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

Clockwork orange hero image

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 Monday, my younger son and I will make a cultural pilgrimage to the legendary Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square in the West End of London. Having been around since the early 1960s, it’s one of the nation’s best-loved independent cinemas, and a great place to renew acquaintance with the flicks.

You know the kind of place: refurbished fleapits that have managed to survive the coming of the multiplex and (so far) the global march of the streaming services. Several notches up from the old-style grindhouse, cinemas like the Prince Charles perform a priceless public service by showing classic repertory cinema as well as new releases.

Only indie cinemas offer the opportunity to see Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, or Bergman’s Persona, or Renoir’s La Règle Du Jeu on the silver screen (where they should be seen), rather than on your laptop or flatscreen – which is why it’s so important that so many (though not all) have survived the financial body blow of three lockdowns.

The reopening of the cultural sector is going to take a while. Many museums are reopening on Wednesday. Theatres should follow in June, though many are struggling because of the Treasury’s asinine refusal to underwrite their insurance policies in the crucial bridging period until the vaccine roll-out is complete (many performers are young and still haven’t received the jab, remember). Creative Sensemaker will be there every step of the way to let you know what’s happening, when and where. The best is yet to come.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to book your place at our next Creative Sensemaker Live on Friday 28 May, when, with the great Michael Morpurgo, we’ll be discussing the controversies over children’s fiction sparked by the books. Should we worry about stereotyping, classism and gender representation in kids’ stories? Or do we all need to relax? 

Here are this week’s recommendations.

Portrait of girl in period dress


The Underground Railroad (Prime Video, 14 May)
Based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, this new 10-part series directed by Barry Jenkins (best-known for Moonlight) – is one of the most eagerly anticipated dramatisations for years. Its theme is the 19th-century network of safe houses and transport that helped enslaved people to escape the captivity of the southern plantations – seen predominantly through the eyes of Cora (Thuso Mbedu), as she’s pursued by the slave-catcher, Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton). With stunning cinematography by Jenkins’s frequent collaborator, James Laxton, it’s a work of art.

Halston (Netflix, 14 May)
Ewan McGregor has come a long way since we first saw him as a skinhead junkie being chased down the street to Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ in Trainspotting (1996). In this high-octane five-part miniseries, he plays the designer Roy Halston Frowick – universally known as ‘Halston’ – who died of AIDs-related cancer in 1990 after building (and fighting to retain) a fashion empire. A lush, hedonistic account of the 1970s and 1980s, the world of Studio 54 and the glittering figures that populated that long-lost landscape.

Illustrated book cover showing battle scene
Graphic print book cover showing woman standing


Doom: The Politics Of Catastrophe by Niall Ferguson 
In an era overshadowed by COVID-19, climate emergency and technological upheaval, who better than Ferguson to trace the history of disaster and its lessons? From the eruption of Vesuvius to Chernobyl via the First World War, the lessons he draws from each are pleasingly nuanced. 
Catastrophe, he suggests, is often manmade, and frequently involves a combination of human agency and systemic failure. Indeed, it is the latter that fascinates him most, which makes his account of the pandemic especially interesting. It’s a must-read.

Why Solange Matters by Stephanie Phillips 
As an indie artist and Black Lives Matter activist, Solange Knowles has carved out her own proud place in contemporary culture – and Phillips, a Black punk musician herself, leads us through this remarkable story of defiant individuality with panache. (If you missed it, do watch Stephanie in conversation with Celeste Bell in last month’s Tortoise ThinkIn on the legacy of punk.)

Pop art style graphic album cover
Album cover showing man standing in front of a burning basketball net


Paul Weller – Fat Pop (Volume 1) by Paul Weller (14 May)
‘I don’t believe my luck when I see him in the mirror,’ he sings on ‘Cosmic Fringes’, which opens this fine album. You can see what Weller means. It’s just over 44 years since The Jam’s debut single ‘In The City’ was released, and still he remains free, inventive and contemporary in the sounds he produces. All hail the Modfather.

The Off-Season by J. Cole (14 May)
Deploying a basketball metaphor, the seasoned rapper explains the title of his album thus: ‘The Off-Season symbolises the work that it takes to get to the highest height. The Off-Season represents the many hours and months and years it took to get to top form.’ His first solo album since KOD (2018) has been teased by a YouTube documentary, Applying Pressure – and its first single ‘Interlude’ has already been a massive hit. Expect The Off-Season to follow suit.

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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