates an optical language of flirtation and threat.
In defiance of cinematic convention, the film opens with a close-up shot of one man's shoulder. The camera then moves slowly upwards and to the right, traversing his face with a proximity that suggests it is almost feeling its way across the contours of his skin. After less than a minute, the slow rhythm of this opening shot is interrupted by a dynamic scene of sparring between the two men. Throughout the film, the disorientating camerawork and silent movement of the two bodies moving across a shaft of light, adds to the existing sense of ambiguity…