Fargo, GLOW, The Royal Ballet, streaming woes

What we’re reading

‘Craven opportunism has been a part of the music industry since the first concert ticket was sold,’ says Adam K Raymond. But now that on-demand music has overtaken our listening habits,  a whole new raft of devious rip-offs has emerged.  If you’re on Spotify you are probably all too aware that the spammers, superstars and tech giants have gamed the music industry.

More streaming woes. Viewers worldwide are living in a gilded age of excellent TV, but — alas, in Australia, this is not matched by unfettered access, speedy streams and unlimited choice. We’re being held back by ‘A lack of cultural and commercial imagination‘, says Lauren Carroll Harris.  Fans of Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale are likely to agree.

Let’s cheer up. ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’ is instantly recognisable. It was painted by the Japanese master Hokusai when he was 70 years old and it is essentially a study in blue. The story of that intense blue pigment is surprisingly full of colourful characters and it highlights the role of cultural exchange at the heart of creative discovery.

Image of The Great Wave off Kanagawa

What we’re viewing

Fargo – Year 3 is without doubt the best season yet of the Fargo TV spin-off, created by Noah Hawley from the Coen Brother’s 90s feature film of the same name.

This blacker-than-black comedy/crime-drama  works as an anthology — each series has its own self-contained narrative but they are all connected by the Minnesota setting . The main characters always include a smart police woman, a sinister outsider and a naive schmuck who gets caught up in the maelstrom. This time around, Ewan McGregor excels in playing the dual roles of  warring brothers, Emmit and Ray Stussy. David Thewlis sports some truly disgusting teeth and emits quiet menace as the evil VM Varga.

The music is equally riveting. Jeff Russo (The Night Of) is the series composer and Maggie Phillips handles music supervision. The song choice is so damn refreshing (take note Australian TV networks and producers) —from Son House’s John the Revelator to Mac Davis’ It’s Hard to Be Humble; from Lambert Hendricks & Ross’ Moanin’ to Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ S.O.BThrow in some expertly chosen classical works, Russian folk songs and jazzy marching band tunes and you have a heady aural mix.

Fargo – Year 3 originally aired on SBS. You can grab a season pass on iTunes. Listen to Jeff Russo’s score. Best TV of the year so far.

The next best is GLOW. The title is an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, but don’t let that put you off. This is some of the smartest, funniest TV around.

GLOW is set in the 1980s (of course) and it’s a TV series about the making of a TV series about a women’s wrestling troupe. At the beginning none of the women can wrestle. Ruth Wilder (played by Alison Brie) is an out-of-work actress desperate for a gig. As the series progresses she learns a few moves and is reborn as the despised Russian ‘Zoya the Destroyer’. Zoya’s wrestling opponent is the all-American ‘Liberty Belle’ who is played by  her ex-bestie, and ex-soapie actress, Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin).  The mayhem is directed by the moustachioed, coke-snorting  philanderer Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). They are all well realised, complicated and hilarious characters.

Craig Wedren is the series composer and Bruce Gilbert the music supervisor. Both have a ball recreating the sonic highs and lows of the 80s. The soundtrack is chock full of some of the best (Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town) and the worst (Warrant’s Cherry Pie) songs of the era.

GLOW is now streaming on Netflix.

What we’re listening to

The Royal Ballet visited Brisbane in late June/early July. A total of 21,606 ballet fans attended performances of Woolf Works by Wayne McGregor and The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon. There is much to say about the quality of both these works, but we want to make special mention of the music. Watching the spectacle on stage while listening to a full orchestra is one of the spine-tingling thrills of the theatre.

The choreographers of both ballets commissioned original scores. Here is Max Richter on composing Woolf Works.

And here is Joby Talbot on the challenges posed by The Winter’s Tale.

You can read our take on Woolf Works and The Winter’s Tale on words by Jill Brown.

Strange Loops is a blog that celebrates the mysterious power of words, music, dance and the moving image. Each month or so we present a roundup of the best of what we're reading, what we're viewing and what we're listening to right now.