Adam Curtis Documentaries

"I use wit since one of the things I’m trying to illustrate is that we’re living in a cartoon-like version of reality."

"The BBC has an archive of all these tapes where they have just dumped all the news items they have ever shown. One tape for every three months. So what you get is this odd collage, an accidental treasure trove. You sit in a darkened room, watch all these little news moments, and look for connections." –Adam Curtis

Pandora's Box (6-part series)

Directed by Adam Curtis

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4 Hours and 30 Minutes
6 part series

"It began with a weapon created by scientists that threatened to destroy the world. But then a group of men who were convinced they control the new danger began to gain influence in America. They would manipulate terror. To do so, they would use the methods of science."

Pandora's Box was a six part 1992 BBC documentary television series written and produced by Adam Curtis, which examines the consequences of political and technocratic rationalism. Curtis' later The Century of the Self had a similar theme. The title sequence made extensive use of clips from the short film Design for Dreaming, as well as other similar archive footage.

The Engineer's Plot

The revolutionaries who toppled the Tsar in 1917 thought science held the key to their new world. In fact, it ended up creating a bewildering world for millions of Soviet people. In this light-hearted investigation, one industrial planner tells how she decided the people wanted platform shoes, only to discover that they had gone out of fashion by the time that the factory to manufacture them had been built.

To The Brink of Eternity

Focusing on the men of the Cold War on whom Dr Strangelove was based. These were people who believed that the world could be controlled by the scientific manipulation of fear - mathematical geniuses employed by the American Rand Corporation. In the end, their visions were the stuff of science fiction fantasy.

The League of Gentlemen

Thirty years ago, a group of economists managed to convince British politicians that they had foolproof technical means to make Britain great again. Pandora's Box tells the saga of how their experiments have led the country deeper into economic decline, and asks - is their game finally up?

Goodbye Mrs Ant

A modern fable about science and society, focusing on our attitude to nature. Should we let scientists be the prime movers of social or political change when, for instance, DDT made post-war heroes of American scientists only to be put on trial by other scientists in 1968? What kind of in-fighting goes on between rival camps before one scientific truth emerges, and when it does emerge, just how true is it?

Black Power

A look at how former Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah set Africa ablaze with his vision of a new industrial and scientific age. At the heart of his dream was to be the huge Volta dam, generating enough power to transform West Africa into an advanced utopia. But as his grand experiment took shape, it brought with it dangerous forces Nkrumah couldn't control, and he slowly watched his metropolis of science sink into corruption and debt.

A is For Atom

An insight into the history of nuclear power. In the 1950s scientists and politicians thought they could create a different world with a limitless source of nuclear energy. But things began to go wrong. Scientists in America and the Soviet Union were duped into building dozens of potentially dangerous plants. Then came the disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl which changed views on the safety of this new technology.

This episode was named after a 1953 General Electric propaganda film explaining nuclear power and features artfully chosen footage from this film. (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

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http://en.wikipedia.org

The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past (3-part series)

Produced by Jüri Lina

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50 Minutes
3 part series

"Out of the carnage in Europe 50 years ago, the Allies selected certain memories. They used them to build the official version of the good war. This film is about how that happened. It tells why certain memories have to be buried and forgotten because they contradicted the optimism of the big historical picture."

The Living Dead (subtitled Three Films About the Power of the Past) was the second major documentary series made by British film-maker Adam Curtis. In three parts, it was transmitted on BBC Two in the spring of 1995.

Episode 1 - On the Desperate Edge of Now

This episode examined how the various national memories of the Second World War were effectively rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War period.

For Germany, this began at the Nuremberg Trials, where attempts were made to prevent the Nazis in the dock—principally Hermann Göring—from offering any rational argument for what they had done. Subsequently, however, bringing lower-ranking Nazis to justice was effectively forgotten about in the interests of maintaining West Germany as an ally in the Cold War.

For the Allied countries, faced with a new enemy in the Soviet Union, there was a need to portray WW2 as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, even if this meant denying the memories of the Allied soldiers who had actually done the fighting, and knew it to have been far more complex. A number of American veterans told how years later they found themselves plagued with the previously-suppressed memories of the brutal things they had seen and done. The title comes from a veteran's description of what the uncertainty of survival in combat is like.

Episode 2 - You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough

In this episode, the history of brainwashing and mind control was examined. The angle pursued by Curtis was the way in which psychiatry pursued tabula rasa theories of the mind, initially in order to set people free from traumatic memories and then later as a potential instrument of social control. The work of Ewen Cameron was surveyed, with particular reference to Cold War theories of communist brainwashing and the search for hypnoprogammed assassins.

The programme's thesis was that the search for control over the past via medical intervention had had to be abandoned and that in modern times control over the past is more effectively exercised by the manipulation of history.

Some film from this episode, an interview with one of Cameron's victims, was later re-used by Curtis in his The Century of the Self.

The title of this episode comes from a paranoid schizophrenic seen in archive film in the programme, who believed her neighbours were using her as a source of amusement by denying her any privacy, like a pet goldfish.

Episode 3 - The Attic

In this episode, the Imperial aspirations of Margaret Thatcher were examined. The way in which Mrs Thatcher used public relations in an attempt to emulate Winston Churchill in harking back to Britain's "glorious past" to fulfil a political or national end.

The title is a reference to the attic flat at the top of 10 Downing Street, which was created during Thatcher's period refurbishment of the house, which did away with the Prime Minister's previous living quarters on lower floors. Scenes from The Innocents (film) the adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are intercut with Thatcher's reign. (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

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25 Million Pounds

Directed by Adam Curtis

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52 Minutes

"It's very easy for me to get along with people, but I don't necessarily have to like you or any of the people that I work with to get along with them. So I come in and do my job, do it to the best of my ability, and then at the end of the day if you're going to ask me out for a drink, I'm not going to go out for a drink with you because I don't like you, but I'm not going to tell you that, there's no reason for there to be any animosity during the day. I just didn't like the people that I worked with and so I would go and do the work, be very very friendly, everybody would probably say that they thought they were my best friend and if they have the knowledge, then I will attempt to get the knowledge through whichever way is best, and if a friendship is that method, then friendship is the method that I would use." –Nick Leeson

Like many in the 1980's, Nick Leeson wanted to be rich and successful, but Nick Leeson was also a very strange man, he had an extraordinary ability to manipulate and deceive those around him. This is his story. It is also a story about those he deceived. They willingly entered into a dream he wove, lured by the prospect of vast sums of money and together they lost 830 million pounds. (Excerpt from film)

The Way of All Flesh

Directed by Adam Curtis

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52 Minutes

"It was not like an ordinary cancer. This was different, this didnít look like cancer. It was purple and it bled very easily on touching. Iíve never seen anything that looked like it and I donít think Iíve ever seen anything that looked like it since, so it was a very special different kind of, well, it turned out to be a tumor." –Dr. Howard Jones, Gynecologist

In 1951, a woman died in Baltimore, America. She was called Henrietta Lacks. These are cells from her body. They were taken from her just before she died. They have been growing and multiplying ever since. There are now billions of these cells in laborites around the world. If massed together, they would weigh 400 times her original weight. These cells have transformed modern medicine, but they also became caught up in the politics of our age. They shape the policies of countries and of presidents. They even became involved in the cold war because scientists were convinced that in her cells lay the secret to how to conquer death. (Excerpt from film)

The Mayfair Set: Four Stories About the Rise of Business and the Decline of Political Power

Directed by Adam Curtis

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3 Hours
4 part series

"We're no longer a great world power, we're a commercial trading country now and the sooner we appreciate this, the better. And unless we get the economy right, unless we get industry prosperous, it's no use politicians doing or thinking anything because they've no power left anymore. We've no power or army or air forces; the only power we got left is economic power and we must deploy this for the benefit of us all to the best advantage to get the best return. We could be so prosperous if only we could get some sense into this." –Donald Stokes, Adviser to Ministry of Defence for Britain

The Mayfair Set is a series of programmes produced by Adam Curtis for the BBC, first broadcast in the summer of 1999.

The programme looked at how buccaneer capitalists of hot money were allowed to shape the climate of the Thatcher years, focusing on the rise of Colonel David Stirling, Jim Slater, James Goldsmith, and Tiny Rowland, all members of The Clermont club in the 1960s. It received the BAFTA Award for Best Factual Series or Strand in 2000.

Part 1: Who Pays Wins

The opening episode, Who Pays Wins, focuses on Colonel David Stirling.

Part 2: Entrepreneur Spelt S.P.I.V.

The rise of Jim Slater who became famous for writing an investment column in The Sunday Telegraph under the nom de plume of The Capitalist.

Part 3: Destroy the Technostructure

This episode recounts the story of how James Goldsmith became one of the richest men in the world.

Part 4: Twilight of the Dogs

By the 80s, the day of the buccaneering tycoons was over. Tiny Rowland, James Goldsmith and Mohammed Al Fayed were the only ones who were not finished. (Excerpt from website)

The Century of the Self (4-part series)

Directed by Adam Curtis

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4 Hours
4 part series

"This series is about how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy." –Adam Curtis

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, changed the perception of the human mind and its workings profoundly. His influence on the 20th century is widely regarded as massive. The documentary describes the impact of Freud's theories on the perception of the human mind, and the ways public relations agencies and politicians have used this during the last 100 years for their "engineering of consent".

Among the main characters are Freud himself and his nephew Edward Bernays, who was the first to use psychological techniques in advertising. He is often seen as the "father of the public relations industry". Freud's daughter Anna Freud, a pioneer of child psychology, is mentioned in the second part, as well as Wilhelm Reich, one of the main opponents of Freud's theories.

Along these general themes, The Century of the Self asks deeper questions about the roots and methods of modern consumerism, representative democracy and its implications. It also questions the modern way we see ourselves, the attitude to fashion and superficiality. (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Please visit the official website for more information:
http://www.bbc.co.uk

The Power of Nightmares (3-part series)

Directed by Adam Curtis

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3 Hours
3 part series

"[Politicians] say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, a powerful and sinister network with sleeper cells in countries across the world, a threat that needs to be fought by a War on Terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It's a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media."

The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a BBC documentary film series, written and produced by Adam Curtis. The series consists of three one-hour films, consisting mostly of a montage of archive footage with Curtis's narration, which were first broadcast in the United Kingdom in late 2004 and have been subsequently aired in multiple countries and shown in several film festivals, including the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

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The films compare the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is in fact a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies. (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Please visit the official website for more information:
http://news.bbc.co.uk

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom? (3-part series)

Directed by Adam Curtis

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3 Hours
3 part series

"What the prisoner's dilemma expressed is the strange logic of the cold war. The optimum solution, offering to get rid of all your weapons provided the Russians did the same, could never happen because you couldn't trust them not to cheat. So instead, you went for stability created by a balance of dangerous weapons on both sides. What Nash had done is to turn that into a theory of how the whole society worked. It had enormous implications for politics because it proved that one could have a society based on individual freedom that wouldn't degenerate into chaos. But the price of that freedom would mean a world in which everyone would have to be suspicious and distrustful of their fellow human beings."

Individual freedom is the dream of our age. It's what our leaders promise to give us, it defines how we think of ourselves and, repeatedly, we have gone to war to impose freedom around the world. But if you step back and look at what freedom actually means for us today, it's a strange and limited kind of freedom.

Politicians promised to liberate us from the old dead hand of bureaucracy, but they have created an evermore controlling system of social management, driven by targets and numbers. Governments committed to freedom of choice have presided over a rise in inequality and a dramatic collapse in social mobility. And abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to enforce freedom has led to bloody mayhem and the rise of an authoritarian anti-democratic Islamism. This, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain. In response, the Government has dismantled long-standing laws designed to protect our freedom.

The Trap is a series of three films by Bafta-winning producer Adam Curtis that explains the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom. It shows how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War to control the behaviour of the Soviet enemy. (Excerpt from website)

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John Pilger On Iraq and Terrorism

At The London School of Economics

pilgeriraq "Those who read newspapers and watch television and listen to the radio are given no real sense of the scale of the bloodshed among ordinary Iraqis...It seems as if the scale of killing in Iraq will have passed the scale of killing in Rwanda."