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 Post subject: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 8:23 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
Adam Curtis (1955- )

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Filmography as Director

Pandora's Box (1992)

The Mayfair Set: Four Stories About the Rise of Business and the Decline of Political Power (1999)

The Century of the Self (2002)

The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004)

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2006)

It Felt Like A Kiss (2009)

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (2011)

Bitter Lake (2015)

Web Resources

Films:

Pandora's Box

The Mayfair Set

The Power of Nightmares

The Rise and Fall of the Television Journalist from Charlie Brooker's ScreenWipe (2008)

Curtis segment on "Oh Dear"-ism in TV journalism for Charlie Brooker's NewsWipe (2009)

Segment on "How we have all become like Richard Nixon" for Charlie Brooker's NewsWipe (2010)

Segment from Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe programme, deveopling on Adam Curtis's previous "Oh dearism" segment into an idea of 'non-linear war'.

2004 Guardian interview

2005 Greencine interview

2005 Errol Morris interview

A mention by David Bordwell of The Power of Nightmares during a discussion of 'real' and 'staged' images in documentary.

Audio interview

The new BBC site for Curtis, where an early post features some found slides. 'Real' or staged for the camera (and what's the difference when staged scenes can reveal a deeper psychological aspect)?:

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Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Dec 31, 2014 1:34 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 8:24 pm 
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Still reeling a little from the death of J.G. Ballard I felt in the mood to watch something dealing with conspiracy theories; guardian figures of Doctors and psychiatrists trying to assess and understand the world through ever more intricate and complex methods of calculation; paradoxes of global war to create global peace; societal meltdown and mental breakdown all portrayed in a disappointed but wryly amused manner - so I re-watched The Trap: What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom by Adam Curtis!

This three part 2004 series for the BBC is mind-boggling to watch, as it reconfigures the modern world (from the Second World War on) through archive footage and interviews in order to make a coherent narrative of what would normally seem incomprehensible and disconnected events.

I'm going to paraphrase heavily in my summaries, mostly because the number of topics and amount of information that is covered is so wide ranging that it is difficult to adequately explain it without just referring people to just watch the series! However it is an essential watch for anyone interested in politics, society, film (there are many allusions, with music ranging from Pino Donaggio's angelic/doom laden score from Carrie and John Carpenter's The Fog to music from Peter Greenaway's earlier experimental structuralist films, which this series sometimes resembles in its chopping up of archival footage - Curtis's narration often reminds me of Colin Cantile's clipped tones from the early Greenaway films! There is even a Godardian white on black title card building up into a sentence that is overlaid with the gunshot sounds from Masculin Feminin!) and television (the series seems to me to use the fast paced, ADD editing patterns of modern television in a highly subversive way - rather than using fast paced editing to obscure and pad out a simple message into an hour long programme it uses the same techniques to create surprising, enlightening and often amusing connections between its material. For films dealing with superficially dry material, it is almost impossible for anyone to be bored by the barrage of images and information. Confused and overwhelmed perhaps, but not bored!)

The first film introduces the soon to become highly influential Game Theory, a theory of human behaviour that returned to prominence during the Cold War to help with rationally predicting the behaviour of enemies in a conflict - an idea that basically states that people are selfish creatures acting purely out of self interest. The theory was mostly returned to prominence by the mathematician John Nash and the RAND corporation - the same John Nash profiled in A Beautiful Mind who turned out to have a rather skewed and paranoid view of the world and the people in it! (I was left after watching this series even more with the feeling that A Beautiful Mind, in its total focus on the Nash story and its emotional consequences, didn't adequately deal with the implications of his ideas on the rest of the world). This theory completely disregarded any sense that people could sometimes act outside of their best interests, in other words that they would co-operate for the benefit of someone else or work for the common good rather than only when they received some obvious personal benefit. That idea just did not compute - literally!

The programme goes on to show this idea being applied to the world of politics, where every politician was seen as obviously being corrupt and working only in their own interest, because there was simply no reason for them to be working for the interests of the public. Eventually this theory becomes self-fulfilling and legitimising as self-serving politicians who believe that corruption is a natural state of affairs come to power.

The second film detailed the way that Game Theory was expanded beyond military conflicts to apply to every aspect of the modern world. This was ironically initially seen as being a way to increase freedom in the sense that Game Theory saw the world as self-interested individuals therefore elites and ruling classes were of course corrupt and to be distrusted. Only you yourself worked in your own interests, therefore it made sense to dismantle societal structures of government which would always be abused and instead create a world of individuals governed by logical and rational numbers - in other words performance targets, time and motion studies and the logic of the money markets!

All these things were not (or so it was thought) open to corruption, and responded not to the whims of an aristocratic ruling elite cut off from the rest of the population but instead to the ordinary man and what he wanted - from what jobs were deemed necessary or not to what sold well or not in the shops or as shares.

The idea of targets to be reached and met was applied to everything from the National Health Service to the Police, and almost immediately they proved willing to fiddle the figures so that they met their rigidly enforced targets. Over and above patient welfare and arresting the right person the emphasis on the figures above all led to inevitable abuse, eventually making the figures themselves all but meaningless. Luckily the stock markets wouldn't have that problem! (wink!)

So this idea was initially put forward with the best of intentions to liberate people from previous methods of control - a very 60s counterculture idea. However implicit in its viewpoint was the idea that people were selfish and would always stab the other in the back if there was something to be gained by doing so.

The idea fragmented society completely as studies by such people as R.D. Laing were published showing that families were not loving and mutually supportive entities but actually involved family members "using" the other members and forcing them to act in certain ways to keep their love, through threats or bribes. It might be an interesting idea but it did not include the idea of there being anything more than this mutual need keeping people together.

This idea was even suggested to reach as far as individual genes with the introduction of the "selfish" gene, which have their own subliminal forces on human behaviour. The documentary goes into a 1970s study of the Yamamano tribe in South America (ironically the same tribe namechecked in Cannibal Holocaust!), where the researcher suggests that during an apparently confusing fight between tribe members that was filmed and studied it was found that people took the sides of people that they were genetically more closely related to (though the programme later reveals that the head of this research provided one tribe with machetes and axes which were then fought over by another visiting tribe! The researcher is questioned on this and cuts the interview off!)

Another area the second programme gets into is psychiatry. An experiment where a researcher and eight students, all mentally 'normal', presented themselves at eight different clinics in the US and to lie that they all heard someone saying the word "thud" in their heads, and that was the only lie they should tell. They were all committed as insane, except for one who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder! And then (a la Shock Corridor!) found that they could not convince the Doctors that they actually were sane! So they had to take the prescribed drugs and pretend they were getting better and being cured! In a funny footnote, after the researcher and his students were released and revealed what had happened they were challenged by one of the hospitals to send some more fakes to them - when a couple of months later they proudly revealed that they had found over forty fakes the researcher revealed that they had not sent anyone!

In response to these damaging revelations psychiatry retreated back and instead of definitively proclaiming someone to be sane or insane instead developed and refined through computerised tests what the symptoms of depression, for example, should be. This led to the rise of concepts such as ADD, obsessive compulsive disorder and so on - categories that people could check themselves for and see if they displayed the characteristics of having a mental problem. In effect they abdicated responsibility and put the onus of deciding whether someone was crazy or not onto the individual, or more worrying on people who could judge others by the way they acted out of the norm (this ties in with the selfish individual idea posited by Game Theory).

There is a sad interview with a Doctor where he talks of increasing numbers of people coming to him wanting "the rough edges filed off" so that they "would be normal". Of course this opens up a whole new area for drug companies who provide new batches of antidepressants like Prozac to calm people down - as the same Doctor says in interview: "it makes them a simpler person". By giving simple checklists for people to use to definitively tell them whether they are sane or not, the psychiatrists effectively allowed drug companies to medicalise a wide range of normal human emotions. Rather than accommodating the idea that individuals may be depressed or sad for a wide range of reasons (they may be grieving or have lost a job, or ended a relationship etc) there is a one size fits all test, and associated drugs to take, to make you feel and act 'better'.

There is an amazing clip from the Kilory talk show (I never thought I'd have ever described his crappy, audience baiting, low rent daytime talk show as being amazing!) where he interviews a woman on Prozac who says she feels as if she is a "new person", then after a brief digression returns to the interview where it has moved on to the woman's husband who expresses his concern that she is different on the drugs. To Kilroy's rather glib response "So she's a different woman? A better woman, maybe?", the husband again says that she's just not like the same woman he married. It's like a British version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

What the second programme seems to be suggesting, beyond showing how Game Theory is being applied to all aspects of culture, is the way that these seemingly disconnected elements are interacting with each other - so more passive consumers, either because they are actively taking drugs, or are just repressing themselves by other means to try and fit in with what is considered to be normal behaviours, are also much easier to market products to. And eventually, just like politicians, individuals internalise the values of their society and behave the way that they are expected to.

This brings us to the third and final programme, which tackles the idea of Negative and Positive Liberty. Game Theory was said to have been created partly in response to fears of expressions of Positive Liberty, i.e. uprisings by people taking matters into their own hands that were common throughout history (the French, Russian, ironically even the US, Revolutions). Negative Liberty on the other hand could basically be characterised as consumerism – being fed and fulfilling short term needs to feel as if you have freedom in a wider sense. (There is a section where Clinton coming to power with ideas of reforming the country in order to give the people more 'freedom' is told to scale back his ideas by his advisors, given the fact that they inherited a deficit and the aftermath of a war in the Middle East. So instead Clinton was encouraged to, rather than invest in health care and government projects, to instead place his faith in the markets, cut back on government and health care and hope that the private sector would provide that instead. Of course that did not work out)

The third film talks about frighteningly destabilising uprisings (clips from Battle of Algiers included) leading to greater interventionism under Kissinger's ideas of real politik, leading to the US ironically backing brutal dictators (everyone from Pinochet to Pol Pot) against revolutionary parties (everyone from Che Guevara to Yasser Arafat) wanting their own versions of 'freedom'. Of course this destabilises everything even more, as in Nicaragua or Iraq as 'our' dictators become liabilities (there's some amazing footage of Reagan spinning the Sandinitas into a US-threatening force by suggesting that they could launch an attack on the country within a hour!) Of course the major example of this is the Iranian Revolution where trying to keep the Shah in power led to an uprising and a politically militant form of Shia Islamism (when Shia Islam had been resolutely apolitical until that point). Ironically while the West saw the Revolution as a resurgence of a medieval barbarism, the programme argues that it was actually based on Western ideas of freedom, brought to Iran by Ali Shariati a teacher who had studied Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon in France and translated their works into Persian. (I couldn't help but wonder if a lot of the West's thinking on Iran is based on rather racist assumptions, since a group of bearded students rallying for freedom may look as strange and frightening as a group calling for all Westerners to be beheaded when you don't understand the language)

The programme then moves on to the sea change with the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading to the "end of history" comment, with the suggestion that there would be no more conflict now that the entire world was ostensibly at peace with no Cold War. Negative liberty in the form of market capitalism could now spread everywhere and the first test case was Russia itself, where the restrictions on the currency were removed in the hopes that everyone would buy shares in companies and become neo-capitalists overnight. Unfortunately the programme suggests that what actually happened is that the currency devalued to such an extent that it became worthless. The shares given to the 'ordinary people' were sold at a pittance by people desperate for any money, leading to oligarchs buying up huge swathes of Russia's infrastructure. Boris Yeltsin gave more away to these characters against the objections of his government and eventually this led to a flashy thuggish character like Vladimir Putin coming to power as a people tired of the chaos in their society look for someone who could restore some sort of order, no matter how brutally and corruptly they did so (the parallels with 30s Germany are staggering and rather frightening).

Then the programme moves on to Tony Blair. Blair is suggested to have the idea of fusing negative liberty ideas of capitalism and the market managing the country with the positive liberty idea of overturning poorly managed governments. The initial test of this was in Kosovo, where Blair talked Clinton into pre-emptive strikes on the country. While Clinton in this case argued for the strikes because he saw the humanitarian side of intervening, Blair was more for regime change even then. With 9/11 and the Iraq War he was provided with the perfect opportunity and the programme suggests that a more extreme version of what happened in Russia was applied in Iraq. All of the infrastructure of the country was stripped away, leaving the country in chaos, and then the country was put out to tender for various corporations to come in and rebuild, with the hope that this would spontaneously create a capitalistic society.

What it did instead was leave a power vacuum that was eventually filled by more militant factions in response to the extreme upheavals that had occurred. And then there is the irony that events overseas returned to inspire atrocities on British soil, which led to changes in laws to restrict the populace's civil liberties even more!

It is a powerful and persuasive series of films, almost impossible to take in at one sitting (I've only really scratched the surface with my synopses above) and breathtaking in its scope and complexity. It is yet another leap forward from Curtis's previous films, combining the discussion of the Cold War from Pandora's Box, the psychiatric elements of Century of the Self and the critiques of government thought-control from The Power of Nightmares into one overarching narrative. Hopefully this might get a DVD release somewhere in the future, though the extensive use of archival material would seem to make this impossible to be officially released outside of various YouTube clips.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2009 3:25 am 
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colinr0380 wrote:
Hopefully this might get a DVD release somewhere in the future, though the extensive use of archival material would seem to make this impossible to be officially released outside of various YouTube clips.

Sadly, this is true - the cost of rights clearance is likely to be many times in excess of the amount of money a DVD release of a title like this can realistically make.

I can speak from experience when I say there are few jobs more soul-destroying than trying to license a television documentary with lots of third-party clips for DVD release. Quite aside from the tedium of having to track down rightsholders (no small task if the documentary was made years or decades ago), there's the suspense of wondering whether they'll license the clip at all, or if they'll demand such a prohibitive sum as to make the release pointless. And then you have to decide whether to drop the clip altogether, knowing full well that purists will be sharpening their knives.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2009 5:28 am 
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Surely there should be different rules for documentaries that make extensive use of third-party material. It's pretty sad that stuff as important and acclaimed as Brownlow's Hollywood and Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself aren't likely to get releases. If the other rightsholders needlessly complicate dvd release (or even forbid it) then surely they should be bypassed altogether. Anyhow, why is it OK for something to have a TV/Cinema release with no problems but can't be distributed on disc. Surely it should be all or nothing?


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2009 5:56 am 
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Cinetwist wrote:
Surely there should be different rules for documentaries that make extensive use of third-party material. It's pretty sad that stuff as important and acclaimed as Brownlow's Hollywood and Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself aren't likely to get releases.

With my consumer's hat on, I'd agree with you - but with my archivist/rightsholder's hat on, I'd have to ask what form you think these "different rules" should take? Presumably you accept that rightsholders should be reimbursed for the use of their materials?

Quote:
If the other rightsholders needlessly complicate dvd release (or even forbid it) then surely they should be bypassed altogether.

Yes, but they can't be, unless the documentary-makers want to get sued. And it would be a pretty open-and-shut case!

And the problem with your argument is that you're looking at it from the point of view of the filmmakers, not the holders of the footage. But look at it this way: if film libraries and archives couldn't generate some kind of income from this material, why bother preserving it at all, given the extensive and ongoing costs of such preservation?

Quote:
Anyhow, why is it OK for something to have a TV/Cinema release with no problems but can't be distributed on disc. Surely it should be all or nothing?

What do you mean by "all"? World rights across all media in perpetuity? Hardly anyone can afford that kind of money - and it's certainly not worth paying upfront if you don't think your documentary will have any potential outside festivals and late-night television airings - which will be true of the overwhelming majority. And one-off broadcast rights are much cheaper than retail rights, because once the basic fee is paid there's unlikely to be any additional income.

Which is why most filmmakers clear only the rights that they can afford, hoping that if the film takes off they can go back to the rightsholders and give them a share of the extra money that they're now more likely to make. Unfortunately, that's the most economically sensible course of action, which is why it's unlikely to change any time soon.

(Bear in mind that I'm talking about copyright legislation as it presently exists - I agree it needs wholesale reform and rationalising. I don't know about the situation in the US, but Britain hasn't had a major shake-up since 1988, with all that that implies!)


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2009 6:13 am 
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I realise what I said was pretty wishy-washy and that I can't actually propose an alternative viable system. But at the same time I'm a bit suspicious of the current system and of the idea that it's alright for some films to exist only on the festival circuit. It's just depressing and makes a discourse on a film like Los Angeles Plays Itself pointless. A film which was given a a great appetising feature in Vertigo and which gets a handful of showings in London, which quickly sold out.

I'm not entirely sure what I think re rightsholders reimbursement, especially for stuff as resolutely uncommercialy as LA or as overtly educational as Hollywood. Part of me does think that money shouldn't be involved at all, or at least not more than TV rights/one of showings. After all, a dvd release is likely to reach far less people than the original audience who saw Hollywood on TV (and taped it :wink:). That's what I meant by 'all or nothing'. A TV broadcast has the potential to reach a far wider audience and usually does, even for niche things (the Iranian C4 film season got viewing figures in the low hundreds of thousands). So perhaps what I'm proposing is lowering the cost of licencing rights in documentaries using large amounts of third-party material.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2009 6:59 am 
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The worrying thing about copyright is that I get the sense that if things were shaken up it would result in more restrictions rather than less!

It strikes me as not entirely beneficial to either party, especially now that artists are getting used to getting a whole new audience and second lease of life through remakes and reinventions causing re-discovery of their original material and the associated royalties that can bring. Also while we are now living in a world dependent on recycling which could be seen purely as a bad thing (the soulless remakes of 70s horror films and depending to taste Mamma Mia!), the few productions that actually use archive material extensively for interesting purposes of interpreting the modern world such as the Adam Curtis films or Los Angeles Plays Itself (which I'd love to see in full one day!) and have an educational value get lost beyond their few legitimate screenings. (Michael, would you know whether the BFI had any particular trouble when they released Martin Scorsese's Personal Journey Through American Cinema onto DVD seven or eight years after it first aired on television, due to the extensive number and length of films clips that it featured?)

On the other hand I would always agree with trying not to compromise the work as much as possible. If this results in the film only being able to be shown officially once or twice on television and then falling into a shady world of YouTube links and torrent sites it seems a small price to pay for such a work having been made, though I'll always be disappointed that this limits the potential audience for such important works even more.

(If I were John Carpenter I'd be very happy to have had my scores for Prince of Darkness, The Fog and Escape From L.A. recontextualised and used so extensively and funnily in a political documentary! :D )


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Tue May 05, 2009 3:26 am 
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colinr0380 wrote:
The worrying thing about copyright is that I get the sense that if things were shaken up it would result in more restrictions rather than less!

Almost certainly! On the other hand, things might be clarified in some areas - we're lobbying hard for the legal recognition of so-called "orphan works", where you genuinely can't track down the rightsholder no matter how hard you try, usually because the production company folded in 1934 and the directors are untraceable. At present, all you can do is either take the risk of being sued should a legitimate rightsholder subsequently crawl out of the woodwork, or not do anything with the material at all.

Quote:
Michael, would you know whether the BFI had any particular trouble when they released Martin Scorsese's Personal Journey Through American Cinema onto DVD seven or eight years after it first aired on television, due to the extensive number and length of films clips that it featured?

I don't know the specific contractual ins and outs, but since it came out on VHS within months of the original broadcast, I'm assuming all the relevant retail rights were cleared upfront at the time of production - which would have been the sensible thing to do given that Scorsese's involvement meant that a commercial release was always going to be highly likely. Certainly much more likely than would be the case with most documentaries.

Quote:
(If I were John Carpenter I'd be very happy to have had my scores for Prince of Darkness, The Fog and Escape From L.A. recontextualised and used so extensively and funnily in a political documentary! :D )

Yes, but you might not be - bitter experience tells me that you should never second-guess these things, as artists sometimes feel very differently about repurposing their work than audiences!

Or their estates - you'd have thought I'd have a pretty unimpeachable record when it comes to treating filmmakers with respect, but I've had two DVD projects in limbo for years now because I can't reach agreement with the now-dead artists' various executors, even though I sent them copies of what I've done in the past and assured them that I'll be giving the same deluxe treatment to their loved ones. If only they'd let me.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 12:55 pm 
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Charlie Brooker in the Guardian on a new video installation by Adam Curtis, It Felt Like A Kiss.

Quote:
...But where his preceding works have occasionally been a touch eccentric, this one takes the piss. It is completely and utterly demented - in a positive way. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense; if anything, it forges its own new brand of coherence whether you like it or not. This is a documentary running on alien software. I'm at a loss to describe it. For starters, the trademark Curtis voiceover has gone completely, replaced instead by occasional, simple captions. Music is at the forefront. Ominous soundscapes and bubblegum pop weave their way around the images: archive news, Hollywood movies. It's hypnotic.

And the editing. One particular segment, set to River Deep, Mountain High, feels like being repeatedly stung on the mind by a hallucinogenic jellyfish while inhaling huge clouds of history through a pipe. The marriage of Phil Spector's wall of sound and Curtis's wall of images is so perfect, so strange and striking, it jangled around my head for hours afterward. And I only saw it in a tiny window on an Apple Mac, in a corner of Curtis's tape-strewn "lair" at BBC Television Centre. God knows what it'll be like on a big screen as part of a live-action, funhouse-style experience. It'll probably kill people...

Quote:
..."The iPhone is a good example," he adds. "People really feel they want one - to express themselves. But they all want one, at the same time. Where does that come from? From within or without? Because we live in an age where the individual is paramount and everything is seen from the perspective of 'you', we've lost sight of the bigger forces at work. Which has limited us. Not only in our understanding of the world; it's made us very powerless. I think that's what I'm really trying to get at in this."

Does that sound right to you? Chances are it does. So go along. I'm sworn to secrecy over much of what's going to happen inside that five-storey Manchester building, but it's fair to say that the documentary gradually starts to fragment and ... well, you'll have an experience, put it that way. You'll like that, you individual. You crave experience. Curtis hopes this one will give you pause for thought.

"What I'm hoping they'll do is pull back like in a helicopter and look at themselves and think about how they're a product of history, and of power, and politics, as much as a product of their own little inner desires. We're all part of a big historical age. That's just what we are. And, sometimes, we forget."

In summary, from what I can gather, It Felt Like A Kiss is both the craziest yet crookedly rational project I've ever heard about. Hearing Curtis talk about that huge subject, that huge building, that brink-of-madness, reality-blurring feel, there are a few unmistakeable parallels with Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman's recent film, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman takes control of an infinitely huge Manhattan warehouse and attempts to stage a boundary-shattering show that will sum up the entirety of human experience. He over-reaches and winds up creating a work of ever-expanding fractal madness. Curtis, I think, has gone a bit mad, too - but to precisely the right degree.

Quote:
From now on, all of Curtis's work will be produced first and foremost for the internet. It will be hosted at bbc.co.uk/adamcurtis (coming soon). Go there to find a trailer for It Felt Like A Kiss. An hour-long cut of the whole thing will be placed on the site on the last day of the Manchester International Festival (MIF). It will also host his next two projects: "A long thing about our complicated relationship to the Congo over the last 100 years and how our idea of nature as a sacred yet terrifying realm has risen up during that same time." That will be followed by a piece about "the political and cultural ideas that underlie the internet - and the idea that we are all linked in an interconnected web - out of which can come a new form of democracy."


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:03 pm 

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Location: Los Angeles CA
Such works can potentially get a 'Fair Use" opinion written by a lawyer, which might then allow E&O insurance, and then a distributor to take it on. Essay films using all illustrative material can work that way. Thom Andersen has now gotten a Fair Use opinion for Los Angeles Plays Itself and is now trying to find a DVD distributor.

Something like Hollywood is also feasible, one might think, if Brownlow wished to pursue. One could also try to get each studio to agree to donate all the clips. Highly unlikely but not impossible. Especially since the result of something like that would be to encourage people to pursue the full films from which the clips came. But it would require a lot of work, and you'd really have to get one or two studio heads to sign on who could encourage the others.

Haven't seen the Adam Curtis. Who owns the rights to it currently? I'd be interested in screening it in Los Angeles. How long is each part?

Whenever I make a doc, we clear the home video rights at the same time as clearing the broadcast rights, at the very start. But I usually get to work on shows that have the money to do so.


Last edited by Adam on Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:07 pm 

Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 8:29 pm
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colinr0380 wrote:
The worrying thing about copyright is that I get the sense that if things were shaken up it would result in more restrictions rather than less!

It strikes me as not entirely beneficial to either party, especially now that artists are getting used to getting a whole new audience and second lease of life through remakes and reinventions causing re-discovery of their original material and the associated royalties that can bring. Also while we are now living in a world dependent on recycling which could be seen purely as a bad thing (the soulless remakes of 70s horror films and depending to taste Mamma Mia!), the few productions that actually use archive material extensively for interesting purposes of interpreting the modern world such as the Adam Curtis films or Los Angeles Plays Itself (which I'd love to see in full one day!) and have an educational value get lost beyond their few legitimate screenings. (Michael, would you know whether the BFI had any particular trouble when they released Martin Scorsese's Personal Journey Through American Cinema onto DVD seven or eight years after it first aired on television, due to the extensive number and length of films clips that it featured?)

I would bet that:
1. It's Scorsese, so he could have gotten studios to go along for free
or
2. It's Scorsese, so the show raised enough money to license everything properly when it was first produced.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:19 pm 
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The Trap is 60 minutes for each of the three episodes. I think Power of Nightmares had a screening at Cannes the year after it showed on the BBC and in that case there was a slightly edited film version cut down to just under 2hrs 40 mins which most likely had the recap and foreshadowing sections removed to flow better when viewed in one chunk (I kind of like seeing the same material zoomed through in an even more condensed manner at the beginning of the episodes though!)


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 10:07 am 
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The It Felt Like a Kiss film is now online.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 11:45 am 
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I guess the BBC is unaware that "we are all linked in an interconnected web." It Felt Like a Kiss isn't available to anyone outside the UK, as usual.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2011 7:59 am 
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The Guardian has a clip up of Curtis's next work, along with an interview. It is apparently dealing with the way that seeing technology as having an overarching controlling, managing role in society is changing human behaviour (likely building on ideas from The Trap of the psychology behind setting computer mandated targets, such as those beloved of politicians) - All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.

Quote:
...This has cultural expressions, as well as economic. We, and our feelings, are now the centre of everything – from reality TV to confessional memoirs to blogs. "There's no one like, say, Tolstoy, who wrote of both man in his world and the architecture of his world," Curtis says. "Now there is no context, just the feelings of one person. The philosophy of our time is summed up by Bill Murray sitting in a submarine in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic saying, 'We're all a bit shit but that's OK.' We have no grand dreams. So of course we embrace a nice stable order."...

...He does not deny that Twitter and Facebook had some impact [on the Arab spring] – at least organisationally. But he has strong views on social networking for anything beyond straightforward organisation; he considers the sharing of emotions online to be the "Soviet realism of the age".

He quotes Carmen Hermosillo, a West Coast geek and early adopter of online chatrooms who in 1994 argued that, although the internet is a wonderful thing, your emotions become commodified. "It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge and express their individuality," she wrote. "This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions – their guts – online and I did so myself until I began to see that I had commodified myself." Says Curtis, "On Facebook and Twitter, you are performing to attract people – you are dancing emotionally, on a platform created by a large corporation. People's feelings bounce back and forth – happy Stakhanovites, ignoring and denying the system of power. It's like Stalin's socialist realism. Both Twitter and socialist realism are innocent expressions of the ideology of the time, which don't pull back and show the wider thing they are part of. We look back on socialist realism not as innocent but as a dramatic expression of power; it expresses the superiority of the state, which was the guiding belief at the time. I think sometime in the future people will look back at the millions and millions of descriptions of personal feelings on the internet and see them in similar ways. This is the driving belief of our time: that 'me' and what I feel minute by minute is the natural centre of the world. Far from revealing that this is an ideology – and that there are other ways of looking at human society – what Twitter and Facebook do is reinforce the feeling that this is the natural way to be."


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2011 5:20 pm 
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Well, the first of three episodes of All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (Part 1: Love and Power) has just screened on the BBC. It is a return to the Curtis narration after the pure pop and title driven It Felt Like A Kiss, and this episode tackled an amazing range of subjects, from Ayn Rand's philosophy, it's collapse in ruins due to a romantic weakness (intercut with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Who would have thought Rand could be a tragic romantic heroine? But that's presumably just a sign of her essential weakness and betrayal of her individualist philosophy I suppose! It is also amazing how much Patricia Neal in the clips from The Fountainhead looks like Rand herself) and her connection to Alan Greenspan through to the collapse of the Asian markets after an artificially created Western-lifestyled property boom in the late 1990s, with the IMF intervening (because at least the American President was busy with certain other issues so delegated financial responsibility to those with the know-how in their government) to prop up countries such as Indonesia (but only if they agreed to certain terms) and the way that Asia, and China in particular, basically visited the same situation back on the West with the property collapse in 2008 - at which point the IMF intervened again to bail themselves out.

The implied issue this episode leaves the viewer with is that after describing the way that the Asian economies briefly stabilised (in order to allow foreign investors to withdraw their money) before the exchange rates collapsed, causing chaos and leaving the population of the countries in slavery to the IMF's debt repayment schemes, is that the West still seems to be in that brief period before the limited stabilisation of struggling economies collapses.

This first episode briefly gets into the 'commodification of the individual on the internet' - people thinking that they are freely expressing themselves but just allowing themselves to be used for marketing purposes (the irony is not lost on me that it is what I'm doing right here, at this very moment!) but is more focused here on the way that the money markets were deluding themselves that because the computers were in charge of their loan calculations that nothing could go wrong, and that because money was flowing in from overseas investors loans could be given out to people with no hope of paying them back.

And Hillary Clinton is constantly troubling the edges of the archive material, acting similar to the way Stephen Frears used the archive footage of Princess Di in The Queen - like a horrible symbol of just how badly wrong things have gone to get to the point where this flawed person can be seen to as be a great person or even in some senses a saviour (of the Royals or politics) simply by eliciting a kind of sympathy for personal issues they have gone through (things that they presumably knew, and came to terms with in order to stay in power, long before they reached the public sphere).


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon May 30, 2011 5:58 pm 
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Apologies in advance for sections of this write up that might be poorly written or confusing - I'm still trying to get my head around the mind-boggling array of interlinked ideas that characterise any Adam Curtis documentary myself and am using these posts as a kind of self-help guide to come to terms with the basic thesis of these programmes!

Episode 2:The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts

The second episode of All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace explains the provenance of the title of the series (a poem/manifesto by Richard Brautigan), which makes sense since this episode focuses on the parallel rise of ecosystems and cybernetics in the mid 20th century as ways of describing both a natural form of self regulation (the 'balance of nature') and feedback loops created by inter-connected systems.

Both ideas kicking against the overly politicised idea of human beings standing apart from nature by moving too far in the other direction and seeing humans (and other animals) as just cogs in a giant system working together in perfectly balanced harmony (the episode shows the way that environmentalism tied in with the communes created in the US after the failure of student rebellions in the 1960s, trying to create minature versions of better societies; or Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes being an architectural version of this ideology with the structure depending on many individually weak components 'working together' to create an incredibly strong structure), and dealing with enormous issues of the survivial of the planet that could not be left in the hands of individual politicians or nations to tackle in a piecemeal and corrupt fashion. By also seeming less political and more 'neutrally' scientific, that also allowed the ideas to gain much broader support as theories about 'Spaceship Earth' get bandied about. Ecology as a powerful 'post political' concept.

However the programme describes both of these systems of thought as fundamentally flawed as the science of ecosystems get left overly broadly defined in order to fit with the conclusions that had already been drawn (a large section of the episode shows the way that new generations of ecologists in the 70s and 80s investigated the natural world more in order to gain evidence of balanced ecosystems and were unable to find such a thing, rather the opposite of a natural world in a constant state of upheaval and disruption forming themselves into new groups rather than simply trying to get back to a 'perfectly balanced state' after something like a natural disaster occurs. However while the science behind it collapsed, the seductive central idea remained), and environmentalists get disillusioned by the idea coming to the fore that to achieve a balanced ecosystem and avoid natural disaster it was necessary to create a steady state where disruption of the system was kept to a minimum, which in effect means keeping all of the current flaws in the system (and those who manage and benefit from the current state of affairs) totally fixed and unchanging, therefore crystallising the system without trying to idealistically achieve some form of change, justice or 'better world'.

This ties into the ideas from the previous programme of an important philosophical change from seeing politicians as idealistic agents for change (while in effect causing upheavals in the system for their own personal gain or launching wars as a form of self-aggrandisement) to simply managing a steady state of unchanging world politics to safeguard the existing system.

Then the episode gets further into the fundamental flaw - that by shortchanging (i.e. not factoring in at all) the way that human beings might in the future act in totally different ways from the way that they currently do in response to changing environmental factors and instead just as fulfilling a small role in a system there is no opportunity given for adaptation - only stability or disaster by continuing on our current course are accepted variables.

The final section gets into the wave of protests around the world in this century from Eastern European states to the Iran protests in 2009, which combines cybernetics with ecosystems to seem to fulfil the promise of 'revolution without politics' - leaderless mass movements. However the programme then goes on to describe the collapse of many of these revolutions in short order, damningly suggesting that while the two ideologies provide perfect conditions for organising inter-connected mass revolutions that once such an upheaval is achieved, there is no plan for what happens next - which plays into the hands of those people already in power to dictate the path the revolutions from that point will follow (whether it is Obama making the world safe for democracy, or the IMF, Ahmadinejad, or whoever providing funds for the side currently in favour).

The next episode looks like it is going to be about the way that people, now that we mostly all live in an interconnected world, have begun to internalise their role inside 'ecosystems' as simply fulfilling small functions in society to contribute to stability rather than idealistically trying to affect their world in more fundamental ways.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Mon Jun 06, 2011 5:43 pm 
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Episode 3: The Machine in the Monkey and the Monkey in the Machine

When this series was first announced I was a little surprised that it wouldn't be the film about the Congo conflict that was apparently next on the agenda for Curtis. However it turns up here as the grand finale of Machines of Loving Grace.

This is perhaps the most controversial episode since Curtis is slaying a few sacred cows such as Belgian colonialism being responsible for the conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus (since the Belgians propogated the theory of the genetic superiority of one tribe over another, then felt guilt about this and encouraged the Hutus to rise up, which encouraged retributative massacres); The Selfish Gene theory, George Price,William Hamilton and eventually Richard Dawkins using mathematics to disprove altruism and killing off the concept of 'God', only to replace it with the idea of human beings as units acting in direction of their genes (swapping one immortal concept, the soul, for another, genetic material passed on from generation to generation, with Price finding religion as a result and both Price and Hamilton apparently going mad trying to fight against the brutal implications of their theories); Dian Fossey's studies of gorillas and eventual elevation of them over the African people (another colonialist attitude and one which commendably that Gorillas In The Mist film did not try to simplify either); the modern exchange of colonialist control of Africa for capitalist fighting over valuable resources used to produce technology; and the final frightening idea that now many of these ideas have moved past their originators and have been internalised by societies and the people within them, who might not have the same academic goals or moral qualms, however misguided, as the Fossey's or Price's who originated certain philosophies (the idea of living in a 'second or third generation conflict', which isn't even being governed as well as it used to be is something which was dealt with in the previous Curtis series, particularly The Trap).

Quite an amazing series (you've got to admire anyone who tries to expose beloved national treasure David Attenborough as blinkered and naive!) and all the episodes are more about making sense of modern history rather than proposing any possible alternatives, which leaves the viewer with a sense of despairing, albeit blackly comic, nihilism about everyone who may be in a position to change the world only managing to mess it up further. But it is yet another incredibly valuable series that puts the lie to the idea that life is a slickly oiled machine, moving forward without a hitch, but instead illustrates all the dazzling array of different philosophical, political and social ideas all vying for dominance, forming tenuous alliances or strange counter-intuitive interconnections leading to consequences that are almost always unintended by those supposedly in the know.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Thu Jun 09, 2011 5:11 pm 

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Colin0380, thanks for posting these summaries. I've enjoyed reading them. I understand the impulse to try and get it all straight in your head - the other night I sat down to rewatch episode two with a biro and a sheet of A3, trying to connect everything up as it went along (and it did, as it happens - more convincingly than I'd thought at first viewing). Fantastic, thrilling television of course (I think this might be the series of his I've enjoyed the most), but it did rather confirm my reservation that the Curtis approach is at its weakest when it reaches for the grand conclusion that ties everything together at the end (I'm just not convinced, for example, that the apparent failure of the Colour revolutions proves anything beyond the local circumstances which generated them). I was also irritated by his habit of waving the Enlightenment about as a rhetorical device (OK, he's not the only one), treating it as a monolithic moment in intellectual history that elevated man above nature, rather than as a broad framework for a series of discussions and arguments that encompassed this view and others - I don't think anyone mentioned in the series expressed the concept of the man-machine more bluntly than Enlightenment philosopher La Mettrie, who even wrote a book called Machine Man a good 200 years before Dawkins got there! Nitpicking, I know - but I like how open-ended by comparison the Adam Curtis blog is. The thread about Kabul is utterly fascinating, and reading it is almost like editing for yourself the materials he has presented, taking in colonialism, the Cold War, the history of pop music, Tarkovsky, marmots, the symbolic significance of airlines, Arte Povera, leaving you to make the connections for yourself. I'm hoping that the Kinshasa thread develops a similarly rich foliage.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Fri Jun 10, 2011 5:23 pm 
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I agree razumovsky - the conclusions are the most difficult aspect of these works especially as most of these series are produced while any real world result is still a 'work in progress' with uncertain results! And I do agree that the weakest part of this newest series is that Curtis does a fascinating dissection of the perils of 'over logical thinking' but only vaguely hints at the philosophy of Enlightenment which Rationalism (or Logical Positivism or Ayn Rand-defined Objectivism) is said to have replaced, which creates an unfortunate sense that somehow Enlightenment was the better option, rather than perhaps being a similarly flawed system. Unfortunately there are only a few glancing negative comparisons between the two concepts to be found in the series rather than any detailed comparison, although that was perhaps not part of the goals of this particular series (I suppose Curtis had tackled some of this subject before in The Century of the Self which focused more on the conlifct between Enlightenment and Romanticism)

I also agree that think the Curtis blog is becoming even more fascinating than his films - so much rare archive footage, almost forgotten because of relating to an ignored event or small moment in a larger picture, is fascinating for the different, sometimes long discredited points of view on display, and just getting to see some of this material is a joy of both the blog and the series.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Fri Jun 10, 2011 5:40 pm 
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For those interested All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace is currently up in full on YouTube:

Episode 1: Love and Power
Episode 2: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts
Episode 3: The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 9:18 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 9:22 am 

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colinr0380 wrote:
For those interested All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace is currently up in full on YouTube

You can download them in MP4 or OggVideo format from Archive.org too.


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2011 9:40 am 
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That's great news. And the same user has put up It Felt Like A Kiss (and all of the other Adam Curtis docs) as well. I think it's getting a vote in my musicals list (the best use of Doris Day in a film? Next to Calamity Jane, obviously!)


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 Post subject: Re: Adam Curtis
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 9:45 am 

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Lovely Adam Curtis spoof here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1bX3F7uTrg


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