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.
My well-thumbed trade paperback copy of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965) is a 1977 edition of the science fiction classic and bears on its garishly illustrated cover the promise: ‘Soon to be a major film.’
Well – it all depends upon what you mean by ‘soon’, I suppose. A movie version of the supposedly unfilmable book was indeed made by David Lynch, and released in 1984 – though it should tell you quite a lot about how things worked out that the director removed his name from the whole enterprise.
A truly terrible three-part television mini-series adaptation limped across the small screen in 2000, before being consigned to well-earned obscurity. In fact, before Denis Villeneuve’s stunning new movie, the best cinematic version of Herbert’s book was one that was never made.
If you get the chance before heading to the multiplex, do check out Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013, VOD), an extraordinary account of an inspired fever dream that never quite turned into a film. In 1974, the Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky was handed the rights to the novel and tasked with turning it into a movie. He went on to recruit Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, and Gloria Swanson for the cast; and Pink Floyd for the soundtrack. And while it all fell apart as money and patience ran out, Jodorowsky’s amazing plan has cast a long shadow over the efforts of those who have followed him.
Villeneuve, though, is more than equal to the mission: in one sense, his entire career has been a preparation for the creative Everest of Dune, an apprenticeship in the possibilities and pitfalls of science fiction, from the surrealism of Enemy (2013), via the alien contact drama of Arrival (2016), to the daunting challenge of directing a sequel to a stone-cold classic, in Blade Runner 2049 (2017). It helps, too, that CGI technology has caught up with Herbert’s imagination.
The sense that Dune’s moment has come is also intimately related to the anxieties and perils of our time. Though a libertarian right-winger, Herbert was also an early convert to the cause of green activism, hoping that his novel would be seen as an ‘environmental awareness handbook’.
Green science fiction is now a genre all of its own, but Dune was radically prescient in its preoccupation with ecosystems, water shortage and the adversity of life on a barren planet, foreshadowing fears that have become politically mainstream since.
Though Herbert’s story is the tale of a lone hero, it is also, in Villeneuve’s movie, the tale of each and every one of us, confronted by the implacable forces of nature, posed by the great moral dilemma of how to survive.
We are all inhabitants of this planet. We all roam the sands of Dune.
Please do join us on Monday 25 October at 6.30pm to 7.30pm BST for a digital ThinkIn at which I’ll be talking to Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate and science fiction superfan, about Dune and the genre as a whole. You can book your place here.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
The French Dispatch (general release, 22 October)
Wes Anderson’s latest film is a love letter to the golden age of great American magazine journalism, in which Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray) stands proxy for Harold Ross (1892-1951), the co-founder of the New Yorker, and his successor, William Shawn (1907-1992).
This being an Anderson movie, however, the action is transposed from the Manhattan of the Algonquin Round Table to the stylised French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, with three tales nestling within the story, making for a rich recipe, full of wit, mischief, and pathos.
I was lucky enough to host a preview screening on Tuesday of The French Dispatch for Tortoise members and guests – a taster of the fantastic benefits that will be available to those who choose our new Friend of Tortoise membership tier.
After the screening, we walked over to the superb exhibition of props, printed work, paintings and costumes from the movie at 180 The Strand, a must-see for anyone interested in the meticulous artistry and craftsmanship that underpin a film of this quality.
In the Le Sans Blague Cafe that awaits the visitor at the end of the exhibition trail, it was great to see familiar faces from the Tortoise family and to make new friends. We’re looking forward to many more such special previews and real-life cultural adventures: please do sign up.
Renegades: Born In The USA by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen
If you have enjoyed the Spotify podcast collaboration between the President and the Boss, then this book will be a treasure trove of delights. With more than 350 photographs, well-edited extracts from their dialogues and plenty of additional material, it combines the best of their discussions on the state of the American republic, race, family, masculinity, rock and roll and the nature of belonging, with an authentic sense of the friendship that has arisen between the two men. Their conversations are not, of course, enough to banish the demons of 6 January, or the restless, persistent spirit of Donald Trump; but they do act as a powerful reminder that the idea of America contains multitudes and a resilient glory that has not succumbed to the season of fear, division, and political poison.
Inner Symphonies by Hania Rani and Dobrawa Czocher
Fellow students at the Feliks Nowowiejski Music School in Gdańsk and then the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, the pianist Hania Rani and cellist Dobrawa Czocher are longtime collaborators and have now released their first album of original joint compositions. The 10-track sequence, mostly developed at Rani’s parents’ house in Gdańsk as soon as the pandemic permitted, is nothing short of dazzling, evoking Hans Zimmer at his most spiritual, jazz improvisation in ‘Demons’, Radiohead in ‘Malasana’, Eastern music, and many other influences. This is a classically inspired album of gentle magic that deserves a wide audience. You can see the duo perform live on Thursday 28 October at 7pm at the Union Chapel, London.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner