These are my week notes, (semi) regular updates on what I'm up to along with the books, films, articles and other cultural flotsam that have caught my attention.

Week Notes 2021-08

  • Above, Stanley Tucci travels around Italy, eating great food, drinking lovely things, and generally looking cool; while also seeming a thoroughly nice bloke. We watched the first episode of this this week, and now I want to be Stanley Tucci when I grow up.
  • Drive & Listen has been a great mood-saver this week. I have spent quite a bit of time tooling around American cities listening to a lot of 90s indie music and DJs discussing the health of Tiger Woods.
  • Cory Doctorow on ouija board planchettes and fake news:

Our narratives are social-scale planchettes, directed by mass ideomotor response. When a fake news story takes hold, it reveals a true fact: namely, the shared, internal models of how the world really works. Fake news is an oracle, in other words.

  • I have started rereading Lila by Robert M. Pirsig. I tend to go to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I need a bit of literary comfort food, but I was reading about the Zettelkasten method of note-taking and it reminded me of Phaedrus in the sequel so I picked it up again. It’s not nearly as good as ‘Zen…’ but it’s an interesting read.
  • Someday someone will write the article about what happened at Reply All but right now it all feels too… Self-reflexive? Incestuous? Neither of those are right, but it’s one of those occassions where there’s a story which is somehow incredibly symbolic and a perfect representation of a cultural moment… But that sheer level of pure, 100% unadulterated zeitgeist makes it impossible to examine with any clarity. It’s almost too of the moment.
  • Oliver Burkeman on that feeling that if you could try a but harder you might get… there:

 I think virtually everyone, except perhaps the very Zen or very old, goes through life haunted to some degree by the feeling that this isn’t quite the real thing, not just yet – that soon enough, we’ll get everything in working order, get organised, get our personal issues resolved, but that till then we’re living what the great Swiss psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz called the “provisional life.”

  • Music this week. Naomi Asa’s NTS ‘soul and spiritual jazz’ radio show from earlier this month:

Week Notes 2021-07

  • Next week I’ll do a full week for the agency I work at (I’ve actually got a big pitch on the Friday). After that, I’m still working there, but I’m reducing my hours right down and spending the majority of my time getting some other projects off the ground. I won’t go into loads of detail right now, but they’re very personal things that I’ve been sitting with for ages, and I just want to try and see if I can make them happen. Wish me luck!
  • Bearing all that in mind, You Don’t Have To Start At The Beginning from Adam Westbrook was a good little essay for me to read this week.
  • As was My Urge to Fail and Fail Again by David Duchovny of all people!
  • I am, and have always been, fascinated by publishing. So the articles being written right now about the seismic shifts in how we consume written media are like catnip to me.
  • What Are Magazines Good For? from The New Yorker is a very long and not totally unbiased history of the periodical told through the eyes of an obsessive collector.
  • And then from the other side of the battle lines is What I Learned in 3 Years of Writing a Newsletter by Ann Handley. I am taking notes 🙂
  • Two other industries facing enormous upheaval are…
  • … Restaurants. Obviously But Salt Fat Acid Defeat is an examination of what might happen to restaurants post-lockdown (and a searing review of what they’d become pre-lockdown).
  • … And fashion. Less obviously I guess. But that makes it all the more interesting. Die, Workwear! is a blog I really admire and his 2020 in Hindsight: A Year in Fashion is a good read if you have even a passing interest in ‘clothes and stuff’.
  • While we’re on the subject of businesses failing; The Wild True Story of Stan Lee and the Dot-Com Disaster feels more heartbreaking than ‘wild’. A tale of vicious con men taking advantage of a vulnerable creative that will make your blood boil.
  • Another heartbreaking profile that everyone should read is Searching for Shelley Duvall, the Reclusive ‘The Shining’ Icon. Again, vulnerable brilliant people being ripped open and their souls mined for money.
  • I think I’m especially pissed off about this because I watched the HBO special Tiger (about Tiger Woods) and Framing Britney Spears, in the space of the last week. Whatever you think about either of those individuals you have to agree that: dads have a lot answer for, and the press need to be cut down to size in monumental fashion.
  • Can’t get enough Adam Curtis? Well here is Adam Curtis Explains It All in The New Yorker.
  • Meanwhile Scorcese writes about his love of Fellini and his hatred of ‘content’ in Harpers.
  • And finally this week: The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin Billionaire Arthur Hayes in Vanity Fair, is a great read for anyone interested in where our economy is going.
  • Music for the week: an album that came out a few years ago but which I only just discovered and have been listening to a lot recently. Mannigfaltig by Dominik Eulberg.

Week Notes 2021-06

  • Above, the trailer for the new Adam Curtis series. I know, Curtis can sometimes be criticised for being more style than substance; but damn it if I don’t love that style. It’s just nice to lose yourself in that heady mix for an hour or so. Even if afterwards you’re not quite sure what you’ve learned.
  • If you’re watching it too then I can recommend rereading Adam Curtis: Social media is a scam from the Idler from a couple of years ago.
  • On a slightly different note, Two songs from The Muppet Movie is a rather beautiful essay about Muppet song lyrics:

It is a song about what you can and can’t believe in after a life filled with missed chances, casual cruelties, and dead family and friends. It’s a song shot full of the melancholy many of us remember most clearly in our own childhoods that has never gone away. It is every heartbreak you have ever had, every injury suffered to your body, mind, and pride. It is how you think about friendship and community when your community is broken and your friends are all so very far away. It is not about a cohort of happy dreamers. It is about how you care for your child inside when all your illusions are gone. It is the last illusion you keep, because without it, you would have nothing left.

  • Elsewhere, I’ve been reading a lot about writing practices, including Cory Doctorow on blogging for two decades.
  • And Oliver Burkeman on how to make writing less hard.
  • Plus, how to spend a year itself publishing RPGs (I’m not about to start self publish any role playing games but these kind of logs of the effort and processes people go through do fascinate me).
  • I also dipped into Seth Godin’s new book, The Practice: Ship creative work.
  • My reading slowed down a bunch this past fortnight as my mind was on other things. But I picked up The News of the World after reading good things about the Tom Hanks film recently. I think I’m a fan of Westerns now!
  • Finally this week, I watched a couple of weird documentaries.
  • First: A Glitch in the Matrix, directed by Rodney Ascher who also made one of my all-time favourite documentaries, Room 237. This new effort is not nearly as good as Room 237, but I do think some people are completely missing the point of this new film in the same way they misinterpreted Room 237. I’m going to have to write a bit more about this at some point because it frustrates me and fascinates me in equal measure.
  • The other doc was Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story directed by Steve Sullivan, from 2018. Recommended by a friend after we talked about King Rocker – A film about Robert Lloyd & The Nightingales (by Stewart Lee), this is essential for anyone who grew up watching Frank Sidebottom and wondering who the man behind the head was.
  • Music this week: a nice little single called… Lockdown 🙂

Week Notes 2021-05

  • Above, Werner Herzog watches skateboarding videos. I missed last week’s Week Notes because we’ve had some family things going on (made worse with the Covid restrictions, obviously). As a result I’ve not done a lot of laughing recently, but this video brought a big genuine smile to my face. Thanks Werner, I can always count on you.
  • For the same reasons I haven’t read an awful lot since finishing Do Photo: Observe more. Photograph less by Andrew Paynter the other week.
  • I did read I Left My Career in Prestige Media Because of the Shitty Men in Charge and They Are Still In Charge and Still Fucking Up by Jennifer Barnett, which is very depressing and predictable and frustrating, but absolutely worth reading.
  • I also read The Enduring Prose and Poetry of Clive James, which is a pretty long, but beautiful look at the life and work of the great man.
  • Mainly I’ve been watching a bunch of films just to take my mind off stuff:
    • In & of Itself is more a ‘tv special’ then a feature. It’s very much in the mould of Derren Brown I would say, but with even more of a performance art element to it. I think it’s been dividing opinion, but I loved it. I won’t say anymore to avoid spoilers.
    • I Used to Go Here is lightweight, unchallenging fluff, and that’s exactly what I needed (if you like Gillian Jacobs you’ll enjoy this film).
    • Mank is probably too long, and it probably too bogged down by its own passion project-ness. It’s definitely too ‘nerdy white male’. But, despite all that. I enjoyed it. I love Kane. I love Welles. I love Tom Burke. This would have to be very bad for me to dislike it.
    • Plunder Road was recommended by the Pure Cinema Podcast’s Discoveries of 2020 episode, it’s a gritty noir heist movie that hits all the right sweetspots that you need from a gritty noir heist movie.
    • Even better though was Payroll, which I read about in this BFI article and then put on my list just because it’s directed by Sidney Hayers who also directed Night of the Eagle, one of my favourite classic discoveries of last year. Payroll didn’t let me down. Set in Newcastle, it’s another heist film (I love heist films, in case you don’t know this already) that has a genuinely thrilling and nasty heist, brilliant tension and excitement, an added ‘kitchen sink drama’ element to it, great female characters… and all the classic heist elements done to perfection. Can’t recommend it enough.
    • I was reminded of The Invisible Man by the recent Empire magazine podcast with Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino (warning: it’s three hours long!), so I spent my Saturday night giving it a watch. It’s a solid seven. Would have been less if it wasn’t for Elisabeth Moss and her incredibly expressive face. God, she’s good.
  • Music-wise this week it has to be the new Madlib:

Week Notes 2021-04

  • Above: Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian’s film reviewer) reviews Netflix’s Pretend It’s A City. Somehow this series completely passed me by until a few friends recommended it to me which doesn’t say a lot for Netflix’s algorithm. I love Fran Lebowitz, documentaries, New York and Martin Scorsese. If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s a great lockdown blues antidote.
  • And now: an article about a dead dog. Yeah, I know I’m not selling that. But, trust me. This is something written about someone who loved a dog, but it’s not sanctimonious or sappy. It’s very honest and all the better for it.
  • And now: a film starring Freddie Starr. Ok, let me explain. The Squeeze was directed by the great Michael Apted, he of the 7 Up series of documentaries. Apted died in the first week of January and so I hunted down this gritty crime thriller to watch. It’s very much in that 70s London-based gangster genre (think Long Good Friday). And although Freddie Starr has a decent-sized role in it, I still managed to enjoy it quite a bit.
  • We also watched the documentary Time. A lot of people’s film of the year last year (or at least top 3), Time is the story of Fox Rich, the “indomitable matriarch and modern-day abolitionist” who is looking after her family together while fighting for the release of her husband who is serving a sixty year sentence for armed robbery. It’s a very powerful and beautiful film, almost impressionistic in the way it’s shot and edited. And with great music.
  • Album of the week (maybe the month?) is definitely Bicep’s new one. Been waiting for this for months and it doesn’t disappoint:

Week Notes 2021-03

  • My reading continues apace. This week I finished The Streets of Laredo and now I’m well into Duncan The Wonder Dog, a doorstep of a graphic novel that my brother bought me for Christmas. It’s not nearly as lighthearted as the title might have you believe. Here’s the blurb: “What if animals could talk? Would some of them form a militant group in reaction to how humans treat them? Would humans treat them different?”
  • My favourite read of the week was A Road Trip with David Hockney and Richard Wagner from The New Yorker. Why don’t more people create mixtapes for roadtrips?
  • These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett in Harper’s was also moving and beautiful. Bonus points for including Tom Hanks (and yet, somehow, he’s a bit player in this story).
  • How not to go back to normal by Diyora Shadijanova in It’s Nice That, captures the ‘upside’ of lockdown:
In my lifetime, this is the first time many of us have been forced to think beyond our day-to-day and be reminded that we’re all living in the same ecosystem. We’ve been humbled and it’s made us more mindful. And sure, 2020 was far from perfect, but at least we started making progress by banding together.
  • For your listening pleasure this week: the latest album by UK composer E.M.M.A.

Week Notes 2021-02

The bar at Balthazar, as seen in Vanity Fair
  • There hasn’t been much time for doing much other than work this past week.
  • I have managed to keep my reading rate up. Did I mention I’m trying to read around a book a week this year? Last year I struggled to read much at all, and I know I feel better when I read more. So far this year I’ve gone through Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown and now I’m a good way through Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry.
  • And running. I’ve managed to do that three times a week for a full two weeks. Go me!
  • But other than that it’s been a lot of work (a big pitch is getting prepared) and a lot of reading about the future of the internet and content (kind of work, kind of just what I’ve always been interested in),
  • There was a lot around about the future of the social web, even before Trump got banned from Twitter. Here’s Matt Webb on ‘virtual private neighbourhoods’.
  • And Matt also points to Garbage Day on Bean Dad and what that whole thing says about Twitter and it’s imminent death.
  • Meanwhile Benedict Evans looks a little down the line at the rise of the newsletter (especially Substack).
  • And even the New Yorker gets involved in the Substack conversation with a typically lengthy essay on the newsletter subscription service.
  • As to what all that means, I’ll let you decide. But if you want something non-internetty, then how about restaurateur Keith McNally writing about the closure of the beloved Balthzar in Vanity Fair. Look at the image above and try and tell me you don’t miss siting in beautiful bars like that.
  • Music this week is not actually music, but is music-adjacent and it has a very important message (and some very sweary swearing):

Week Notes 2021-01

Week Notes 2020-33

  • Above: Ed Wood meets Orson Welles. I looked this up this week because it got a mention on the Mark Kermode film podcast (the Citizen Kane episode, obviously). I love the film Ed Wood, even the Johnny Depp of 2020 cannot ruin this film for me. Also, that last line is really what I needed to hear this week:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?”

Orson Welles (but not really)

Week notes 2020-32

  • Happy Thanksgiving. I’m not American, but it gives me an excuse to post this video about the ‘lost version’ of one of my favourite comedies, Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
  • My favourite long read of the week: The Muppets: Sex and Violence.
Contemporary chaos may be draining, but there’s a different vein of chaos that I dearly miss: uncontrollable laughter, inappropriate glee, and late night talks that descend into a surreal madness where everything is funny. The chaos of possibility. Silliness. Nonsense.
  • We watched Ford v Ferrari this weekend. I didn’t rate it that much. Matt Damon is as dependable as always; but, wow, that Christian Bale performance is jarring. The accent and the god-awful “I’M BRITISH” vernacular really rubbed me the wrong way.
  • We also watched blaxploitation classic Coffy with Pam Grier.
  • Neither of them could touch Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, which has stuck in my head all week. Here’s an interview with McQueen on the music from the film. And here’s the accompanying Spotify playlist: