“His favorite band was the Electric Light Orchestra. But now, he was president.”

Fascinating story of Muammar Qadaffi, history lessons combined with Tarkovsky and De Palma clips. Not as fanciful with the stock footage as earlier docs since Curtis has real news footage for most of his story now. Been pondering the movie title in different contexts. Might have to watch this again a few times.

EDIT: watched this again with Katy in the fake world of May 2017.

It says a lot about the tone of your movie when Burial is your theme music – beautiful but fragmented vocals overlaid on a sprawling, complicated song structure. The original song even opens with the dialogue “excuse me, I’m lost.”

I learned a new word: Wahhabism. Movie gives a history lesson on Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, then leads into the present debacle, which seems even more hopeless after watching this. Combo of staged material with rough outtakes from news footage and who knows what else. Afghanistan is compared to the planet Solaris. None of our leaders are any good at leading. Everyone is hugely corrupt.

The movie goes for long stretches without voiceover or titles – a new approach for Curtis – though not as long as the Bitter Lake trailer would suggest.

Worst part: Afghani government officials are super corrupt. Local police force become evil militias, suppressing the people. British troops don’t know this, arrive in town offering to help the local police. Townspeople say oh great, more oppression, and attack British troops, who assume they’re Taliban and bomb the shit out of them. Eventually, fighting factions realize British troops think anyone hostile to them is Taliban, start telling the Brits that people they dislike are Taliban, basically using the Brits as hit men.

The woman Julia Roberts played in Charlie Wilson’s War:

The Trap and The Power of Nightmares felt like they presented central points (clearly expressed in the open of each episode), then assembled evidence in an orderly fashion, supporting their points in a complex, sometimes roundabout way. This one presents a number of points with related themes. Each episode opens with different titles and explores different events which don’t directly relate back to each other. During episode 2 I was wondering when the Ayn Rand story would come back, but during #3 I realized it had been there all along, that this time Curtis is drawing the connections without explicitly calling back to previous subjects all the time. The movies are starting to link together in interesting ways. At this point, you could fill an “art and world politics” course just by running all his movies and assigning his blog as the textbook.

Episode 1 “begins with a strange woman in the 1950’s in New York,” connects Ayn Rand with Alan Greenspan and Silicon Valley, tracing the failures of her personal life and lack of acceptance in her philosphies, comparing to their massive influence decades later among people in power over the global economy. Rand rejected altruism and supported rational egoism, so surprisingly there’s no relation to the RAND Corporation discussed in The Trap, which worked on game theory, positing human behavior as perfectly selfish.

Part 2 is about natural ecosystems, and the myth that they remain perfectly in balance – Curtis says more recent, complex models show them to be in constant flux. Loved the ecology discussions, the scientific project that attempted to precisely measure every detail of a particular field. This is shown alongside early communes (humans trying to live in perfect balance without power structures) and recent national revolts (glorious-looking uprisings by “the people” against authoritarian power, only to see it replaced by new authoritarian power a year later).

Part 3 discusses the social tendency to view people as individually unimportant parts of a large, self-balancing system. We get stories of a game-theory biologist and his colleagues who theorised that all behavior of living creatures is a result of the needs of their genes – more depowering thoughts. We close in Africa where another animal behaviorist, Dian Fossey, was working, showing how false theories on human behavior and evolution combined with the desires of technology companies led to disaster for the people of Congo/Zaire and Rwanda.

So the movie’s often-mentioned “rise of the machines” isn’t literal so much as a social-control concept, caused by simplifying models of natural behavior. It seems perfect that I finished watching this the day before seeing The World’s End, which is about the rise of actual machines that aim to simplify human behavior.

I also read a bunch of articles from Adam Curtis’s amazing blog – sadly without the video segments since I was sitting at the airport sans wifi. Essay called “You think you are a consumer but maybe you have been consumed” about Texas oilman HL Hunt, caricatured in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain. “The roots of so much of the distrust of the media today lie back with him and his ideas.” One called “Paradiabolical” on Somalia and Algeria, one on England’s history of bumbling spies, and one on animal shows before the rise of David Attenberg Attenborough.

Spaced season 1 (1999)

Watched this for the umpteenth time. Still great. The episode where their dog Colin is stolen was better than I remembered. Two episodes with strong Brian plots – one where they all go clubbing, and one featuring Brian’s ex-partner Vulva – are masterpieces.

Pegg & Frost are apparently in the new Tintin movie. Jessica Stevenson/Hynes (Daisy) I don’t see nearly often enough, but she was in Burke & Hare at least. Julia Deakin (landlady Marsha) is in Down Terrace and Hot Fuzz. Mark Heap (basement neighbor Brian) has been in twenty series I’ve never heard of (including Stressed Eric and How Do You Want Me, which sound good) plus Jam and Brass Eye and Big Train. Katy Carmichael (Twist) is not in a helluva lot, I’m afraid.

Plus appearances by Bill Bailey (at the comic shop), Peter Serafinowiz (Darth Maul, also in Look Around You and Running Wilde) and Michael Smiley (Kill List) as Pegg’s raver friend.

Screenwipe season 4 (2007)

Another blur of Screenwipe. This one covers lying in reality TV (and all TV), more on having a career in TV starting from the bottom, and some shows I can hardly believe exist like Street Doctor. Commentary on the credit-squeeze and the 24-hour news cycle. Last season surprised me with a mean Ken Russell joke – who was alive and well when the show aired, but had just died when I watched it – and this one followed up with an Amy Winehouse joke. Best of all, the show culminated with Charlie Brooker holding his own mock elimination competition meta-show.

2011 Wipe

After season five, the Screenwipe series went away but Brooker returns annually for a year-recap special. I watched the latest with Katy to expose her to the greatness of Brooker’s commentary in a slightly more relevant manner than watching old episodes of Screenwipe. She thought it was alright, but thought it’d be a half hour long so spent the latter half waiting for it to end. Arab Spring, Charlie Sheen, Rupert Murdoch (with an excellent Adam Curtis history segment), the London riots, and of course plenty of television. It’s like catching up on a year’s worth of The Daily Show all at once.

Oh, what’s this – shows called Gameswipe, Newswipe, and How TV Ruined Your Life and a new one called Black Mirror – must look for those.

Parks & Recreation season 3 (2011)

Even better than the last season, partially thanks to the addition of Adam Scott (the new boring guy now that Brendanawicz is gone) and Rob Lowe. The Harvest Fest is a success, Tom starts a bunch of failed businesses and brands with his buddy Jean-Ralphio, and April and Andy get married.

Quoth a banker: “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed.”

Another Adam Curtis miracle. Katy and I are pleased as punch by the film’s research, structure and presentation, while being terrified by its content.

Curtis tells how Freud’s theories were pitched in the States by his nephew Edward Bernays, who thought to use his uncle’s psychological techniques in advertising and public relations, a field he effectively started. Freud’s theories are thought to explain the rise of naziism, so the American power elite looks to his daughter Anna for ideas on how to control the peoples’ minds. Former Freud student Wilhelm Reich who became a sex hippie (see also W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism), is the godfather of the opposite side: freeing your mind from conformity, and while Reich himself is imprisoned, his work destroyed by the U.S. government, his ideas inspire industry to promote self-identity through spending. Still later, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (so apparently well-meaning, yet so deflated by the Adam Curtis docs) use focus groups to turn government and politics into a kind of marketing. And Curtis uses the same language that he’d return to in The Trap: what our leaders and big business presented as a new form of freedom became instead a form of control.

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.

Another 3-hour Adam Curtis documentary (no Yo La Tengo songs this time) and again it’s one of the most amazing, revelatory things I’ll watch all year. This time I didn’t take notes like I did with The Trap, so I’ll just have to take my word for it. I do remember that the founder of neoconservatism was a huge fan of television, especially Gunsmoke and Perry Mason. And that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist – or it didn’t until we invented it – I remember that. Man, I wish I’d watched this when it came out. But however depressing it is that I’ve spent the last five years not knowing most of this stuff, that’s balanced by the joy of watching it when neo-cons aren’t in power in the U.S. at the moment.

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