Creative Sensemaker #2

A man standing behind a window with a bullet hole in it.

The second instalment of Creative Sensemaker, a new cultural series by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona  Friday 29 May, 2020   Short read

Welcome to this week’s Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media – our despatch from the cultural trenches in which we let you know what’s going on, what’s worth seeing and (as the weeks pass) what’s starting up again.

On which subject: the head of a world-famous London arts institution tells me that he doesn’t expect ‘anything like a return to normality until the back end of 2021. Let’s get to Christmas without collapsing, and reboot next year.’

A long haul, then? Yes, but the green shoots are already – tentatively – rising. In France, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that cinemas may reopen from Monday 22 June, albeit with social distancing and reduced capacity. 

Vue International is planning ‘soft reopenings’ in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands at the end of June and beginning of July. And the Cineworld chain, which operates 128 venues in the UK and Ireland, hopes to be up and running for the release of Christopher Nolan’s spy blockbuster, Tenet, on Friday 17 July. 

Quite how your local multiplex will combine the two-metre rule with the packed seating of an IMAX screen remains to be seen. It will certainly be fun finding out.

So: reasons to be cheerful. Meanwhile…
A young girl with her hand on a giant animal.
Parent sitting on the floor next to their children.
VIEW: Take me back to Parasite city
To mark the VOD release of Bong Joon-ho’s winner of the 2020 Oscar for Best Picture, celebrate his back catalogue online:
Parasite (iTunes): a surreal tragicomedy about social class and hypocrisy, the story of the wealthy Park clan and the indigent Kim family is one of the most remarkable films of recent years. Its Academy Award for Best Picture was as well-deserved as it was surprising.

Okja (Netflix): unexpectedly resonant once more in the midst of the pandemic, Okja – co-written by Bong and Jon Ronson – explores the consequences of humanity’s meddling with nature: specifically, genetically modified super-pigs.

Mother (BFI Player): perhaps Bong’s strangest and most unsettling film to date – the story of a poverty-stricken mother in a small South Korean town who struggles to clear her mentally challenged son of murder allegations.

The Host (Amazon Prime): an homage to the great monster movies of Asian cinema in which, of course, the pumping of chemicals into the Han River breeds a horrific beast that rampages through Seoul. In Bong’s hands, this standard storyline quickly mutates into socially astute comedy, too.

Snowpiercer (Amazon Prime): dystopian sci-fi adventure starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, with an overt message of class consciousness. In a new ice age, a 1,001-carriage train circles the globe, socially segregated into the indigent passengers at the back and the wealthiest families in the front cars.

And, while we’re at it, Snowpiercer – the prequel TV series (Netflix): with Bong among its executive producers, this always had a fighting chance of success. Although it’s no match for the original movie, it does not disappoint. Starring Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs, the first two episodes successfully bolt the format of the police procedural – there has been a murder on the train – onto the original apocalyptic premise.


Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix): this four-hour miniseries, directed by Lisa Bryant, is (among much else) a tribute to the courage of the girls, now women, who survived the late human trafficker’s vile sexual assaults, many of whom speak on camera about their harrowing experiences. At the heart of the story is the scandalous ‘non-prosecution agreement’ brokered in 2008 by US attorney Alex Acosta – later Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary – that enabled Epstein to plead guilty to a single state charge of solicitation. A chronicle of structural injustice and a must-watch.

McMafia (BBC iPlayer):
released this week as a box set, the eight-part drama series inspired by Misha Glenny’s non-fiction book on global organised crime, is perfect for lockdown binge viewing. James Norton excels as Alex Godman, scion of a Russian criminal dynasty, struggling to reinvent himself as a legitimate English financier.
A woman sitting on the floor of a stage with a man standing apart from her in the background.
Lungs (The Old Vic)
Digital drama has quickly become part of the cultural landscape. Among our favourites:
This House: James Graham’s superb dramatisation of the parliamentary antics of 1974 to 1979 is available on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel until Thursday 4 June. 

Rebus in lockdown: Brian Cox plays Ian Rankin’s great detective in a specially written short film for the National Theatre of Scotland.

Matt Smith and Claire Foy:
reprising their roles in Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs at The Old Vic, the acclaimed actors will perform in an empty auditorium, observing the rules of social distancing. Tickets for up to 1,000 digital audience members per live performance will be priced £10 to £65. 

...and poetry. Check out the London Poetry Collective, an excellent initiative by Patrick St Pierre and Dylan Ashton to promote the work of talented young poets.

The Louvre: excellent online tours are available in the comfort of your home, including a VR Mona Lisa app.

Smithsonian Open Access: digital access to more than three million images from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. 

Toni Morrison at ICA:
the always-stimulating Institute of Contemporary Arts hosted a celebration of the late Nobel laureate’s life and work before lockdown – and you can enjoy much of the content online. 
…and go to festivals and debates without leaving home. There’s virtual Hay (ends on Sunday 31 May, but recorded events will still be available on Hay Player), online SXSW and (naturally) Tortoise’s award-winning ThinkIns.
A woman sitting on a sofa.
Toni Morrison (Getty)
Comedian and chef Hardeep Singh Kohli is offering a unique curry delivery service in different locations around Scotland – with a percentage of the proceeds going to charity – during lockdown. Among the delicacies, he’ll be cooking butter chicken, lamb achari, beef dopiaza, ‘bubble and Sikh’, daal, and cauliflower korma. For more information, email:
A grey and fluorescent yellow graphic album cover with The 1975 written on it.

The 1975 Notes on a Conditional Form

A cubist album cover with Philip Glass written on it.

Philip Glass Ensemble Music in Eight Parts


Here’s what’s been playing on my Beats
The 1975, Notes On A Conditional Form: it was always going to be tough following up 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, but the band’s fourth studio album more than passes muster. It’s a sprawling, eclectic collection of moods and styles, with assistance from a gallery of talent ranging from FKA Twigs to Greta Thunberg. The White Album of the lockdown era?

KSI, Dissimulation: the rapper, YouTube sensation and occasional boxer delivers a power-packed studio album that will please his huge fanbase, but should also convert those who thought he was as all influence and no substance. Infectious, in the best sense of the word.

Seeva, Young: wonderfully atmospheric electro-pop single, downloadable here, from the rising South Asian Londoner’s debut album, We Need To Talk – Chapter 1. One to watch.

Philip Glass, Music In Eight Parts:
fifty years after its composition, the Philip Glass Ensemble has at last recorded (in lockdown) this unsettling, hypnotic and completely compelling work. A dystopian soundtrack, unearthed and reborn for our times.
Two bookcovers on a grey background.
A bookcover on a grey background.
Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Kindle eBook) 
What if Bill Clinton hadn’t married Hillary Rodham in 1975? How different would American political history have been and who would have won the presidential election of 1992, and its successor contests? Counter-factual fiction is always a guilty pleasure, and this is a well-constructed, twisty page-turner.
The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It by Robert B. Reich (Picador)
Back in real life, Reich was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and is now a professor at Berkeley. This is as pithy and persuasive an indictment of the political structures that shape contemporary life as you could ask for, its main contention being that the real battle is not between Left and Right, but corporate oligarchy and ailing democracy. A perfect manual for the post-COVID-19 world.
The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley (Fourth Estate) 
As a former Vogue Creative Director, Talley has had a runway-side seat in the world of high fashion for decades – with all the friendships, feuds and fallings-out that run through the shot silk of couture. Not quite the Answered Prayers of its time – Talley is no Capote – but entertaining all the same.
A man smiling while holding his dog.
Two men walking on a beach with their arms around each other.
And, finally… whatever you are doing this week, raise a glass to Larry Kramer, the writer, humanitarian campaigner and gay activist who died on 27 May, aged 84. His greatest creative accomplishment was a play, The Normal Heart (1985), which took its title from a line of Auden’s poetry, and dramatised the early years of AIDS in New York. In 2014, it was triumphantly revived as an HBO television movie directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer (iTunes, and other platforms). Kramer was a true cultural warrior who refused to play by the rules and deserves to be remembered as one of the most significant poetic polemicists of the late 20th century. A great man, a great life.
That’s all for now. Tell us what you’re thinking, reading and enjoying at We’d love to hear your recommendations. 
Ars gratia artis.

Best wishes, 
Matt d’Ancona, Editor and Partner, Tortoise Media 

The Creative Sensemaker is written exclusively for Soho House members by Tortoise Media. Tortoise produces a daily Sensemaker and you can sign up here to receive it every day, written by Matt and other Tortoise editors. Or you can enjoy the Soho House perk of Tortoise membership of 30 days free, then 50 per cent off here.
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