WHILE THE BAND PLAYED ON

Wednesday 14 November 2012, 15:22

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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I have always been fascinated by the way music can completely change the way you watch film - and how you feel as you watch the images.

For the last year or so I have been collecting all sorts of footage of people dancing that I found in the BBC archives. In all I gathered over two thousand shots culled from all kinds of programmes. I then cut some of them together to music by the wonderful 70s German band Neu.

I think it gives a sense that we are all together in the dance.

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I then took exactly the same sequence of images - I haven't altered even a frame - and put them to a montage of some very different music. There are all sorts of songs and pieces in there - but it owes a great deal to the great romantic musical genius of our age - Burial.

I think that this other version nbsp;you tolook at the people dancingin a very different way. The feeling it evokes ishow separate we are - and how isolated we sometimes are from one another.

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    Comment number 21.

    Yes, you can intensify the isolationist effect by slowing the clip down. Then people feel the passage of time much more intensely and feel alienated from the material presented.

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    Comment number 22.

    Wonderful stuff Adam, particularly the Neu! cut. A fantastic piece of music anyway and you add to it making the image musical and the music generate images.
    All power to the Inner DJ! Even threw in Gunter Grass & Yeltsin arf arf. My girlfriend knows one of Legs & Co who must have been in there somewhere.

    Agree with Andy & ook about the comtemplative Burial jarring with the dancing action. But conversely, Burial plus slowed down footage equals a moving piece!

    I expect you're probably absorbed with the new Rihanna album right now. Interesting review in the Guardian which praised its poptasticness but was uneasy with its apparent accommodation to her violent ex-partner.

    It must be rather tough at the BBC right now for investigative journalism with a section dedicated to it shut down and Newsnight shot down in flames. You have my sympathy. Keep on pushing! Don't let them get away with it! You Shall Return (as Muhammed Ali had it)...

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    Comment number 23.

    Brilliant, just brilliant.

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    Comment number 24.

    Blimey is that THE Holger Czukay???

    I was at a party once with Irmin Schmidt and his wife. I talked to his wife but couldn't pluck up the courage to talk to Irmin who I was told was like me rather shy...

    Anyway...just to plug another brilliant combination of image and music:
    From The Sea To The Land Beyond, which is a combination Penny Woolcock's edited selection of mainly BFI archive of people at work and play around the British Coast, to a score by British Sea Power. They are just finishing touring it and i saw them do it live at Sheffield DocFest.
    It was brilliant and moving from the very start, the music giving a voice to 100 years of people in the clips. A sort of Humphrey Jennings for the 21st century (without the commentary).
    If I'm not mistaken it even contained a clip of Family Portrait which Adam's dad Martin shot for Jennings.
    It comes out on DVD in January. Don't miss it!

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    Comment number 25.

    If you play both videos at the same time you evokes both togetherness and separation!

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    Comment number 26.

    I agree with Andrew Smallbone: in the first video everyone is dancing to the film music. In the second, no one is dancing to the film music. Everyone is dancing to music we can't hear. And we infer that the music is as different as the times, places, and people in front of the camera. We are no longer with them dancing - we are evaluating and judging from a distance. The music becomes commentary.

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    Comment number 27.

    Interesting, as ever, but not the biggest newsflash ever - that music affects our perception. As you infer, why else employ people to score films / documentaries?

    Still, most people don't explicitly realise this so it bears repeating.

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    Comment number 28.

    You always have such great soundtracks in your films Adam, was very happy to hear Burial used in All Watched Over. His music evokes so much of the strange hollowness of contemporary life you often talk about in your work.

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    Comment number 29.

    hurrah for the limbic system

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    Comment number 30.

    I've just finished a video essay on salsa dancing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rqk6KefHBpo

  • Comment number 31.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

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    Comment number 32.

    i love this post quite deeply

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 34.

    Wonderful! It's great when you start both videos at the same time.

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    Comment number 35.

    I agree with Andrew Smallbone's comment. The people are dancing, so the upbeat rhythm of the Neu! track draws the viewer into the context of the diegetic action - namely celebration. In the second video, you are imbuing the montage with a contrasting idea of what is going on - the editor forces the viewer to stand apart.

    What is now perhaps more interesting is that everyone can play editor and add music to appropriate their own meaning.

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    Comment number 36.

    Hi Adam,

    Just out of an absolute love of all your work and this blog in particular, about a year ago I borrowed/stole/took footage from 'all watched over..' and put it to one of my songs.... Please do not be mad! It was a non commercial release which basically just went to a few select friends..... http://vimeo.com/24986356

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    Comment number 37.

    Also these two videos were really interesting to me as a musician (and also as someone who loves neu and stuff like burial/eno/glass/carpenter/dystopian soundscapey things in general!)

    With video 1, I was smiling all the time.... perhaps connected is too strong a word for how I felt. I felt just kind of happy to see all these people dancing! Still really cool but when compared to video 2 I would say almost pedestrian (not saying your work is pedestrian I quickly add!!)

    With video 2 however, I felt like an alien who had just come to earth for the first time and was gleaning our planet for signs of life! It was so moving. I felt disconnected but in a way strangely connected.... How do I qualify that last sentence. It was as if the juxtaposition of the 'other worldly', sublime music with those very personal human interactions almost amplified the disconnect. But in amplifying the disconnect, you are also reminded that you too are also human, and I got a sense of 'Isn't it amazing, all these human interactions are played out in a little microcosm of the universe... and as if by chance some guy in an editing room in the BBC decided to put them together..... The feeling was amplified over the course of the piece. With the last 3-4 minutes almost over-whelming... Beautiful stuff indeed, and thanyou for taking the time to do this :)

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    Comment number 38.

    I felt the same at the end of the Gadaffi article when you cut the 'Arab Spring' riots to Jesus and Mary Chain. Not ashamed to admit, I cried... yeah yeah I'm emotional!!

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    Comment number 39.

    I am gonna stop spamming you now......but when it comes to all your films, you have an uncanny ability to 'show not tell'..... Music is so powerful and can evoke a subtext we didn't even know existed. In the right hands, It plays our emotions like no other medium can. You are a master of this Adam Curtis. Much love and respect to you

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    Comment number 40.

    I found both videos hypnotic and I have been haunted by memories of some of the images for days. Neu, Burial et al make a superb soundtrack.

    In mentioning hypnosis, I'm keen to share the following remarkable story of how a young German WWI corporal with a trauma was transformed by a hypnotic therapy with great consequences.

    http://www.dredmundforster.info/1-edmund-forster-adolf-hitler

 

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