It Felt Like a Kiss (2009, Adam Curtis)

Different from the other Curtis docs I’ve seen in that it’s not assembling semi-obscure facts to analyze human/political behavior, but assembling well-known facts to create a mood, and lead to an understanding through experience. Of course I’m missing part of this experience, since the film was part of a multimedia show inside a deserted office building set to music by Damon Albarn and the Kronos Quartet.

Traces a semi-chronological historical path through key events (chimps in space), tragedies (kennedy assassinations, manson family) and future tragedies (WTC construction) but mostly uses pop songs as history, letting artist bios (tina turner, lou reed) and the lyrics themselves tell the stories of disenchantment.

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What results has Lynchian overtones with its dark seeds beneath 1950’s suburban pop, and shades of Craig Baldwin, using newsreel montages to create new stories, to confuse and not inform. But it’s still got Curtis written all over it, in the pacing and clip selection, that old familiar typeface, and the sense that the film makes your brain understand things in ways not explicitly told by the narration, making covert connections. Most importantly, when it was over I had the same urge to immediately watch it again that I got after The Power of Nightmares and The Trap.

C. Brooker:

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.

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Brooker also gets us some Curtis quotes. I’ve brutally edited so as not to copy his entire article:

I wanted to do a film about what it actually felt like to live through that time … Where you could see the roots of the uncertainties we feel today, the things they did out on the dark fringes of the world that they didn’t really notice at the time, which would then come back to haunt us. … The politics of our time are deeply embedded in this idea of individualism, which is far wider than … consumerism or anything like that. It’s how you feel. … But it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s not an absolute. It’s a way of feeling and thinking which is a product of a particular time and power. The notion that you only achieve your true self if your desires, your dreams, are satisfied … It’s a political idea. … What you desire is the most important thing. But a great paradox of our time is that what you desire may not be coming from within you. … The iPhone is a good example. 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.

Curtis keeps a blog, which I need to start reading, and I’ve been watching Mr. Brooker’s own TV series, to which Curtis has recently contributed.

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