Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend
A rundown of new books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
Culture, like an emergency service of the mind and heart, has a habit of coming to the rescue in times of need. So it’s no coincidence that, worn down by the seemingly never-ending lockdown, we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a 1990s revival.
And what a decade it was. There was the glory of Euro ‘96, with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner providing England with an alternative national anthem in ‘Three Lions’; the brash confidence of Britpop and the Young British Artists; Danny Boyle’s 1996 movie of Irvine Welsh’s novel, Trainspotting; the Spice Girls, who went on to show what Girl Power really meant by sacking their manager, going it alone and becoming the greatest all-female act in history.
New Labour hugged all this close with the ‘Cool Britannia’ brand, and – hard to believe now, I know – people marched in the streets for Tony Blair. It was a time of ecstasy and, pre-social media, much less scolding and ticking off. The only tweeters were massive speakers in small flats, booming out ‘Champagne Supernova’, ‘Loaded’ or ‘There’s No Other Way’ at 4am.
And what better time than these grey dystopian days to retrieve some of that spirit from our national storage locker? Cue Creation Stories (Sky Cinema, 20 March), Nick Moran’s new film about the Creation Records founder, Alan McGee (Ewen Bremner). Scripted by Irvine Welsh, it tells the story of a Glaswegian punk who set up his own label in 1983 and ultimately became the UK’s most culturally influential pop impresario.
Posterity will remember McGee for discovering Oasis, but his crowning achievement (in his own eyes, at least) was his success in making Primal Scream the huge band that they eventually became. In the lanky Bobby Gillespie, he believed he had spotted a true star – and he was right.
The Primals laboured long and hard as a standard post-punk guitar band, but it was not until they teamed up with the late Andrew Weatherall – an acid house DJ-turned-producer who married the band’s rock origins with a more eclectic range of influences – that they broke through with Screamadelica in 1991.
The story of how this magical concoction was brewed is retold in an excellent Classic Albums documentary that has just resurfaced on streaming services; with equal serendipity, Gillespie announced this week that he has made use of the pandemic’s dreary days by writing a memoir, Tenement Kid, (out in October).
The 1990s cannot immunise you against COVID-19, but that decade’s sounds, images and sheer brio can certainly make you feel better. As the man said: choose life.
Human Rights Watch Film Festival (18-26 March)
All of the films at this excellent festival draw attention to human rights violations around the world and the campaigns fought to end them. Alongside the documentaries themselves, there will also be online discussions with film-makers and other ways to participate. Don’t miss The 8th, directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O'Boyle, about the battle to change Ireland’s abortion laws; or Ashley O’Shay’s Unapologetic, about a group of Chicago-based Black Activists’ campaign for justice after two police killings. Book here.
Bruno v Tyson (Sky Documentaries)
Frank Bruno was the lovable giant with a gentle personality. Mike Tyson, in contrast, was a self-styled machine of destruction, as aggressive outside the ring as inside it. The two heavyweights fought twice, both bouts consequential in their respective careers. It is a compelling sporting saga, but this is much more than a boxing documentary – the most moving sequences show the two men, both in their fifties now, reminiscing at Tyson’s home, clearly full of respect and affection for one another.
...and recommended by Tortoise member and contributor, Lara Spirit (and her flatmates Emma Corrin and Avigail Tlalim)
And Then We Danced (Prime Video)
A moving portrayal of a love affair between two traditional Georgian dancers, with an incredible debut performance from Levan Gelbakhiani. It was met with violence and protest in Georgia upon its release, a country where a deep religious traditionalism renders anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment commonplace.
Notebook by Tom Cox
Though Cox rose to prominence with a series of beautifully-written books about his cats, his range is prodigious and encompasses a love of the countryside, the pagan spirit of the land, music, and the magic of simple pleasures. His latest is a collection of fragments and stories, full of wit, reflection, and lyrical observation.
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding
Lisa Harding’s second novel tackles the challenges of parenthood from the perspective of Sonya Moriarty, a trained actress reduced to poverty and alcohol abuse, struggling to raise her four-year-old son, Tommy. The prose is taut and unsparing, and Harding has an eye for the details of indignity that are the constituent parts of emotional pain.
The Fabulists: How Myth-Makers Rule In An Age Of Crisis by Michael Peel
In this book, Peel, the Financial Times’ European diplomatic correspondent, captures the centrality of myth, fantasy and storytelling – much of it ugly and distorted – in contemporary politics, especially authoritarianism.
Fauré: Works For Violin & Piano by Jan Rautio and Jane Gordon
A celebration of two decades of musical partnership between Rautio and Gordon, this collection of Fauré’s works for piano and violin is a mesmerising reminder that, as the composer who, more than any other, bridged Romanticism and modernism, he should be revered for much more than his Requiem.
Poster Girl by Zara Larsson
For a while, Larsson’s last album, So Good (2017), was the second most-streamed by a woman on Spotify. Nestling between perfect pop, disco and EDM, her follow-up is light, bright and more than occasionally reminiscent of her fellow-Swedes, ABBA. This is dancefloor music to help you build a playlist for spring – enjoy.
Take care of yourselves – and one another.
Editor and Partner