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 2021-01

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:

Week notes 2020-31

  • I didn’t post here last week. I think because of a combination of being too busy with work, plus the added mental load of the US election, the Covid vaccine announcements etc etc. Sometimes even just getting your thoughts down into some kind of readable order can feel weirdly daunting.
  • I’m off work for the next week though, and while Nina and I can’t go anywhere really, we can spend time together, walk the dog, read, listen to music and prepare for the weirdest Christmas on record.
  • I’ve been thinking a lot recently about music, and streaming services, and Spotify and Bandcamp… Of course, when I say ‘thinking’ I really mean ‘circling around the same mental speedbumps’. There’s the nagging feeling that Spotify is not a good service to be giving my money to, the love of Bandcamp’s ethos and breadth mixed with a background frustration at it’s functionality, the annoyance at myself for having been trained by other services to expect certain functionality, and a suspicion that those learned behaviours have made me somewhat culturally lazy.
  • That’s not to say I have any more concrete thoughts to offer than that, but here’s a few things I’ve come across recently that have fed into all those thoughts: Should Spotify Be Responsible for What Joe Rogan Does? from Vulture, Podcast Overlords from The Baffler, and this article on Sleevenote, a “new electronic music player that puts album art first”.
  • This made me laugh this week

  • The image below is an excerpt from a beautiful comic? … visual essay? from The New Yorker about Rediscovering Columbo in 2020. Definitely the most heartwarming thing I’ve read this week.
  • And that incredible image at the top of this post? You can read about that right here.
  • We watched The Trial of the Chicago Seven on Netflix this week. Really enjoyed it. I’m a sucker for some Sorkin, plus this is a great cast and a amazing story I knew nothing about.
  • I’ve known the musician Laura Kidd for far too long now. She’s one of those artists who always seems incredibly open and honest in everything she does, so I was excited when she announced she was starting a podcast earlier this year. And now she’s gone and interviewed one of my favourite musicians of all time: Bernard Butler. You can listen to them chat about creative collaboration, being ‘unsocial’, his new record and a lot of other great stuff here (and yes, I know that’s a Spotify podcast link, I’m aware of the irony):
  • Lets balance the Spotify with a bit of Bandcamp and the great new Fatima Yamaha album:

Week notes 2020-30

  • Watched two new films this week. One documentary, one feature. Both excellent.
  • The doc was The Painter and the Thief, which I absolutely loved. It had me in tears more than once and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since it ended. Go watch it.
  • And then it was Halloween time, so Nina and I watched Relic. Found it very unnerving and genuinely affecting. It leans a little too much on the art house trope of not explaining itself, especially towards the end. But a good watch.
  • Talking of film: Nerding Out With David Fincher from Vulture, is a great interview with the director where he talks about his latest, Mank, and his relationship with his dad, who wrote the original script.
  • More film: I had no idea that the identity of the person who wrote the book the film The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is based on, was such a mystery.
  • Some non-film stuff now:
  • Foursquare still exists! And they’ve gone and created a pretty cool new AR thing.
  • A massive article from The New Yorker about how we make decisions. As someone who ‘made the decision’ to not have kids a few years ago, I found this really interesting.
  • This interview from the Creative Independent with game designer Geoff Cullop was fascinating, inspiring stuff:

Instead, I guess, what the metaphor really is, and I’m kind of getting tripped up over my own words, but the metaphor is that we’re all sort of sitting at this large gaming table and nobody knows what they’re doing, in life. Life is this big gaming table, and we look to somebody who’s supposed to be in charge and ask for some guidance, and even the person in charge doesn’t know what in the world is going to happen. We’re all kind of making it up as we go along, so we might as well have fun with it and try to create interesting stories with our actions as opposed to dull ones that have been told a thousand times.

  • For music this week, here’s some “highly collectable and rare Surinamese 45s and LP cuts”:

Week notes 2020-29

  • I have climbed out of my reading slump. This week I finished A Fan’s Notes by Fred Exley, described in this Guardian article as “a staggering book, a beautiful book, and one deserving of a much wider readership.” I couldn’t agree more. I loved it and I am very grateful to my friend, Mark for recommending it to me.
  • I also ripped through Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. I can’t remmeber where I heard about this one (maybe this NY Times list?) but I fell into it from page four or five and then just devoured it in a few days. Really really good.
  • Films this week: I watched The Booksellers, a documentary about what you think it’s going to be about, and which is just ok. This Letterboxd review sums it up nicely:

A few moments of goodness every now and again. The talking heads were really interesting but I can’t help but feel that the subject matter doesn’t really need a full length documentary. I reckon if it were about bookstores and booksellers in general, as opposed to focusing on antiquarian booksellers and books, then it could’ve been really amazing. Another thing, it never said who each person being interviewed was, it’s like yes the director knows who these people are but the viewer doesn’t, there should’ve been names letting the viewer know who the talking heads are.

Charming enough but not meaty enough and towards the end it got kinda boring. Needed more structure to it.

  • And I also watched Sofia Coppola’s On The Rocks, which is as fluffy and airy as candyfloss but (also like candyfloss) is enjoyable for a brief time. Just don’t expect it to linger in your memory. If you want to see Bill Murray doing his thing, then this is that film. (It did just make me want to go and watch Lost in Translation again though).
  • I started this week with a case of the insomnia blues (a few nights in a row of waking up in the very early hours and not being able to get back off turned me into a total wreck). But I’ve finished the week off feeling nicely knackered after a 10k run this morning (during which I got well and truly rained on), with a sleeping Buster at my feet, and the promise of an end-of-the-week Martini that I’m going to make as soon as I press publish on this. Things could be a lot worse.
  • For your ears this week, may I present this glorious re-edit of a Steve Miller Band classic:

Week notes 2020-28

Social media is what the internet was made for, whether we intended it that way or not. I sometimes describe the internet as “an unconsciously generated tool for unconscious generation”, by which I mean that we didn’t really know what we were building when we created it, there was no central plan or guiding intent, and there’s still no consensus on what it’s actually ‘for’ – nor could there be. Yet it seems to have this extraordinary ability to enact and amplify our deepest, often latent desires – the things we most long for, even if we’re not consciously aware of that longing.

What I’m talking about here is protocols.

The internet-era folks really got this right. Email system speaks to email system. The code that implements a web server has changed a hundred times, and can come from a thousand companies, and it still works.

But the web-era folks, my generation, really dropped the ball.

I can’t export my photos from iCloud to Google. I can’t message from Discord to WhatsApp. My phone can’t even give me a consolidated “recent calls” list across the half dozen video calling systems I regularly use.

  • Music this week: The Hood Internet have reached 1992 with their incredible sampling project. The last minute or so of this one is fantastic:

Week notes 2020-27

  • Above: Song 2, but every “woohoo” is done by Mario. You’re welcome.
  • Highlight of this week was definitely a trip to the new Noble Rot in Soho with Nina. Melty cheese, potatoes, pigeon, goulash, some amazing wine… I have missed restaurants and I have missed Soho (but most of all, I have missed melty cheese).
  • Today I went for a 15k run (mainly so I can eat more cheese). That’s a lot for me. Tomorrow might be tricky.
  • There’s a new trailer for The Stand! My optimism for Autumn/Winter TV and films has gone back up a bit.
  • See also: Promising Young Woman, which looks like the kind of movie Joker wishes it had been (i.e. a good one).
  • Talking of shit superhero films… As usual, this Alan Moore interview is required reading. Moore has a TV series coming out and Tom Burke is in it! High high hopes.
  • Ton Burke is also playing Orson bloody Welles in the new David Fincher film. The guy is on a roll:
  • I am slowly trying to ween myself off Spotify and to start using Bandcamp more. This article about the two platforms has not dissuaded me from my mission.
  • I started A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley. I can’t remember where the hell I got the recommendation from, but so far I’m loving it.
  • On a slightly different literature tack: I read the origin story of Jack Reacher (I have a soft spot for Reacher).
  • This photo essay made me want to ride around Alaska on my bike.
  • Music this week courtesy of Flying Mojito Brothers: “One whole hour of slow-ass, languid 1970s edits produced for a return gig at Pikes Ibiza”:

Week notes 2020-26

  • Above, the trailer for Alex Gibney’s new documentary ‘Totally Under Control’. That man’s output is insane.
  • Talking of documentaries… Field Notes is “a new online journal for original writing about nonfiction cinema in all its forms”. This article about how an inaccurate and incomplete Wikipedia entry inspired a documentary about “an infamous British police investigation into same-sex male sadomasochism” is brilliant.
  • This week’s new boardgame discovery: Terraforming Mars. As usual with these things it looks fiendishly complicated until you start playing and then you fall under it’s spell very quickly. I really liked it… maybe even more than Wingpsan (controversial).
  • Haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to dip into my relatively new Criterion Channel subscription, but this week I did get chance to watch Orson Welles being interviewed on the Dick Cavett show, which forms part of the extras on their edition of The Magnificent Ambersons (that’s a just a clip of the interview I found on YouTube, the Criterion version is a good half an hour long).
  • The Guardian report on the David Lynch YouTube phenomenon that is his big jar of random numbers: David Lynch has your number. But does it add up?
  • I can’t remember where I came across The Eleven Laws of Showrunning by Javier Grillo-Marxuach but I finally got round to reading it and it’s a great primer on leadership and creativity even if you don’t run a TV series.
  • Finally got my hands on a vinyl copy of Cat Stephen’s Mona Bone Jakon this week. Have a listen and then go watch Harold & Maude.