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

Close portrait of woman's face taken in dark setting

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.

‘How do you make somebody want to live?’ asks Dave Chappelle in an episode of his podcast series, The Midnight Miracle. ‘Is there something you can do for someone like that? Seriously – if someone you love was actually slowly killing themselves, what do you do?’

To this, his fellow presenter, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), who has been reminiscing poignantly about his friend, Amy Winehouse, has no glib answer. But the heaviness of heart with which he recalls the late singer and her addictions is moving. ‘She was in the zone one night, and we were staying in the same hotel… She said: “I just want to hang out with you”, and we kicked it, came back to my room and she whipped out this aluminium foil situation and I was like, “What is that?”, and she was like, “It’s gear.”

‘And I’d never been up close to someone doing hard drugs like that, and I felt like it was better for me to be that oasis for her, because it was crazy around her… She was at the height of her success and she was on one… God bless our beloved ones.’

To mark the 10th anniversary of Winehouse’s death, her family and friends have collaborated in a new documentary Reclaiming Amy (BBC Two, 23 July, 9pm). Her mother Janis and father Mitchell are interviewed extensively; their clear purpose being to provide a more nuanced account of her life and tribulations, and to correct what they regard as the errors of the many books and films that have appeared about her in the past decade – notably, Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning documentary Amy (All 4), in which Mitch, in particular, is portrayed as neglectful of his troubled daughter.

For Janis, the task is to ensure that her daughter is not remembered as just another pop star who destroyed herself with drugs and drink: ‘There was so much more. She resonated at a different frequency to anyone else. It often feels like the Amy we know has been lost.’ Suffering from multiple sclerosis, Janis feels only remorse that her illness prevented her from doing more: ‘I could only watch and wait.’

Mitch – who published a book about his daughter in 2013, and has released two albums of his own – is much more defensive. ‘There’s always got to be a culprit!’ he says. ‘There wasn’t a culprit. The culprit is the addiction… That addiction is more powerful than any love that anyone can give.’

That is true enough – though he himself admits that ‘I loved the limelight. I’ll be honest with you, I loved the limelight.’ But it was not his limelight to enjoy and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he tried to live the life of a superstar vicariously through his daughter. 

The most common accusation levelled at Mitch – that he kept her out of rehab (remember her own lyric: ‘I ain’t got the time/ And if my daddy thinks I’m fine’) – is addressed only to the extent that he says he tried and failed to have her sectioned.

Yet it would be quite wrong to lay all the blame at his door, or indeed at anyone’s. The horror of the Amy Winehouse story is to be found in the structural complicity of the entertainment industry, the media and even the public, in what amounted to a slow-motion death across several years.  

A woman who, in only two studio albums, established that she had one of the greatest voices of her era, who ought to have had at least half a century of musical genius ahead of her was dead aged only 27, swept away by the alcohol that tore apart her bulimia-ravaged body. How could such promise be cut off so cruelly? In the end, extreme solitude holds its secrets tight. ‘What am I scared of?’ she says in the film. ‘Myself.’

Here are this week’s recommendations:

Man sitting in dark room in front of table with ashtray and cigarette in mouth


Nobody (VOD, selected cinemas)
In Ilya Naishuller’s sharp action movie, Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, a retired CIA ‘auditor’ – the most hard-bitten of assassins who is dragged back into his past life when a botched burglary leads him into the ultra-violent world of the Russian mob. The debt, by the way, to David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence (2005) is clear enough, which is to say that Nobody is a fine example of a cinematic subgenre – ‘Killer forced out of meek retirement by events beyond his control’.


A Cursed Place by Peter Hanington 
Hanington’s third thriller featuring veteran BBC reporter, William Carver, is a true page-turner, combining the author’s insights and expertise as a distinguished foreign correspondent with a pace that keeps the reader guessing and embroiled in a plot that sweeps us from Peckham, via Hong Kong and Chile, to the Big Tech citadels of Silicon Valley. While we find Carver taking a breather teaching students at the BBC’s College of Journalism, it’s not long before he’s back in action. He unpicks a complex story that involves digital surveillance on an unprecedented scale, a resistance movement struggling to preserve democracy, and spooks doing their best to keep up in a hyper-connected world in which personal data, however acquired, is everything.

Illustrated book cover showing person walking into sunset
Album cover


Seize The Power by Yonaka
Two years on from their debut studio album, Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow, the Brighton-based alt-rock four-piece drops a truly thrilling mixtape that’s full of infectious energy and sonic dynamism, including recent singles ‘Call Me A Saint’ and ‘Ordinary’. Singer Theresa Jarvis is acquiring the confidence of a true rock star, and it will be a treat to see the band as they resume touring (kicking off with Reading Festival next month).

...and finally, raise a toast this weekend to Sir Graham Vick, the great opera director who died on 17 July aged 67 of COVID-19-related complications. Though he is especially mourned by opera fans who relished his work as artistic director at the Birmingham Opera Company which he founded in 1987, he deserves to be remembered by all who believe in the creative arts, as one of the most significant British cultural figures of his era: a champion of widening access to classical material, and of ventures that stretched out a hand to audiences unaccustomed to culture that they perceived to be too difficult or too elitist. He was knighted in the New Year Honours list, but his greatest accomplishment was to persuade so many that art should ‘release its power for everybody’.

Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations to

That’s all for now. Have a great week.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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