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.
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:
Music this week. Naomi Asa’s NTS ‘soul and spiritual jazz’ radio show from earlier this month:
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!
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?”
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.
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),
Also read over Christmas: 64 Reasons To Celebrate Paul McCartney. I don’t think Paul has always been my favourite but he most definitely has been for the past few years, and this just cemented my feelings.
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:
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.
Or, if you have an hour or so to kill, then I can recommend In Search Of A Flat Earth by Folding Ideas (also about QAnon):
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: