Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend
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 Wednesday, the first work of fiction by Quentin Tarantino, cinema’s Lord of Misrule, was published. A novelisation of Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, it delves deep into its backstory and – in classic Tarantino fashion – plays with its original narrative structure. The essence of the tale remains the same: fading Western star, Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film) and his stunt double and best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), cruise through a Hollywood in which the Manson Family’s rampage – the ‘Kreepy Krawl’ – is the dark side of a broader cultural revolution.
The book is an exercise in retro fiction – a homage to the pulp novelisations that used to accompany major releases; churned out at speed, often by ghostwriters, as quick and easy merchandise (‘my contribution to this often marginalised, yet beloved sub-genre in literature’, as Tarantino has put it). It reads like Elmore Leonard written at gunpoint – and is hugely enjoyable.
Tarantino’s gift is a capacity to play with genres and chronologies as recklessly as any post-modern saboteur, but also to remain profoundly in love with the movies that he quarries for entertainment. He dismantles and reconstructs the work of the past, but with the deepest affection. The book, like all his movies, is both supremely contemporary and utterly nostalgic.
He had said that his next film, his tenth (the two parts of Kill Bill count as one movie, apparently), will also be his last, and that he will then retire to the ‘more modest life of a man of letters’.
Well, maybe. It is true that he has already signed up to deliver a second book, provisionally entitled Cinema Speculation, which will explore the films of the 1970s.
All the same: the words ‘he meant it when he said it’ were coined for Tarantino. He is an arch-prankster and an impulsive choreographer, who is more than capable of announcing his departure from the cinematic stage – and then returning on a whim, without a word of explanation.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Black Widow (general release, 7 July)
Though Marvel Studios has recently been focusing its energies upon small-screen series for Disney+, Cate Shortland’s movie has been awaiting theatrical release for many months, held back repeatedly by the pandemic. Scarlett Johansson’s character, Natasha Romanoff, is at last given her own standalone adventure, away from the Avengers team – a journey that reunites her with her Russian family, including her sister, played by Florence Pugh, and her older-generation superhero father (David Harbour). Add in Ray Winstone as the villain, and you have all the elements of a high-quality Marvel movie.
Please Help Me (BBC Three, iPlayer, 7 July)
Lucy Pearman, a breakout act at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, is excellent in this new psychedelic sitcom as Milly, caring for her beloved Nan (Anna Calder-Marshall), who uses a vibrator as a rolling pin, is struggling with single life, and worried that she’s losing her mind. Milly can’t see herself in the mirror, is told off by a pony and believes she is levitating during a date. The dialogue is terrific – when she, Nan and Uncle Sean (Harry Peacock) discuss Sarah Ferguson, she has to explain: ‘No, no – the one from Bicester’. Very promising.
The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men, And What We Can Do About It by Mary Ann Sieghart
As one of the most successful and cerebral journalists of her generation, Mary Ann Sieghart is perfectly-placed to map the hurdles and unconscious bias that women still face in every walk of life. The book is full of meticulously-researched data and enriched by Sieghart’s interviews with figures ranging from Baroness Hale to Hillary Clinton. She anticipates and heads off all the standard counter-arguments – principally that gender equality is well on its way to being achieved. Nobody can read this book and still believe that particular myth; and everybody – especially men – should read this book.
Last Best Hope: America In Crisis And Renewal by George Packer
In Last Best Hope, George Packer squares up to what has happened to America in recent times and asks how the most powerful nation on earth came to be pitied as something close to a failed state. At the heart of the decline, he argues, is the loss of the art of civic conversation, ‘the evasion of talk’, and the absence of a binding culture. He refuses, all the same, to give up: ‘I am an American and there’s no escape’.
Roots by Randall Goosby
This debut album by the 24-year-old, San Diego-born violinist – a student of Itzhak Perlman – is a fine anthology of Black concert music and of the music of white composers that owes a debt to African-American creativity. This takes him from Adoration by Florence Beatrice Price, the first Black woman composer whose work was performed by a major US orchestra; via the duet, Shelter Island, by Xavier Dubois Foley; to four numbers from Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess. A glorious collection from a true prodigy.
Europiana by Jack Savoretti
In years to come, cultural historians will write long texts on how artists made inventive and often playful use of lockdown, in creative defiance of COVID-19. Jack Savoretti chose to indulge an unashamed nostalgia for the melodrama of European popular music, in a fiesta of ballads, disco, and full bore 1980s pomp. This record does exactly what it says on the cover, and is all the better for that.
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all for now. Have a great week.
Editor and Partner