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.
Warning: contains spoilers
‘There’s been so much pressure, so much demand and so much love for a second season. So I almost feel like you leave us no choice!’ So said Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator of Squid Game, on Monday, sending waves of excitement through social media, news channels and fan sites. Like a ravenous cephalopod rising from the ocean depths, the streaming sensation of 2021 – which has become Netflix’s most-viewed title in more than 90 countries – will be back for more.
It’s quite something for a South Korean dystopian drama that was initially expected to achieve a cult following at best. Yet the often brutal saga of 456 contestants, spirited away to a remote island, fighting for their lives and a cash prize of $40m in a series of do-or-die games, struck a raw cultural nerve around the world.
Squid Game – the story of Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a hard-luck case on the run from loan sharks and the bank, wooed into a mysterious game that may transform his fortunes – is ultimately an essay on human nature, its darkness and its capacity for redemption. What truly gives the series its serrated edge is the centrality of debt to the story: all the contestants are facing financial disaster of one sort or another, and are willing to die for the (remote) chance of a life-changing cash bonanza.
Indebtedness, of course, is a familiar, if under-acknowledged, cultural theme. It is what drives Emma Bovary to suicide, and destroys Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s The House Of Mirth (1905). It is in debtors’ prison that David Copperfield visits Mr Micawber. As Margaret Atwood writes in her crisp exploration of indebtedness, Payback (2008): ‘There’s nothing we human beings can imagine, including debt, that can’t be turned into a game – something done for entertainment,’ – which is precisely what gives Squid Game its terrible power.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Mothering Sunday (general release, 12 November)
It’s 30 March 1924, and Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), a maid at the grand home of the Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) heads off for a passionate assignation with Paul Sherringham (Josh O’Connor). It is clear that this will be the lovers’ last tryst, as he is to be married to Emma Hobday (Emma D’Arcy) and pursue a legal career. Based on Graham Swift’s 2016 novel of the same name, Eva Husson’s film is a cool and beautiful panorama in which the mores of class and social position continue remorselessly. Set in the chilly shadow of death cast by the losses of the First World War, it’s a study in bereavement in its many forms, and the unpredictable capacity of human beings to cope with grief as time passes. An exquisite movie.
Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time by Teju Cole
Best known for his dazzling novels Open City and Every Day Is For The Thief, Teju Cole is also an essayist of great distinction and one of the most important contemporary practitioners of a form that is currently enjoying a renaissance. Based on a series of lectures delivered at the University of Chicago in 2019, these 26 pieces are an extraordinary exploration of themes ranging from the art of Caravaggio and the photography of Lorna Simpson, via the Marvel movie Black Panther and the influence of Edward Said, to the meaning of migration, nature, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and much else. Cole’s capacity for lyrical writing marks him out as one of the most significant cultural figures of our times.
‘Through It All’ by Lady Wray
Since launching her career with the help of Missy Elliott (who signed her on the spot after an audition in Virginia), Nicole Wray – aka Lady Wray – has developed a distinctive R&B sound that owes as much to 1960s girl groups as it does to the mellower varieties of hip-hop. At least three of the tracks were recorded in single takes, when the singer was heavily pregnant – added to which is the ever-present influence of gospel, or what she calls ‘those inner hands’. An artist in her formidable prime.
….and finally: here’s Dave Taylor on the Tortoise trip to Abbey Road Studios to mark its 90th anniversary that he hosted last week:
‘Magical things happen in recording studios – and we were lucky to conjure something last week for a few lucky Tortoise members in the room where The Beatles recorded Revolver, the album most people think stands as their finest achievement.
‘We were in Studio Three, discussing the impact of technology on creativity, and had a brilliant session with Abbey Road’s managing director Isabel Garvey and innovation manager Karim Fanous who took us through the astonishing experiments of The Beatles in that 1966 recording session all the way to the impact of AI on how songs are written and recorded.
‘You can have a listen to our ThinkIn and hear about the way The Beatles used tape loops and backwards guitar solos to truly turn the studio into a musical instrument. And my advice to you: cue up ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the stand-out track from Revolver – because whether you are hearing it for the first time or the thousandth, you will be ready to make the case for it as one of the most important songs ever recorded: two minutes and 57 seconds that changed everything.’
Warmest thanks to Dave – you can listen to the session here.
The trip to Abbey Road is one of the fantastic benefits that will be available to those who choose our new Friend of Tortoise membership tier. Please do sign up.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner