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.
Not long after James Gandolfini’s sudden death from a heart attack in 2013, HBO – the cable channel that had propelled the actor to global stardom in The Sopranos – gathered the show’s cast and crew to record a tribute to the man who had mesmerised viewers as New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano. In an especially poignant moment towards the end of the documentary, his teenage son, Michael, said earnestly that he ‘taught me everything I need to know to be a great man. I just want to make sure I make him proud.’
Gandolfini Jr could hardly have predicted that, eight years later, he would be doing just that in a prequel movie – and one in which he himself played the young Tony. This audacious casting might have gone horribly wrong, but in fact, Gandolfini’s presence in The Many Saints Of Newark (cinemas, general release) turns out to be a masterstroke at the heart of a magnificent movie. Now aged 22, he is utterly convincing as the young Tony, playing the fool with his friends, worried about losing his place on the school football team, and trying to impress a blonde girl called Carmela.
The physical resemblance between the two Gandolfinis is striking enough, but the deal is sealed by the extent to which the son, like his father, communicates an unsettling combination of innocence and (in this case, still-germinal) capacity for violence. Chills will run down your spine when the camera lingers on his hardening features and the theme tune to the series – ‘Woke Up This Morning’ by Alabama 3 – strikes up, clear connective tissue with all that is to come.
Yet the movie does not confine itself to, or even hinge upon, Tony’s backstory. Co-written by David Chase, creator and showrunner of the original series, and directed by Alan Taylor, The Many Saints Of Newark is, at heart, the story of Dickie Moltisanti, Tony’s beloved mentor, and a senior member of the DiMeo crime family. Perfectly tailored, charming and ruthless, Dickie – Alessandro Nivola in the best performance of his career – incarnates both the tantalising promise of life in the mob and the moral perdition that is its ultimate reward.
Chase has claimed that The Many Saints is ‘very much a standalone movie’. While this is technically true, he is being spectacularly disingenuous. The movie bristles with references to the show – some playful, others more profound. Most of our favourite characters appear at one stage or another – much younger of course – and there are dark premonitions, too. The Many Saints is, in fact, much more than a prequel – it takes the mythology of The Sopranos and enriches it, addressing questions of racial injustice, destiny, and existential morality. It’s a worthy addition to the legendary mafia television series.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Foundation (Apple TV+, 24 September)
As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman writes in his introduction to the Folio Society’s edition of the original Foundation trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s great saga is ‘not exactly science fiction....[the] novels are about people, not gadgets’. In a future Galactic Empire, Hari Seldon, the master of ‘psychohistory’, presents, as Krugman puts it, ‘the possibility of a rigorous, mathematical social science that understands society, can predict how it changes, and can be used to shape those changes.’ Since the publication of the first three Foundation books between 1951 and 1953, it has been assumed that they are unfilmable – until now, that is. The incredible potential of CGI and the rise of high-budget streaming television have converged happily to bring Asimov’s story to our screens. The initial signs are that this adaptation by Apple TV+ – starring Jared Harris as Seldon – is equal to the task; which, in turn, augurs well for Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming movie version of that other supposedly unfilmable sci-fi masterpiece: Frank Herbert’s Dune (22 October), which I’ll be discussing with Krugman at a Tortoise ThinkIn on Monday 25 October. We’d love to see you there.
Chronicles From The Land Of The Happiest People On Earth by Wole Soyinka
It is almost half a century since Wole Soyinka last published a novel (Season Of Anomy, 1972), and his return to the form, at the age of 87, is, by any standards, a significant literary event. As Ben Okri wrote in 1986, the Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author is ‘a Renaissance man, firmly rooted in Africa, at home in the world’: frequently compared to Camus and Joyce, but also immersed in legends of the African deities (especially Ogun, the Yoruba god of war and creativity). The novel is a twisty, wistful and sharply satirical tale of elite corruption seen through the eyes of Doctor Menka, who identifies a horrific trade in body parts at his hospital. A lifetime of creativity, activism and irony is embedded in these marvellous pages.
MONTERO by Lil Nas X
Best known for his huge country-rap hit, ‘Old Town Road’ (2019) – the longest-running number one in the history of the Billboard charts – Lil Nas X (aka Montero Lamar Hill) has weathered both homophobia and claims that he is no more than a novelty artist to deliver this fine debut album. Kanye West lends his producing talent to ‘Industry Baby’, while ‘Scoop’ features Doja Cat and ‘One Of Me’ recruits Elton John’s piano playing. Nas’s lyrics are both poignant (‘I know that you want to cry/ But there’s much more to life than dying’) and ferociously honest about his own path to fame (‘You’s a meme, you’s a joke, been a gimmick from the go’). A major talent, from whom we can expect even greater things.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner