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

Close up of Lady Gaga on the film poster for House of Gucci with a red lip, pearl earrings and black netting over her face

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.

‘The Gucci story is as dramatic as any of the films for which it has produced costumes,’ writes Christopher Laverty in Fashion In Film (2016). ‘Even more than Chanel, Gucci had realized the strength in brand identity. It is not enough just to wear Gucci; you have to tell everyone you are.’  
So, when Hannibal Lecter buys shoes for FBI agent Clarice Starling in Hannibal (2001), they are, of course, Gucci. The director of that sequel to The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) was Ridley Scott; and now, 20 years later, he dedicates an entire movie to the legendary Florentine fashion house and, more specifically, to the dynastic feuding that proved both metaphorically and literally murderous.
Based on Sara Gay Forden’s book of the same name, House Of Gucci (general release, 26 November) has as its dramatic fulcrum the murder in 1995 of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), grandson of the brand’s founder, Guccio, by his furious ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). 
Maurizio and Patrizia’s romance and marriage had scandalised his family – especially his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) who regarded the haulier’s daughter as no more than a gold-digger posturing as a Latin Elizabeth Taylor.
Added into the mix are Maurizio’s flailing cousin, Paolo (Jared Leto, unrecognisable in prosthetics), and his amiable Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino, still roaring contentedly after all these years). When his marriage to Patrizia heads south, one senses nervously that the union is very unlikely to dissolve in an amicable fashion – and so it proves.
While Driver is as excellent as ever, the movie belongs completely to Gaga who holds nothing back in a daring performance that might have tumbled off the cliff of absurdity but, in practice, holds the whole story together with its megawatt power: think Gina Lollobrigida meets Cruella de Vil. Having missed out on the Best Actress Oscar for A Star Is Born in 2019, she deserves a second run at the golden statuette for her portrayal of Patrizia.
It’s clear that Scott understands completely the formidable power of fashion, and the extent to which it communicates much more than voguish, ephemeral guidelines for clothing and accessories. As John Berger wrote in Ways Of Seeing (1972): ‘The happiness of being envied is glamour.’ 
This desire to be envied, of course, is a seriously dangerous force, and one which leads people to do bad and foolish things. In the era of Instagram – an age of visual bombardment, filters, and cyber-narcissism – that desire has never been stronger. 
Was it inevitable that Maurizio and Patrizia’s marriage would end in murder? Perhaps not. But, in its sheer intensity, the fashion world is a pressure cooker that many do not survive. 
House Of Gucci is too operatic, melodramatic and downright flashy to dwell too overtly upon this thread of mortality. All the same: in its own hyper-stylised way, it shows how often, at the end of the catwalk, there looms a tall figure in a ragged cowl, bearing a scythe.
Here are this week’s recommendations:

Benedict Cumberbatch turned around looking just past the camera in a cowboy hat on set for The Power of the Dog


The Power Of The Dog (selected cinemas, 26 November; Netflix, 1 December)
In the work of Jane Campion, masculinity is both toxic and the object of the camera’s obsession. In this adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, she portrays two ranchers in 1920s Montana; the spikily macho Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his solidly conformist brother, George (Jesse Plemons). 

Their lives are transformed by George’s bride, Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The fissile chemistry between the four characters unleashes resentment, alcoholism and a repressed homoeroticism that is central to the plot. The movie’s title, by the way, is drawn from the Psalms: ‘Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog’ – a clue to the emotional depths which it plumbs, and which remain the principal object of Campion’s genius.


Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa
Is it really 40 years since I read The War Of The End Of The World? Along with Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a handful of others, Mario Vargas Llosa personified the Latin American literary wave that engulfed the West in the 1980s. Now 85, the Peruvian author is a Nobel Prize winner, former presidential candidate and a hugely significant figure in the evolution of both modernist and post-modern literature. 

In Harsh Times, he explores the traumas of Guatemala between the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup in which President Árbenz was deposed and the assassination three years later of his successor Carlos Castillo Armas. We watch as real-life figures such as US Secretary of State, John Dulles, and his brother, Allen, director of the CIA, systematically exaggerate the threat of communism in Guatemala to thwart Árbenz’s social reforms. Dealing in geo-political foul play, but through the prism of its characters’ inner lives, vanities and foibles, it’s a remarkable novel that feels all too contemporary.

Front cover of the book Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa featuring an orange and black colour inverted image of palm trees blowing in the wind
Disposable film photo of Fred Again laughing to camera


Actual Life 2 (February 2 - October 15 2021) by Fred again.. 
With Brian Eno as his mentor, Fred Gibson – aka Fred again.. – struck lucky as an apprentice producer, and has gone on to work with a stellar line-up of artists: Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, Little Mix, Clean Bandit, and George Ezra (remarkably, he played a part in 30% of the number-one tracks of 2019). But, since the release of Actual Life (April 14 - December 17 2020) in April this year, he has been making his name as an artist in his own right; specifically, a musical diarist who creates remarkable collages in sound from samples, FaceTime conversations, and Instagram clips that record his daily feelings, ideas, and creative impulses. 

As one listens to this rich, subtle and sometimes overwhelming album, it is remarkable to reflect that his main tools are simply a regular laptop, iPhone, and iPad. Through an often brilliant juxtaposition of words and music, Fred chronicles his grief over the death of a loved one, his recognition that he needs emotional help, and his celebration of renewed intimacy. A diary you can dance to.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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