Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

A. woman standing in a barren landscape

A rundown of the 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

On the road again

The road has always been America’s 51st state: which is to say, a realm of endless real-life mobility and of boundless imaginative possibility. It is the place where Americans reenact the pioneering spirit, and play fugitive when forced by desperation or inclined by dreams to do so.

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (Disney+, 30 April), which scooped the Oscar® for Best Picture on Sunday, is a masterpiece of the creative genre that this yearning has spawned, capturing the freedoms and perils facing those who reject, or are excluded from, a life enclosed by a white picket fence and defined by Main Street.

Frances McDormand now has three Best Actress Academy Awards to her name, thanks to her performance as Fern, a woman in her 60s whose life crumbles around her with pitiless speed. When the gypsum plant that is the heart of Empire, Nevada, closes, the postcode of her hometown is simply erased from the map – a loss compounded by the death of her husband.

Taking to the road in a battered RV, she discovers an unexpected and endlessly morphing tribe of nomads – many of them real-life characters playing themselves.

When not behind the wheel, Fern takes temporary work in an Amazon fulfilment centre, at a sugar beet processing plant, as a host at a National Park; anything that will keep the wolf from the van door.

The freedom of the restless American is often associated with the romance of youth. ‘I was surprised, as always,” wrote Kerouac, ‘by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.’

But the hard kernel of Nomadland is ethnographic – the disclosure of an ageing cohort of travellers, scraping by at the margins of today’s gig economy, often battling illness or bereavement, searching for survival and a measure of human warmth in the third act of life. Though there is plenty of emotional connection in the movie, few of the people that Fern encounters find excitement in endless itineration.

Most are visibly afflicted by what the late philosopher Mark Fisher called ‘nomadalgia’ – the very modern condition of weariness with travel, and a nostalgia for a settled life that they suspect will never again be available to them. In this sense, Fern represents not the seized liberty of the young rebel, but the narrowing path of later life in the 21st century.

Stunning to behold in its portrayal of the American landscape, Nomadland deserves the majesty of large-screen projection and will make you long for the reopening of cinemas (I don’t know about you, but I am counting the days). 

Here are this week’s recommendations:

A black and white album cover with a woman's face
A man holding an award and celebrating


Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation (VOD, 30 April)
Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s portrayal of the friendship between two American literary giants of the 20th century is an exquisite exploration of creativity, self-destruction, rivalry, and the profound affinity that arises between (almost) kindred spirits. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams had much in common: roots in the South, precocious genius, homosexuality, and addiction to alcohol and pills. Capote cared more about fame than Williams, who longed most to be better-looking – and was deeply hurt by his cruel depiction as ‘Mr Wallace’ in Capote’s Answered Prayers

Beautifully curated archive footage is interspersed with voiceovers by Jim Parsons as Capote and Zachary Quinto as Williams. Highly recommended.

City of Lies (VOD, 3 May)
Brad Furman’s Los Angeles-set crime drama was ready for general release in 2018 but has faced a multitude of obstacles – not least the scandals surrounding its star, Johnny Depp. Based on Randall Sullivan’s non-fiction book LAbyrinth about the murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., Depp and Forest Whitaker put in strong performances as LAPD detective Russell Poole and journalist Jack Jackson, respectively. 
A book cover on a lilac background
A book cover on a lilac background


I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain – Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury)
Well established as a terrific journalist, Sethi turns her attention to the broad themes of identity, bigotry, and the relationship between landscape and self. Rooted in a horrible racist incident, I Belong Here is a glorious book, presenting curiosity and exploration as a magnificently defiant response to the brute pettiness of prejudice. Never didactic, it nonetheless opens the reader’s eyes to triumphant effect.

Worst. Idea. Ever – Jane Fallon
(Michael Joseph)
What if you set up a fake Twitter account to help out a dear friend with her new business, pretending to be a customer – and found out more than you bargained for? This is the premise of Fallon’s latest novel, which strengthens her claim to be one of our very finest comic novelists.

Two men talking to each other in front of a brick wall


Bylur by Eydis Evensen
The Icelandic instrumentalist and composer is, on her own terms, a creator of sublime, haunting music. Evensen’s debut album – whose title means ‘snowstorm’ – was produced in Reykjavik by Valgeir Sigurðsson, and across 13 tracks it pierces the heart; by turns consoling, forlorn, and unsettling. A true work of art.

Khaled Khaled by DJ Khaled (30 April): 
Who else but the veteran DJ could bring together the two Justins – Bieber and Timberlake – for his twelfth album? Jay-Z, H.E.R., Lil Wayne, Post Malone, 21 Savage, and Bryson Tiller also feature. Two years after Father of Asahd, the New Orleans-born producer returns to fill the spring with his distinctive and irrepressible mixes.

That’s all for now – take care of yourselves, and each other.

Best wishes 

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media


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