Friday 16 February 2024

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of February 9-11, 2024):

1 (1) Migration (U)
2 (2) Argylle (12A)
3 (new) The Iron Claw (15) ***
4 (4) All of Us Strangers (15) **
5 (new) Peppa's Cinema Party (U)
6 (3) Mean Girls (12A) **
7 (6) Anyone but You (15)
8 (7) Wonka (PG) ***
9 (5) The Zone of Interest (12A) ****
10 (re) Dune: Part One (12A) **

(source: BFI)

My top five:
1. It Happened One Night
4. 10 Things I Hate About You
5. Interview with the Vampire [above]

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (new) Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (12)
2 (1) Wonka (PG) ***
3 (2) Wish (U)
4 (10) The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (12)
5 (7) Barbie (12) ***
6 (6) Oppenheimer (15) ****
7 (3) Five Nights at Freddy's (15)
8 (4) Trolls Band Together (U)
9 (8) Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (U)
10 (30) Meg 2: The Trench (12)

My top five: 
1. How to Have Sex

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Friday, ITV1, 10.45pm)
2. Benediction (Sunday, BBC2, 11pm)
3. If Beale Street Could Talk (Tuesday, BBC2, 11.15pm)
4. In the Loop (Sunday, BBC1, 12.20am)
5. Eastern Promises (Saturday, BBC1, 11.55pm)

In memoriam: Don Murray (Telegraph 14/02/24)

Don Murray, who has died aged 94, was a seasoned American stage, film and TV actor who earned BAFTA and Oscar nominations for his debut movie role as Beauregard “Beau” Decker, the unworldly cowpoke who treats Marilyn Monroe’s singer Cherie like cattle in the grabby Fox melodrama
Bus Stop (1956).

Ripped from William Inge’s Broadway sensation, the story was just seamy enough to ensure box-office success, and the tall, athletic, conventionally handsome Murray found himself squarely at its centre. “Hollywood’s newest hunk of man!” boomed the film’s lustiest trailer. Yet it was fanciful casting, by Murray’s own admission: “No-one could have been less equipped for the job. I was a New Yorker who’d never ridden a real horse and had tackled football players but never a 500-pound steer.”

As Murray maintained, Monroe was “very supportive”, even while succumbing to nerves herself: “We did a bed scene, she was actually naked under the sheets, and I could see her body covered with this red rash. She got so nervous that she’d break out… and she had to cover it with make-up. She had done so many films, and yet she was so frightened.”

He worked consistently thereafter, earning his Walk of Fame star as early as 1960, without ever becoming a household name: “I came to Hollywood, and they said I needed to establish a persona that the audience could relate to and would be a reliable thing for them to get behind. I did the exact opposite.”

Initially, he sought out ambiguous parts in trickier projects: a morphine-addled veteran in A Hatful of Rain (1957), the student pulled into the Irish Troubles (and armed conflict with professor James Cagney) in Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), the closeted Senator in Advise & Consent (1962).

By the 1970s, Murray was settling into patrician roles, notably the authoritarian Governor Breck in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), the fourth in the enduring sci-fi series. As dealership owner Sid Fairgate, he was an early pillar of Dallas spin-off Knots Landing (1979-93), only to quit after two seasons.

In the Eighties, he played dad to prominent younger stars: Brooke Shields in Endless Love (1981), Helen Hunt in Quarterback Princess (1983), Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). He earned a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1994 for an episode of ABC’s issue-driven Afterschool Special strand, playing an ageing rancher resisting relocation to a nursing home.

Murray announced his retirement from acting in 2001, before a touchingly unexpected comeback as Bushnell “Battling Bud” Mullins, former prizefighter turned chipper manager of an insurance firm beset by supernatural forces in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). He’d travelled some way from Bus Stop: as the show’s detective hero Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) declared in Murray’s final scene, “You are a fine man, Bushnell Mullins. I will not soon forget your kindness and decency.”

Donald Patrick Murray was born on July 31, 1929, the second of three children to Fox choreographer Dennis Murray and his wife Ethel (née Cook), a sometime performer with the Ziegfeld Follies.

The following year, the family relocated to New York, where the young Donald attended East Rockaway High, excelling in gridiron, track athletics and theatre club. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, making his TV debut as Biondello in a 1950 adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, opposite Charlton Heston as Petruchio.

After graduating, Murray made his Broadway debut in Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, but his career was paused as military service loomed. As an Anabaptist Christian – guided by a strictly pacifist doctrine – he was spared the Korean War; he was instead posted to an internment camp in Naples housing those displaced during WW2, where he helped build a school and taught the locals basketball (“I had the toughest time getting them to use their hands, instead of feet!”).

Following honourable discharge in 1954, he founded the non-profit HELP (Homeless European Land Program) with his first wife, the actress Hope Lange; they raised $100,000 and bought a plot of land in Sardinia to establish a farming community for refugees. Murray returned to the region in 2013, when he was made an honorary citizen of Simaxis. One resident told Murray’s actor son Christopher “if it weren’t for your father, I’d be a grain of sand.”

Murray’s faith informed his directorial debut The Cross and the Switchblade (1970), a drama about the real-life bond between a pastor (Pat Boone) and a gang member (future CHiPs star Erik Estrada); later efforts – such as Elvis is Alive (2001), which found the King working as an Elvis impersonator in Paris, and Breathe! (2008), a subaquatic thriller written by another son, Mick – were less favourably reviewed.

With the passing of Tony Curtis in 2010, he became the last of Monroe’s leading men still extant. He signed off by returning to the range, cameoing in low-budget Western Promise (2021).

He is survived by his second wife Betty, whom he married in 1962, and five children, three from this second marriage, two from his earlier marriage to Lange.

Don Murray, born July 31, 1929, died February 2, 2024.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

On demand: "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine"

The Man in the Machine
, Alex Gibney's made-for-CNN overview of the life and career of the Apple co-founder and holistic business guru Steve Jobs, comes from a place of appreciable scepticism. Why, Gibney asks, was there such a collective outpouring of grief upon Jobs's passing in October 2011? (As the filmmaker adds, it was the sort of outpouring he'd only witnessed twice in his lifetime, after the deaths of Martin Luther King and John Lennon.) But Jobs was that deeply embedded in our mental firmware and pockets; the grief his passing inspired - amply illustrated in the opening moments here - was much the same as the grief cult members must feel after their leader has burnt down the compound and hightailed it with everybody's life savings. What the public was mourning, of course, was the forward-facing Jobs: charismatic, eloquent, driven, visionary, the Jobs who assured us the 21st century was going to be all jetpacks and limitless leisure time. (Even we hardened Android users might feel a pang of sadness at how capitalism continues to deny us that future; instead, it's just neverending system updates and drawers full of leads that don't fit your technology.) Gibney, for his part, proves too smart and sharp - too much the seasoned investigative journalist - to be lulled by that carefully curated public image. The Man in the Machine pulls back the curtain and follows Jobs behind the scenes, asking such critical questions as "did he know what he was doing?" to those who knew Jobs, were impressed by Jobs and/or found themselves varyingly screwed over by Jobs. Some of these interviewees speak more euphemistically than others; yet their answers lead us towards the terrible grind, hurt and sacrifice required in the hyperaccelerated creation of our new digital gods - or iGods, if we must.

Gibney himself is putting in quite the shift, and while operating at a similar speed to that of his subject. In a little over two hours, he sets out the great tech leaps forward and gleaming design, but also the betrayals involved, the contradictions within this personality, and the mish-mash of Dylan songs and New Age belief systems that were always part of the sales plan. As ever, the Gibney net is cast far and wide: it hauls in testimony from a monk who accuses Jobs of misreading Buddhist doctrine and an unexpected Wim Wenders nod. Editor Michael J. Palmer's sly juxtapositions further underline the editorial assertion that this was a phenomenon with an element or two of the con job about it. As one associate says of Jobs, "he was the kind of person who could convince himself of things that weren't necessarily true". (And thus, we surmise, as much an architect of the 21st century as anyone.) The result is a greatly more complex picture than the Sorkin/Danny Boyle fiction that emerged around the same moment, even if it places the same piercing anecdote at the heart of the film: how Jobs spent more time fussing over a console he called Lisa than he ever did over a daughter with the same name. Arguably Jobs realised home computers are just easier to deal with than human beings: the former are sleek and clean, they can be switched off when they overheat, and sent away whenever something needs repairing. (We sometimes cry when they die too, irrationally.) The Jobs that Gibney reveals here emerges as a little of both, the kind of fundamentally weird, questionably wired nerd who now routinely hacks and reprograms society: a Musk or Bezos 1.0, a manbot who deserves fealty, worship and tears far less than he merits close and rigorous study. As Gibney frames it, acknowledging the compound of silicon and bullshit that took Jobs to the top, "He is one of those mythic characters." As Apple designer Bob Belleville responds: "And they're not that much fun on the ground most of the time. And they change us."

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is currently streaming via NOW TV, and is available to rent via Prime Video and YouTube. 

Monday 12 February 2024

Chewing the fat: "Your Fat Friend"

I don't know how she does it, given the British film industry's byzantine financing and distribution models, but the documentarist Jeanie Finlay retains vast reserves of patience, curiosity and empathy. The empathy is wide-ranging at that: so far within this filmography, it's been extended to the stressed proprietor and ragtag clientele of a County Durham record shop (2011's Sound It Out), assorted pranksters and famehounds (2013's The Great Hip Hop Hoax, 2014's Pantomime, 2015's Orion: The Man Who Would Be King) and a trans man giving birth for the first time (2019's Seahorse). Evidently, Finlay is a mighty shrewd judge of character: she picks subjects she senses she'll enjoy spending years following, and whom she's confident we'll enjoy spending at least ninety minutes with. The result of all this interpersonal groundwork has been a run of films that feel like records of real-world friendships, and that sit as distinct from the more transactional end of modern documentary practice, where established brands (feted filmmaker, famous interviewee) are paired by producers to polish some official record. Funnily enough, Finlay's latest Your Fat Friend centres on someone who's almost famous when first we meet her: Aubrey Gordon, the size-26 fat activist who came to online prominence while blogging anonymously under the handle @yrfatfriend and urging her fellow humans to embrace the three-letter F-word as a value-neutral state of being. Finlay caught up with Gordon as the latter underwent a very modern, recognisably haphazard rite of writerly passage, attempting to convert Internet fame into a viable publishing and media career. The peril is that she's doing so at a moment (2016 onwards) where the American political context meant women's bodies were falling subject to renewed scrutiny and public relitigation.

Like Seahorse's progressive figurehead Freddy McConnell, Gordon quickly proves an ideal match for Finlay's sensibility: someone in the process of overcoming whatever shame or anxiety they might once have felt about their physical form, who presents as determined to occupy the space they inhabit with neither fear nor apology, and yet is also vulnerable to backsliding into old patterns of thinking. (A Finlay subject typically has off-days, wobbles, doubts - as do we all, you might say.) It feels crucial that Gordon has a background in social activism: having campaigned on behalf of others, she now strives to make a case - and a better life - for herself. She knows as well as anyone how bound up food, diets and the swelling wellness industry are with corporate capitalism, ever-keen to set us to consuming or not consuming, and to pay through the nose either way. But Finlay is just as interested in who Gordon might be away from the blog and the keyboard; the film quietly binds the political with the personal in the hope of fostering a more forceful resistance. Some of this story is thus told first person, in Gordon's own, thoughtful words: upon hearing her hypersensitivity around flying, and airlines' anti-fat seating policies, you may well be persuaded those policies are good for neither the fat nor the thin, nor anyone save the company standing to make a packet by cramming as many paying customers as they can into the same finite space. More subtly revealing, though, are the candid chats Finlay records between Gordon and those in her immediate vicinity: her doting mum Pam, obliged to reflect on her previous devotion to all things Weight Watchers, and her old-school engineer dad Rusty, who may just provide 2024's greatest example of nominative determinism.

Often framed against that most fraught of domestic spaces, the kitchen, these back-and-forths not only speak to the very great trust Finlay continues to build with her subjects, they also demonstrate how it is more than possible to have enjoyed a comparatively stable and loving upbringing and still feel - as Gordon once did, and may still, on those off days - that you are unworthy or too much. They also, I think, serve as a constructive contrast to a parallel online debate, permitting differences of opinion (and even the odd off-colour thought or sentiment) without descending into vicious sniping or doxxing. I sometimes wondered whether - again, like so many of us - Gordon was too online for her own good: this camera frequently alights on a woman staring at a phone heating up with shows of celebrity solidarity and naked aggression from passing trolls. Yet Finlay equally makes good contextualising use of Gordon's leafy part of Portland, a city several seasons of cable sitcom have already established as a refuge for refuseniks and free thinkers. Big, meaty, frankly super-fat themes - the body, the self, and their relationship to an insecure world - are here chewed over with the breeziness of an old pals' picnic in the park. (It feels unimprovable that Gordon's progress should draw towards a conclusion with the arrival of cake, imperfectly finished - the frosting's not gluten-free - yet offered with love.) As elsewhere, Finlay both opens up a new front of conversation and reasserts the power of film to gently recalibrate viewer perspectives, inviting us to change our mind fully, reconsider our words and actions or simply think twice - as any good and true friend might.

Your Fat Friend is now touring selected cinemas - details here - and is also available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema. 

Three falls and a submission: "The Iron Claw"

The writer-director Sean Durkin was a shade unlucky with 2020's
The Nest, a sinuous dissection of Thatcherite greed that found itself caught up in the bottleneck of post-lockdown releases; one of the strongest British-shot films of the past decade, it went largely overlooked at the time, but its doomy mood has lingered over and arguably intensified with every hamfisted cashgrab made by the current Tory administration. (If ever a film was a warning from history.) Durkin has picked himself up, dusted himself down and returned to the fight with a project that, on the surface, might appear a solid-gold crowdpleaser. The Iron Claw's subject is pro wrestling, and more specifically the von Erich dynasty, a real-life grappling empire of the 1980s headed by gruff patriarch Fritz (Holt McCallany), a former heel whose skullcrushing signature move lends the film its title, and extending to a clutch of brawny, blonde, distinctly all-American sons (played here by Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simons) obliged to jostle for pa's attention and affection. Yet if you're expecting another Fighting with My Family-style romp, as several patrons at the public screening I attended last night clearly were, think again. The Iron Claw could only ever be classified as a Sean Durkin idea of a crowdpleaser, its constituent elements these: a family who were tougher on one another than they ever were on their opponents; kids chock full of testosterone, with a sketchy sense of where fakery ends and reality begins; talk of a curse; brief, jolting establishing shots of a visibly unhappy family portrait, a crucifix mounted to a wall, and a fully loaded gun cabinet; and a pre-film BBFC card warning of strong language, drug misuse and suicide to come. The template, then, isn't the cheery, Stephen Merchant-directed Fighting - or David O. Russell's boisterous The Fighter of a decade or so ago - but Bennett Miller's stark, brooding Foxcatcher of 2014; you find yourself adopting the brace position long before Durkin drops "Don't Fear the Reaper" on the soundtrack twenty minutes in.

The first question here is what kind of tragedy we have been gathered to receive, and American audiences may have had the advantage of prior knowledge in this respect: here is a story that made barely a dent in the British news media at the time of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. I don't know how reassuring it is that Durkin has tamped down the overt stylisation that some found so alienating in his earlier work. Gone are those tics and tricks half-inched from Herrs Haneke and Tarr - the long, glacially slow tracking shots leading us inexorably towards some new and unexplored darkness - in favour of an approach that is more upfront formally; an opening credit reads "inspired by true events", and those events are broadly what Durkin films. Nevertheless, he does something interesting and distinctive (if possibly counterproductive) with his fight scenes. Rather than tossing us pell-mell into the middle of the ring - as, say, Darren Aronofsky did so effectively in the course of 2008's The Wrestler - Durkin stubbornly stands back from the off, the better to expose the pulled punches and prerehearsed smackdowns. This is a very strange way to make a living, The Iron Claw ventures, and an even stranger path to the American dream of self-realisation: actual, perishable flesh-and-blood recast as unstoppable he-men whose wins and losses are entirely arbitrary, decided by the toss of a coin or promoter's whim. I say counterproductive, because there are expectational dangers that follow from assembling a photogenic cast and then peering at them as though through a microscope. One is that The Iron Claw begins to feel like a film about sports made by a social-sciences major, albeit one who maybe knew monomaniacally focused jocks like this at college and had every reason to maintain some distance from them. Another risk is perhaps best expressed as a question: are we ever going to get close enough to these characters to feel their very real pain when it comes, as von Erich lore dictates it must?

You will formulate your own response; mine would be yes and no, a mixed result I put down partly to the still semi-clinical handling (forever eliding the worst of these events, perhaps out of respect to the von Erichs who survived) and a growing sense this tragedy was born out of a freak, near-unrepeatable set of circumstances, foremost among them the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics. (Try as you might to take this dive, it couldn't happen to you.) It's no fault whatsoever of this ensemble, a living-breathing redefinition of tightknit. We note how, despite their pronounced physiological differences, these brothers act and feel like actual brothers. We can't fail to spot the odd note of dissent in the ranks, like the aside from ma Maura Tierney (shrewdly cast for her resting sour face) about the music her husband used to play for her, a road not taken as Fritz backed the family into a corner that looks indistinguishable from a dead end. We may well notice Efron acting his heart out from beneath the dermal equivalent of a Ninja Turtles costume. But it feels like a stretch to claim The Iron Claw as some clinching treatise on performative masculinity when it retains such a slender grasp on the world beyond the gym, the locker room and the ring over there in the distance. (Durkin is so uninterested in the options represented by the Efron character's wife that she's ended up being played by Lily James.) What we end up watching is a ghostly, closed-off case study, as much a movie about a cult as was Martha Marcy May Marlene, even if its closing bout of sentiments suggest its maker is older, wiser and better prepared to express himself than the macho martyrs he's burying. Durkin remains an intriguingly oppositional imagemaker, celebrating a full decade of showing us what's wrong with the world without ever once letting slip what he's truly passionate about. There is undeniable fascination in encountering a work so obviously critical of the dads-and-lads axis that has dominated American cinema for decades - and also in seeing a film in the multiplexes that patently doesn't want to be there. But I could equally understand why certain cinemagoers were themselves beginning to shift so uneasily in their seats. A movie like The Wrestler sends us out into the night high on the scent of popcorn and embrocation. The Iron Claw arrives bearing only the deadening stench of embalming fluid. Enter the Undertaker.

The Iron Claw is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

Friday 9 February 2024

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of February 2-4, 2024):

1 (new) Migration (U)
2 (new) Argylle (12A)
3 (1) Mean Girls (12A) **
4 (2) All of Us Strangers (15) **
5 (new) The Zone of Interest (12A) ****
6 (4) Anyone but You (15)
7 (3) Wonka (PG) ***
8 (5) Poor Things (18) **
9 (6) The Holdovers (15) ***
10 (new) American Fiction (15) ***

(source: BFI)

My top five:
2. It Happened One Night [above]
4. 10 Things I Hate About You

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (1) Wonka (PG) ***
2 (2) Wish (U)
3 (6) Five Nights at Freddy's (15)
4 (4) Trolls Band Together (U)
5 (3) The Marvels (12) **
6 (5) Oppenheimer (15) ****
7 (7) Barbie (12) ***
8 (12) Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (U)
9 (9) Killers of the Flower Moon (15) ****
10 (8) The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (12)

My top five: 
1. How to Have Sex

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Notting Hill (Wednesday, ITV1, 10.45am)
2. Zootropolis (Sunday, BBC1, 2.50pm)
3. Selma (Sunday, BBC1, 11.30pm)
4. Photograph (Saturday, BBC2, 1.35am)
5. Thelma (Tuesday, Channel 4, 2.20am)

It happened here (and here and here): "Occupied City"

Last week I mentioned the critical debate that has sprung up around Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest. Steve McQueen's new WW2 doc Occupied City really is one tactic from start to finish - and one that, when stretched over a full four-and-a-half hours, becomes trying indeed. This was McQueen's pandemic project: in early 2021, the artist and filmmaker had just begun shooting around his adopted city of Amsterdam when the Dutch government announced the country was going back into lockdown. (For long stretches of the film, you imagine him pottering around town with his camera, trying to keep himself busy, as most of us were at that time.) What McQueen was filming, steered by his wife Bianca Stigter's non-fiction tome Atlas of an Occupied City: Amsterdam 1940-1945, was any location with a story to tell; more specifically, the story of the Nazi occupation and the subsequent purge of the city's Jewish population. For a minute or two at a time, we bear witness to shots of these streets, shops and tourist hotspots as they are now (or were during 2021-22), some of McQueen's subjects (the Rijksmuseum, the canals) more or less the same as they were during wartime, others (the Prada boutiques, fun pubs and domestic spaces) new or notably different. These largely static shots have been assembled one after the other, with a voiceover (credited to Melanie Hyams in the English-language version, and Carice van Houten in the Dutch cut) set over the top of them like an audio guide, cluing us in to what happened, house by house, sidestreet by sidestreet, district by district. In its essence, Occupied City is Shoah without the onscreen presence to point something out, redirect the gaze or interrogate. Where Claude Lanzmann - for virtually his entire career - was involved in reportage, attempting to nail down the barbarous and banal detail of Nazism, McQueen comes this way as an artist, at every turn leaving the precise correlation of sound and vision, past and present, open to viewer interpretation. He believes the free hand offers the best resistance to the iron fist of tyranny; but as Occupied City demonstrates, this approach presents its own risks.

All of which is to say Occupied City is a film riven with problems, some of which are interesting enough on a conceptual level to merit wrestling with. In The Zone of Interest, image and soundtrack achieved a brilliant parity: two distinct elements, telling two equally dreadful stories. In Occupied City, McQueen's sharply framed, crystalline imagery simply rolls all over Hyams' voiceover like a tank - and that is a problem, because so much of the film's rhetorical power is invested in the latter's words. Would it help to have a different narrator (or narrators)? We surely need something forceful from this testimony, someone capable of punching through the sensation we've been gathered for an artist's open-top bus tour of a major European metropolis; but Hyams has been encouraged to adopt a posh-adjacent, unvarying tone that suggests someone impassively reading a run of Tweets from one of those On This Day in 1940 accounts. And even if this ultra-engaged camera keeps moving forward, consistently alighting upon atmospheric, eyecatching material - a montage of shots from the upper decks of the city's gliding trams, kids taking advantage of a viral pause to go sledging - there's never much sense of how one shot relates to the next; for much of these 266 minutes, we appear to be bouncing around the city at random, scattering Lanzmann's formal rigour and geographic precision to the winds. In as much as McQueen looks to have worked up an editing strategy, it hinges on an unrelentingly facile contrast between, on one hand, the grim historical facts of territory that was once life-and-death and, on the other, the recorded sights and sounds of contemporary Dutch leisure and pleasure (coffee shops, nightclubs, etc.)

There's one final issue, and that's the complication of Covid. This part of the film is, I think, intended as the artist showing his working, which is to say the circumstances in which Occupied City was produced. (It is as the date a painter might sign in the corner of their canvas.) Yet early on in the film, McQueen introduces footage of an anti-lockdown protest, and the toing-and-froing that resulted. Are we meant to infer some parallel between germs and Nazis? Or between the onlooking police presence and the Nazi occupation Hyams has been telling us about - and thus to conclude that lockdown was its own form of tyranny? It could well be that McQueen intends to convey flux, the many ways in which a city and its people shift and lurch - how Amsterdam can find itself subject to fascism in one historical moment, mobilise en masse against it the next, and then elevate a wingnut like Geert Wilders to power a heartbeat later. But it's dangerously unclear and imprecise in this cut: these are vague gestures towards commentary and meaning, never once as powerful as Lanzmann's endeavours in a similar field, nor truthfully enough to hold the attention for four hours straight. What's semi-interesting here is that after several supremely assured, much-garlanded features that integrated elements of his erstwhile gallery career, McQueen is still visibly learning the difference between video art and cinema - notably that the latter requires even closer direction and greater shape, the better to prevent the viewer from wandering off either mentally or physically. There have been many less admirable and worthy lockdown projects than Occupied City, yet it has to count as both an artistic and ideological failure when the principal takehome from your lengthy film about the atrocities of Nazi occupation is how nice Amsterdam looks once the sun comes out.

Occupied City opens in selected cinemas from today.