THE STRANGE DEATH OF POLITICAL ENGLAND

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 21.

    The "little people"? *rolls eyes at previous comment*

    Anyway, good stuff Adam. Are you going to be making an hour of footage for each year? It seems to be the most sensible way to cut up the forty hours you've promised. Also, this is a huge amount of work, does this mean won't see any TV series from you in the near future? That would be a shame.

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    Comment number 22.

    @ avishalom

    ive agreed not to attack anyone here so ill refrain.

    Adam, film rocks. words, text are all good, but your magic with the oul moving images.

    good stuff keep it up.

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    Comment number 23.

    How many 'little people' make a 'big people'?

    Pareto reckoned it was about 4:1. Maybe Adam Curtis could use the formula of 4 little people snippets verses 1 big people film snippet.

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    Comment number 24.

    Adam, very much like what you've shown so far.

    There is a risk, that I'm sure you're aware of, that this could end up becoming a deluxe version of what was an excellent BBC series The Rock 'n' Roll Years. For those those who aren't familier the format was to cover a single years music and news event in each 1/2hr program and covered the years from 1956-1989

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7Psl_T_yGQ&NR=1

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    Comment number 25.

    Absolute genius. As ever. I'm not sure what it says to me, but - in its uniquely Curtisonian way, it packs so much about 1970 - politics, culture, music, humanity - into 30 minutes and works on so many levels. The mix of music and image is sublime. As you concede, musically you cheat here and there but, of the tracks I knew most seemed to be from 1970. Stunning. And I love the idea of c40 hours of similar footage to explain "the rise of individualism" and how we all stopped defining ourselves by politics and being part of collective groups, and believing in collective ideas.

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    Comment number 26.

    I loved this film.

    I disagree with tristan111 that younger people might find this un-engaging. I was born in 1977 and found the film fascinating and beautiful. Perhaps it was seeing the beginning of a decade that I only caught the end of.

    Tonight I finished watching Adam’s series ‘The Century of Self’ which was one of the most enlightening pieces of documentary work I have ever seen. The final episode, which focuses on the 80’s and 90’s made me aware of what an extraordinary and somewhat frightening cultural era that I’ve grown up in. It left me thinking ‘What was Britain really like before?’ Coincidentally, I then went on to this blog site and found this film.

    I loved the absence of a single narrative, the mixture of the mundane and the iconic, the familiar and the mysterious. I will certainly be back for more. Thank you Adam.

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    Comment number 27.

    Bloody marvellous Adam - a special kind of journalism maybe; I could watch 40 hours of it, and for what its worth I have introduced your work to my teenage children and they love it (especially in this blog form) and so do many of their friends...some of these comments are getting rather complex - I think you take that to which you have access and use it to speak to many many people:

    nec minus ergo ante haec quam ti cecidere, cadentque..

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    Comment number 28.

    Adam - really like this but, much as I do like it, I have to agree with Nigeyb's comment that unless it's handled carefully this could all just turn into a nostalgia fest along the lines of the Rock 'n Roll years.

    Still like it though. Class footage.

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    Comment number 29.

    By the way, and I apologise if this is covered elsewhere, I am intrigued, that from getting slots on BBC2/4 Adam, you appear to be mainly pumping stuff out on this BBC blog. I wonder if this is because the BBC doesn't want to upset the new Government - and the last one - with your provocative docs, or whether it's your choice. You also now seem to be less polemical and pursuing a less coherent - but equally interesting - approach. If you feel able and willing to comment, I'd be very interested to know. Thanks.

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    Comment number 30.

    In 2007 Mr Curtis spoke of his plans to make this kind of project:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/23/beeb_week_adam_curtis_2/

    If he has kept to his intentions and thinking, this project is going to be one to savour.

    I loved the cringing woman in the first clip(Zimbabwe?) and the Bunnygirls almost getting bowled over by the aeroplane wing.

    Although, with the preponderance of red clothing, I was half expecting to see an axe-wielding, old woman jump out.

    It will be interesting to watch the diminishing use of red to fit the project title.

    @egbert. Hi Egbert. I read the tv studio scene differently. I read that scene as the end of the old and the beginning of the new. The studio was equipped with unmanned, automatic cameras and all the participants were unsure of what to make of it. I thought it also telling that the woman was asked to sit in the "hotseat" first. I smelled a lot of oestrogen throughout this first part.

    Enjoyed the guy asking if the set scenery could turn. No, mate, it's the big thing outside called "The World" that's turning!

    I doubt there is a right way or a wrong way to read this project, given what Mr Curtis says in the interview I linked to.

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    Comment number 31.

    Yeah I really enjoyed the bit at the beginning. The shock of the visitors at the gunfire, and in contrast how the militants are completely unperturbed by it, the guy is saying it sounds like a guitar and laughing.

    I also like the presentation of Hugh Hefner and his model girlfriend. I like how cold and reticent he seems when he speaks about her, again very funny.

    I suppose it's similar kind of humour, how people's reactions to the same situation contrast.

    With regard to some of the other posts......Mmm. I'm trying to work out what bothers me and it's not easy to define. Some of these posts don't really seem to be reactions to the blog as much as opportunities for people to express some of the items on their own agenda.

    The question of whether people who didn't experience these events will 'get it' is interesting. I'm with Heather, I was born in 79, and I'm sure many others wouldn't been around to see these events first hand and I assume this will change the experience of the film. Strangely I still feel a kind of nostalgia for this time. But I think that may be a the difference between this and the Rock 'n' Roll Years - I think that was heavily based in nostalgia, a 'you had to be there' feeling.

    It seems to me that this type of project could perhaps be more important to people who weren't there than those who were. As someone has mentioned it can show that Britain was once a different place. But rather than just demonstrate or explain this, the idea is that we can experience the time in a similar way to how people who lived then experienced it, and therein actually understand it. It might teach us something about the events themselves, how they relate to each other, or maybe reveal the way that we connect and make sense of the things that happen around us. I wonder if actually living through these periods fractures the continuity in some way, and you can compress the experience by removing, or even choosing to present those in-between moments.

    It Felt Like A Kiss does that in some ways for sure, but it's likely to have more immediate clarity - the narratives within that piece have to be resolved more quickly because it's only one hour long and it has a theme of sorts that images and music will revolve around. I'll be really interested to see how using this longer format will help to show narratives as they evolve over a longer period, and replicate that actual experience. Usually it's the other way round; we stand back and look at the past and analyse it in terms of key events, all with the benefit of hindsight. But at the time we had no idea at all what would become significant.

    I think inevitably it will be a grand narrative in some way - I don't think that can be avoided; the captions instructs point of significance that will then have subsequent associations, and although Adam's presenting the film for each year out of chronology I don't think will completely disrupt the viewer in that way. It'll just be a non-linear and complex story, but I suppose you could argue that's what real life is like.

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    Comment number 32.

    @ Derek

    Thanks for those links. I'm glad to see that Adam is still optimistic. I also think that the old media and politics has failed, but Adam like many others are embracing the internet as more a dialogue rather than a monologue. I still want to hear what Adam has to say, because what he has to say still enriches my world view. We are his fans precisely because he has enriched us.

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    Comment number 33.

    Very interesting, but I agree with others that more captions are needed because half the population were not born or were too young to know what these events were about. The history is lost without an explanation.

    Excellent project. Best of luck.

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    Comment number 34.

    Very interesting, some nice clips. Would have more to say about individual parts, but I'm still thinking about the shot of the kid leaving the shop near the end, lovely.

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    Comment number 35.

    @ GaryFromPlanetEarth

    I think the unguided nature of the images works to free them of context, so that you can see what is happening without focusing on the parts that are retained for the future, or are judged successful and so worthy of focus. This acts to remind the viewer (this viewer, anyway) that the past is a different place from the present, mediated in different ways, and that our future was not known then, but was being gestured towards by everyone; it should remind the viewer that that is what is happening now, as well, and that complete knowledge is impossible.

    Authority has been removed as far as is possible from the vocal narrative, leaving the picture narrative to work its charms on the feelings; I like this, and though I did not understand, could not place, it all with knowledge, I enjoyed simply viewing and feeling.

    There was some great editing and confluence of music and footage, by the by.

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    Comment number 36.

    Just coming on here to post an article link from the New Yorker which is tangentially related to the stuff Adam always talks about:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell

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    Comment number 37.

    What a great idea, and a wonderful collection of footage. I particularly enjoyed the hushed reverence of the visitors to the news studio. Also, the 15 year old Nigel's unflustered perspective on his plane's hijacking was a joy.

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    Comment number 38.

    @Juan. Thanks for the link. It was an enjoyable and thought-provoking article. The bravery of the four men is humbling. And even more so because they were terrified. But they kept on.

    On Harold Wilson and the use of the pipe for his public face - I remember a programme(about politicians and spin) on BBC 4 towards the start of this year which said his advisors made him use the pipe. They said his hand gestures ( a claw shape was mentioned) came across as aggressive on tv. The pipe occupied his hands while he spoke. I have looked for the programme to reference here but cant find any trace. Can anyone remember it?


    Hugh Hefner's featured love-interest was one Barbara (Barbi) Benton.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbi_Benton

    It would appear she lasted until 1976.

    She then married a house builder/developer(1979). In 2006 he was jailed for 15 months for tax fraud. She once recorded a song called, "Aint That Just The Way."

    @The Art Teacher. The last time I saw someone as underwhelmed by love as Hugh Hefner in the clip was HRH Prince Charles when he became engaged to Di Spencer.

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    Comment number 39.

    fantastic. we need someone to do this with american archival footage. who was the small child walking down the street at the end?

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    Comment number 40.

    I watched it a second time, more carefully, and I'm beginning to get some of the themes and references. It really is about identities, especially public identity. Very clever stuff. I'm absolutely hooked! I can't wait for your next instalment!

 

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