Excellent news that Adam Curtis’s The Power of Nightmares, which I wrote about after receiving a muddy-looking tape of it from Telluride Film Festival honcho Tom Luddy last December, is going to have a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Luddy was behind this, of course. He lobbied Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux along with Fremaux’s good friend Michael Fitzgerald. Director Bernard Tavernier lobbied for the film also. Curtis’ three-hour doc contends that the anti-western terrorists and the neo-con hardliners in the George W. Bush White House are two peas in a fundamentalist pod, and that they seem to be almost made for each other in an odd way, and they need each other’s hatred to fuel their respective power bases but are, in fact, almost identical in their purist fervor, and are pretty much cut from the same philosophical cloth.
Ennui, distrust, uncertainty, paralysis…oh, what an insecure, anxiety-fraught world. Everyone living in their heads these days, everyone staring at screens and sharing thoughts or whatever non sequitur comes to mind…flitting from tweet to tweet…watching closely, talking shit and nobody really content (much less happy) about anything. Not really.
What else is new?
As a huge fan of Adam Curtis‘s The Century of the Self and especially The Power of Nightmares, and a bit less of of a fan of Bitter Lake, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace and Hyper-Normalization, I’m finding Curtis’s latest, I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, somewhere between ambiguously and intermittently fascinating but basically all over the fucking map.
The epic six-part series popped about three weeks ago, and was well reviewed by British critics. It’s all on YouTube right now.
It is HE’s belief that a multi-part doc needs a clean, easily graspable idea that can you hang onto as you watch the various chapters. The Century of the Self (’02) explained how those in power have used the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays “to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” The Power of Nightmares (’05) basically said that the anti-western Islamic terrorists and the Bush-era neocon hardliners were almost identical in their purist fervor, and are pretty much cut from the same philosophical cloth.
To say that I Can’t Get You Out of My Head lacks a central idea or theme, or even a sense of building towards one, is putting it mildly. Curtis’s observations as he moves along are brilliant, of course, but when he started talking about Jiang Qing, Lin Piao and the Gang of Four vs. Mao Zedong in episode #3 (“Money Changes Everything“) I began to lose patience.
Here’s a rough splotch job based on Curtis own thoughts in recent interviews: “Everyone lives in their heads these days, and most modern novels are about the internal monologue. Why have we gone from a sense of confidence about self to being unconfident about self? Anxiety, uncertainty, fears about the future. To explain how we got here, the journey that led to it…you have to explain what went on in people’s heads as well as what happened in society as whole. A history of feelings.”
I don’t even think Curtis, mesmerizing as his riffs tend to be, has a good grip on what he’s trying to say. I think he’s just throwing impressions and associations at a wall and hoping some of it sticks.
Official Can’t Get You Out Of My Head summary: “The story of how we got to the strange days we are now experiencing. And why both those in power — and we — find it so difficult to move on and whether modern culture, despite its radicalism, is really just part of the new system of power”. What does that even mean?
Cinefamily deserves respect and support for tributing the great Adam Curtis, the British political documentarian and journalist whose brilliant, highly essential essays, particularly The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace and Bitter Lake, have been praised and praised again in this space.
Next weekend’s Curtis tribute (3.17 thru 3.19) is mainly about premiering Curtis’s HyperNormalisation, which has actually been streaming on YouTube since last October. Over the weekend Curtis will explain, expound and connect the dots on everything he knows and believes — everything within his own perceptual, philosophical, found-footage universe.
Curtis’s docs are brilliant, on-target and laser-focused, but they all say the same thing, which is that the wool has been pulled — is being pulled — over our eyes, and most of us don’t even realize it.
In Curtis’s view the last era in which society truly breathed and dreamt and reached for the stars was the late ’60s and early ’70s, but beginning in the mid ’70s (or around the time of Michelangelo Antonioni‘s ultra-prescient The Passenger, which will be discussed during a Curtis seminar next weekend) increasingly powerful corporate forces have been subjugating and controlling more and more.
“The term ‘hypernormalisation’ is taken from Alexei Yurchak‘s 2006 book ‘Everything Was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation,’ about the paradoxes of life in the Soviet Union during the 20 years before it collapsed.
“Yurchak asserts that everyone knew the system was failing, but as no one could imagine any alternative to the status quo, politicians and citizens were resigned to maintaining a pretence of a functioning society. Over time, this delusion became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the ‘fakeness’ was accepted by everyone as real, an effect that Yurchak called ‘hypernormalisation’.
Any film by noted British documentarian Adam Curtis is worth carving out the time to see. I’ve raved over the last decade or so about his two landmark docs, The Century of the Self and particularly The Power of Nightmares. which introduced an idea that the anti-western Islamic terrorists and the neocon hardliners are almost identical in their purist fervor, and are pretty much cut from the same philosophical cloth. Now comes Curtis’s Bitter Lake, which popped in England last weekend and is now viewable on YouTube. The Guardian‘s Sam Wollaston has called it “a story full of violence, bloodshed, and bitter ironies, mainly about how the west, through misunderstanding and oversimplification, repeatedly achieved pretty much the opposite of what it was trying to achieve. America protected Wahhabism through its thirst for Saudi oil, and in doing so helped sow the seeds of radical Islam today. In Afghanistan they built dams to irrigate the Helmand valley, making it perfect to sow actual seeds — opium poppy seeds. The past is strewn with patterns, and warnings, if only anyone had bothered looking and tried to understand.”
I believe that Richard Curtis has done more to sugarcoat and suffocate the romantic comedy genre than any other director-writer I can think of. If there’s someone else who has injected his films and scripts with more mirth, fluttery-ness and forced euphoria, I’d like to know who that is. Curtis has no discernible interest in ground-level reality (as the way-above-Curtis’s-level David O. Russell does) . When writing romantic material he seems interested only in those levitational moments when an attractive man and a simple-but-dishy woman can finally let their true feelings out and look into each other’s eyes and….aaahhh! In my view anything with the Curtis stamp is an instant must-to-avoid.
Two or three times Adam Curtis’s The Power of Nightmares is listed as one of the 2005’s best in the Village Voice‘s 7th Annual Film Critics Poll. I knelt down to pray in front of this film when I first saw it a year ago and spewed my praise in a column piece that ran on 12.17.04…which is why I didn’t think to include The Power of Nightmares in my Best of 2005 column, even though it was shown at the Santa Barbara Film Festival earlier this year and then at the ’05 Cannes Film Festival. (It later enjoyed a well-attended theatrical run at Manhattan’s Cinema Village, among other arthouse venues in other cities.) I’m just laying this out to explain why I didn’t mention it among this year’s best, etc. It is that by boilerplate theatrical standards, and it sure would be nice to have a first-rate digital transfer version out on DVD someday soon….but for me it was a late ’04 film.
Two good things happened last night after I watched Richard Dewey and Michael Lewis‘s Radical Wolfe (Kino Lorber), a decent, mildly approvable documentary portrait of the magnificent Tom Wolfe, who passed in mid-May of 2018, during that year’s Cannes Film Festival.
One, it prompted me to read the Vanity Fair article that inspired the doc — Lewis’s 2015 article about the celebrated writer (“How Tom Wolfe Became Tom Wolfe“). And two, it convinced me to order a copy of Wolfe’s “Hooking Up,” a compilation that contains Wolfe’s wicked 1965 satire of The New Yorker, called “Tiny Mummies.” (I’d bought a copy years ago but left it in West Hollywood when I moved east.)
HE to friendo about Radical Wolfe, which I saw last night: “I thought the Wolfe doc was pretty good or, you know, not bad. It covered what needed to be covered, and was properly descriptive and reverent and enthused in an acceptable sort of way.
“But after decades of reading Wolfe’s stuff the doc didn’t (and perhaps couldn’t) deliver all that many bong highs. Wolfe’s writing has been giving me bong highs since the ’60s, but there were only a few (and mild ones at that) in Dewey’s film.
”Honestly? I got more enjoyment and enthusiasm…more in the way of the sheer euphoric love of delicious, sugar-rush writing…I got more of that from Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review of Radical Wolfe than from Radical Wolfe itself.
“Of all the stories and sides of Leonard Bernstein that Bradley Cooper decided to leave out of Maestro, the most infamous is surely “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” (6.8.70)”, Gleiberman notes. “Wolfe’s New York magazine cover story, described in delectable you-are-there detail, focused on a party thrown by Lenny and his wife, Felicia, at their Park Avenue apartment to raise funds for the Black Panthers.
“Several of the Panthers were there, mingling with the swells of aristocratic liberal New York, and Wolfe captured the contradictions of that evening in a tone of such scathing perception that it was as if he’d defined the concept of bourgeois political correctness, disemboweled it, and danced on its grave, all in the same moment.”
I watched Radical Wolfe with a faint hope that it might deliver several cinematic equivalents of Wolfe-ian prose highs. For a filmmaker to have managed such a feat…a kind of Adam Curtis-like re-experiencing of the Wolfe panorama…well, who knows if such a thing would be possible? But he/she would have to get really ambitious & UNCORK THE BOTTLE & REALLY GO TO TOWN in terms of creating a cinematic corollary.
Such a doc would have to be a four- or five-parter…180 or 240 minutes…and it couldn’t really be about just Wolfe’s unique literary experience, but about what he saw and felt and imagined and disapproved of and found fascinating…the whole raging sea of American life and culture from the late ‘50s, 60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s….a mad, churning, sweeping history of pre-boomer, boomer and GenX America….the whole tornado as witnessed and processed by a single gifted fellow but also all of us.
The great Tom Luddy, co-founder and artistic director of the Telluride Film Festival…a gentle hombre who always greeted and treated me like a brother and who long ago turned me on to Adam Curtis‘s The Century of the Self, a gift that I’ve never gotten over…a world-travelling cinematic sophisto who understood everything, knew everyone and always championed this or that overlooked film…Tom Luddy has died at 79.
I first dealt with Tom through my Cannon Films employment in the mid to late ’80s. Four films which Luddy produced or associate produced — Barfly, King Lear, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Manifesto and Powaqqatsi — were financed by Cannon, and I was the in-house press kit writer. (I’ve never re-written anything in my life as much as I rewrote the Barfly press kit — Barbet Schroeder made me chisel and rephrase it over and over — I couldn’t even read it after the umpteenth try, but Schroeder taught me the meaning of “truly hardcore.”) And then Tom and I rekindled when I ran into him at the San Francisco Film Festival in the early aughts. And then Telluride, of course, which I began attending in 2010.
If you were ever lucky enough to attend a Frank Sinatra concert (which I did in Long Beach back in ’83), you’d know all about Sinatra’s emotional body language as he sang a song. He would act out the lyrics and the feelings. Luddy would do almost the exact same thing when speaking to the Telluride press contingent at the start of the festival. He would lean forward and convey his heart vibes about this and that film, gently grinning and making eye contact with some of us. You could really feel the fervor. Luddy’s regard for great cinema was religious…evangelical at times.
Roddy McDowall in heaven: “Is that how one says it? As simply as that. ‘Tom Luddy is dead…the soup is hot, the soup is cold…Luddy is living, Luddy is dead.’ [beat] Boast that you were honored to speak his name even in death! The dying of such a man, must be shouted, screamed! It must echo back from the corners of the universe. ‘Luddy is dead! Tom Luddy of Telluride lives no more!”
From Telluride rep Shannon Mitchell: “It is with deep sorrow the Telluride Film Festival announces the passing of its founder and inspiration. Tom Luddy died peacefully on February 13, 2023, in Berkeley, California after a long illness.
“Tom was a force in the film industry for nearly six decades. He had a life-long love and passion for film, and a tireless dedication to film restoration, distribution, and exhibition. His presence will be profoundly missed by the many people whose lives were touched by his kindness, artistry, and his innate ability to bring people together to make something beautiful.
“’The world has lost a rare ingredient that we’ll all be searching for, for some time,’ reflects Julie Huntsinger, Telluride Film Festival Executive Director. ‘I would sometimes find myself feeling sad for those who didn’t get to know Tom Luddy properly. He had a sphinx-like quality that took a little time to get around, for some. But once you knew him, you were welcomed into a kingdom of art, history, intelligence, humor, and joie de vivre that you knew you couldn’t be without. He made life richer. Magical. He called Telluride a labor of love for a very long time. We’re so much better off because of him and that labor.
“We at the Festival owe it to him to carry on his legacy; his commitment to and love for cinema, above all.”
“But maybe they aren’t politicians any longer. They have become instead pantomine villains whose real job is to make us angry. And when we are angry, we click more. And clicks feed the ever-growing power and wealth of the corporations that run social media. We think we are expressing ourselves, but really we are just components in their system. At the moment, that system absorbs all opposition, Which is why nothing ever changes.” — from Adam Curtis‘s Hypernormalization, a 2016 BBC documentary that popped on 10.16.16 16 on the BBC iPlayer. Curtis’s basic thesis (per Wiki page) is that “since the 1970s, governments, financiers, and technological utopians have given up on the complex ‘real world’ and built a simple ‘fake world’ that is run by corporations and kept stable by politicians.”
In other words, we’re living in a much more Orwellian big-brother realm than most of us realize.
· CAROL (d. Todd Haynes, U.S., 2015)
· AMAZING GRACE (d. Sydney Pollack, U.S., 1972/2015)
· ANOMALISA (d. Charlie Kaufman, U.S., 2015)
· BEAST OF NO NATION (d. Cary Fukunaga, U.S., 2015)
· HE NAMED ME MALALA (d. Davis Guggenheim, U.S., 2015)
· STEVE JOBS (d. Danny Boyle, U.S., 2015)
· IXCANUL (d. Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala, 2015)
· BITTER LAKE (d. Adam Curtis, U.K., 2015)
· ROOM (d. Lenny Abrahamson, England, 2015)
· BLACK MASS (d. Scott Cooper, U.S., 2015)
· SUFFRAGETTE (d. Sarah Gavron, U.K., 2015)
· SPOTLIGHT (d. Tom McCarthy, U.S., 2015)
· RAMS (d. Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland, 2015)
· MOM AND ME (d. Ken Wardrop, Ireland, 2015)
· VIVA (d. Paddy Breathnach, Ireland, 2015)
· TAJ MAJAL (d. Nicolas Saada, France-India, 2015)
· SITI (d. Eddie Cahyono, Indonesia, 2015)
· HEART OF THE DOG (d. Laurie Anderson, U.S. 2014)
· 45 YEARS (d. Andrew Haigh, England, 2015)
· SON OF SAUL (d. Lázló Nemes, Hungary, 2015)
· ONLY THE DEAD (d. Michael Ware, Bill Guttentag, U.S.- Australia, 2015)
· TAXI (d. Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2015)
· HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (d. Kent Jones, U.S., 2015)
· TIME TO CHOOSE (d. Charles Ferguson, U.S., 2015)
· MARGUERITE (d. Xavier Giannoli, France, 2015)
· TIKKUN (d. Avishai Sivan, Israel, 2015)
The 2015 Silver Medallion Awards, given to recognize an artist’s significant contribution to the world of cinema, go to filmmaker Danny Boyle (TRAINSPOTTING, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) who will present his latest film, STEVE JOBS; documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis (THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES) who will present his latest work, BITTER LAKE; and actress Rooney Mara (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) who will present CAROL. Films will be shown following the on-stage interview and medallion presentation.
I did a brief chat with Citizenfour director Laura Poitras during last week’s Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival. I don’t know why I forgot to post it, but I was certainly jolted out of my lethargy yesterday when I watched Poitras, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald being interviewed by the late David Carr…less than 24 hours ago! I asked Poitras many of the same questions that everyone else has asked her. I love her film, have seen it five or six times…and so I’m lacking the instinct to do anything but caress and approve. One thing that I hit on (and which Poitras wasn’t interested in…fine) is that it would be great if someone like herself could deliver a strong, American-made doc in the vein of Adam Curtis‘s The Power of Nightmares (’04), which introduced an idea that the anti-western Islamic terrorists and the rightie hardliners are almost identical in their purist fervor, and are pretty much cut from the same philosophical cloth. Which was more or less replicated in that “American Taliban” rant that Aaron Sorkin wrote for The Newsroom, and which aired two years ago. Again, the mp3.
Citizenfour director Laura Poitras inside the Hotel Santa Barbara during last week’s Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival.
On 8.26.12 I ran a piece about The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) calling the Tea Party “the American Taliban” — an assertion that is 110% correct. But let’s remember also that British documentarian Adam Curtis pretty much owns this analogy, having presented a version of it in his 2004 documentary The Power of Nightmares.
The Tea Party and the Taliban share the following traits and/or beliefs: (a) ideological purity; (b) a pathological hatred of the U.S. government; (c) a regarding of education as a problem and in some cases a dark force as it tends to undermine the teachings of the Lord/Allah; (d) a need to control women and their bodies; (e) a fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism; (f) a denial of science, unmoved by facts, undeterred by new information, a hostile fear of progress; (g) a regarding of compromise as weakness; (h) a tribal mentality; (i) severe xenophobia; and (j) intolerance of dissent.
- All Hail Tom White, Taciturn Hero of “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Roughly two months ago a very early draft of Eric Roth‘s screenplay for Killers of the Flower Moon (dated 2.20.17,...More »