Image: DavidZydd, PixabayCCO

Adam Curtis (b.1955, England) is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose flair for narrative and drama infuses his intensive analyses of today’s enveloping techno-socio milieu and the unapprehended yet Machiavellian powers it wields over us. While the information Curtis presents is all (less readily) available elsewhere, Curtis bundles it into one dense yet easily accessible film or miniseries in three or four parts.  As of 2016, Curtis had made 29 films, two-thirds of which focused on forms and uses of power in the global West (the others being more localized) and all of which deal with the machinations of power. Below, we offer an annotated list of those we found most compelling.

Much of Curtis' significant body of work is available for purchase and most of it is offered and comprehensively reviewed at the  ThoughtMaybe independent international library of films on current core issues.  More information and lists of his films are available on his BBC Blog, IMDB, and of course, Wikipedia.  If you are unacquainted with this video journalist, we invite you to check him out and see what you think.  The Century of the Self is probably his best. Below are five we suggest viewing.  - Ed.


The Century of the Self  (2002, 4 parts) is classic Curtis, highly informative, intriguing, and personally challenging, and therefore recommended. Of the four films in the series, "Happiness Machines" is first and possibly the most important. It was our first exposure to Edward Bernays, whose influence on the 20th and 21st centuries can hardly be exaggerated - so extensively have his ideas on techniques of mass psychology been employed by those seeking to establish power and control over a given populace. Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and the CIA were all Bernays' clients, among many others. The lives of each and every one of us - as well as millions of other people worldwide - have been affected by this man's advice and the people he gave it to. For that reason alone, this series is highly recommended as a thought-provoking departure point for further research.

The Trap (2007, 3 parts) examines our concept of "freedom", how it has been transmogrified into its opposite through the application of Game Theory (John Nash), the contemporary self-centered view of individualism, and the effects of both on people's psychological well being. Living beings versus mechanical beings, freedom versus its illusion, life versus computerized existence are comparisons weaving through this study of the pitfalls of attempting to program machines to model a society of living beings.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011, 3 parts) explores the hype and hypocrisy of the belief that the marriage of new technologies with people following their personal self-interests would result in a type of cybernetic uptopia. The latter half of the 20th century coupled the mechanistic worldview that computers would bring society new freedom with the desirability and "inevitability" of pursuing self-interest, as espoused in the philosophies of Ayn Rand (Alisa Rosenbaum) and Richard Dawkins, to produce a mechanistic worldview that destroys life on the planet, including the lives it was purported to "set free".

It Felt Like a Kiss (2009) portrays how something that seemed so good at the time can influence our lives for decades to come in ways that may not be to our benefit. The shining City on the Hill which emerged from World War II to become the dominant world power and to imprint its post-war ideas on its people and the world.

The Power of Nightmares (2004, 3 parts) details the birth and rise of al-Qaeda alongside the death of the USSR bogeyman and the resulting need for a new moral authority to support militarism and unify society against a new common threat.  The rise of neo-conservatism in the late 1970s and its cultivation of Islamic extremism and the fear it engendered as the means to control, to coerce, to maintain and strengthen dominance over others, is depicted as a sort of Frankenstein and his monster, which must be kept under control of its master and allowed to release periodic infusions of fear onto a sleeping populace.

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