British filmmaker, political commentator and columnist who has been making documentary features and series since the early Eighties. Curtis writes an extremely insightful blog titled “The Medium and the Message”, studded with the rarest of archival material that complements his video works at the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which has produced most of his works.
WHAT are his films about?
Markedly left-leaning but never dogmatic, Adam Curtis’ best works engage with the rise of popular ideologies and the complex web of international affairs they are enmeshed in. The concomitant flourishing of neo-conservatism in the West and Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, the use of modern psychoanalytic concepts by corporations and governments, the Manichean political narratives that superpowers construct for self-legitimation and the crumbling of utopian futurist and liberal faith on technological liberation are some of the important ideas that Curtis’ recent films revolve around.
Curtis works primarily with pastiche — a style that he describes as pop trash — which consists of assembling disparate archival material that ranges from the historically important to tabloid pieces, along with popular music and documentary recordings, to weave a web of associations that are gradually streamlined into an overarching thesis. He is still a storyteller, drawing out narratives with his voiceover and tying up seemingly loose ends, but does so in a style that respects the intelligence of the viewer.
WHYis he of interest?
At a time when politics is increasingly considered to be a rarefied realm of the corrupt, Curtis’ films and writing continually examine how Power manifests itself in all shapes and sizes, and permeates into our conscious and subconscious. They throw critical light on how worldviews are constructed by the powers that be and how the need to narrativise history and to preserve status quo results in simplistic outlooks with easily recognisable villains — phantom or real — and heroes.
WHEREto discover him?
Adam Curtis’ latest series, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (2010), is a sprawling, at times bewildering but always mesmerising three-part exploration of how computers, instead of liberating people by demolishing existing hierarchies, have made us more compliant to the authority by erecting a self-regulating global society. The series takes baffling detours to seemingly unrelated areas before bringing all of it together into one glorious state-of-the-world essay.