Friday 24 September 2010, 15:05

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

Here is a bit of an experiment.

I have always wanted to make a series of films which would be like an "emotional history" that conveys what it feels like to live through history as an experience rather than a grand story. It would be about the relationship between the tiny fragments and moments of personal experience, and the continual backdrop of big events.

My dream is to make it very long - taking, say forty hours to tell the story of 1970 to now. So I thought I would start building it online.

Here is the first half hour. All cut to music, noise, and people talking and dancing from the time. There is no narration, only a few explanatory captions.

But my idea is also to use it to chart one of the great conceptual shifts of our time. It is the story of how, with the rise of individualism, we all stopped defining ourselves by politics and being part of collective groups, and believing in collective ideas.

And instead we started to define ourselves by culture - both popular and high-brow - because music and style and art allowed us to give expression to our individual identities, rather than supressing them in the greater interest of the group.

This one focusses on a few months in 1970 - just before the general election of that year. I have cheated a couple of times with music, and with a few of the bits of film. But not much. It's a bit rough, work in progress. If you can - listen on headphones.

I won't put the parts up chronologically. Next, probably, 1992.

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    Comment number 61.

    Slight correction: I was an adolescent during the late 70s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Adam Curtis, since day one I've known that you were an artist and a visionary, and this new concept is truly brilliant in my book. If there is any justice in this world, in 100 years folks will point to this work as the high water mark of virtuosic storytelling. Truly "history writ with lightning"

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    Comment number 63.

    Some comments have been very quick to dismiss emotion as being an important part of our history. But theory, politics and science cannot be viewed in isolation, emotion plays a part in what happens, what is chosen and who wins.

    It is a part of history that is much less looked at.

    In an image dominated world, driven by a marketing attitude, emotion and ideology most often trump intellectual debate.

    This film project will be a fascinating observation, very relevant to how and why certain decisions are being taken now on reforming our economy.

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    Comment number 64.

    'Emotional history' and 'Rise of Individualism'??! What tosh! What long-haired, out of work, unwashed, new-age babbling idiot's going to be interested in the history and shaping of our world today? It's already been done on the 'Rock and Blow' years, no idea why anybody would want to see MORE history?

    I watched it all the way through, twice, and it's just some collage of moving images, a soundtrack, some dialogue, humour and political events to help people "feel" and "touch" an era. 'Touchy-feely', 'entertaining' and 'educational' television will not interest anyone ... never has, never will do.

    And for those who say this will preserve how the times 'felt' by those still able to remember them, rather than a mish-mash of news items and documentaries, my reply would be a loud raspberry followed by a caustic look of REVULSION.


  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    "What long-haired, out of work, unwashed, new-age babbling idiot's going to be interested in the history and shaping of our world today?"

    You answered your own question, you watched through twice :-)

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    Comment number 66.

    Egbert, if the topic was different the question I asked 'could' have been "Which Storm Trooper is going to want to watch a film about how the family of Princess Leia managed to get on board the last rocket-ship from Alderaan?" or "What kind of cat wants their food to taste of toothpaste?"

    - Does my tongue actually have to go through my cheek ?

    I thought the sentence 'Touchy-feely', 'entertaining' and 'educational' television will not interest anyone ... never has, never will do." was going a bit too far.

    Was I mistook!?

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    Comment number 67.

    Can anyone tell me the title and artist of the reggae song that plays in this video? It has lyrics about opening the doors of heaven.

    It's a gorgeous song, I'd love to know who it is.

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    Comment number 68.

    A beautiful and brilliant idea Mr. Curtis, I know what you are trying to achieve, what you are trying to capture, and a very difficult thing it is. Please continue.

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    Comment number 69.

    "And instead we started to define ourselves by culture - both popular and high-brow - because music and style and art allowed us to give expression to our individual identities, rather than suppressing them in the greater interest of the group."

    But hasn't that, in turn, created groups that do, in fact, suppress individual identities? For example, the type of music you like, and clothing you wear, can categorise you as belonging to a particular group e.g. being a goth, a metalhead, a punk etc., and in order to fit into that particular group, the individual adopts the norms, interests, and behaviours of that particular group? The individual suppresses those elements of themselves that do not conform, lest they attract ridicule from their peers.

    IMO, defining ourselves by culture is something that's arisen from the capitalist age, and the idea of this being driven by individualism is an illusion created by advertising and marketing.

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    Comment number 70.

    I found this film informative and entertaining. I viewed it as a kind of political video art. It was by turns funny and tragic, informative and mystifying. Thank you for posting this quality work . I look forward to future posts.

    Thank you

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    Comment number 71.

    51, I was also about the same age as the little boy walking along the (run down?) street in 1970, not that I'm a leader of a political party now!
    For all that, it does resonate, stuff that is new to me, like the case of the kidnapping, well I'm on line so I'll go and find out.

    Very enjoyable, thought provoking stuff, a bit naughty having 'Band Of Gold' playing when Ted Heath appears, could have been worse - or maybe nearer the truth - had any songs existing from the era with the word 'cottage' in them been playing, maybe?

    Harold Wilson's pipe was due to that fact he feared looking like a Mafia Don with his cigars - and those raincoats - the maker of which Wilson had corrupt dealings with.

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    Comment number 72.

    Born 1981; a big fan of Adam Curtis but I'm afraid this left me a bit cold; the curious thing about the later naughties is how the internet brought us so much into contact with retro culture, or perhaps a form of retro culture. I seem to remember reading that Tom Jones outsold The Beatles in the day so who knows what it was really like? Will those of my generation admit that The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams were chart-topping successes in the late 90s? Or that the awful, awaful, awful film Titanic was the highest grossing film of its time. I also wonder if modern culture generally deprives people of a common identity they thirst for. Just look at EMO: I shudder with embarassment when I see these kids who dress up ridiculously trying to look 'zany' and 'offbeat' but just looking spectacularly unimaginative.

    Furthermore, what about classical music/ culture? There was none of that in this clip but surely it has a perpetual appeal and influence?

    On that note, two of the best films about music I remember from the 00s were Walk the Line and The Pianist, with C & W and Chopin soundtracks respectively. Just a point that culture isn't entirely linear.

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    Comment number 73.

    Adam, can't you create a new category alongside the other ones in the top right corner of the blog that includes this post? I remember watching it the first time you posted it, and I suddenly got the urge to watch it again today. Couldn't find it in any of all the other ctaegories, I thought I had gone mad and imagined the whole thing until I found at the very bottom of the page.


  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I love the wrestlers on strike and the way the crowd gathered around the tv reporter in Cairo. Super.


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