HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW?

Thursday 29 April 2010, 17:01

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

Part One: Democracy on Trial

I have always been fascinated by the relationship between our everyday experience of the world and the stories that are made out of it.

Every day we experience millions of things, most of them are moments that at the time mean nothing. Only later do we take bits of that experience and turn them into stories.

In this way we make sense of the world, both on a personal level and on a grand scale. It is how history is created.

Television, particularly news and documentaries, has become central to this process, and I want to use stuff from the archive - both finished programmes and recorded fragments that were never used - to explore this area.

-What we know

-Who chooses what we know

-And what we don't know

In the process of making television lots of stuff gets left out, dropped. But these left over fragments don't make sense any without a story to put them in. And even they are just an echo of all the other stuff that never got recorded at all. That people just experienced.

I want to start this by telling the story of one of my heroes in television - the reporter James Mossman. From watching the stories he made I think he was fascinated by this same area both intellectually and emotionally.

Mossman is a strange figure. He was posh, probably worked in some capacity for the security services and during the 1960s he reported from all around the world for the BBC.

mossman.jpg
He became a star and did live TV interviews with leading politicians until, one evening in 1967, he went for the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, live on prime time. He accused him, effectively, of being morally corrupt. (I'll return to this in a later posting). The BBC took him off political reporting and sent him off to make arts programmes.

In 1971 Mossman committed suicide

mossmandesk.jpg
I want to begin with a film that Mossman made in 1968. It is called "America: Democracy on Trial". It is a fantastic piece of verite film-making that is also a powerful piece of political reporting. It is also beautifully photographed by a cameraman called Erik Durschmied.

It is set within the confines of the world of a real young family in the Bay Area in California in 1968. But their daily lives are played out against a backdrop of mounting uncertainty.

Their country is fighting a war in a faraway place that more and more people don't believe in. And they are beginning to lose faith in politics and its power to change the world. And starting to question what democracy really means.

The film is about the relationship between the everyday experience of the family - especially the wife, who is a fascinating and enigmatic character - and the big story they are told about the world. But it is made at a moment when that story no longer makes sense and the fragments that it is made of are beginning to fall apart.

Mossman never appears or asks questions, but he and his intelligence haunt the film like a ghost.

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