The best movie you could watch right now is the one you haven’t heard of.
by Michael Bergeron
Adam Curtis ranks as one of the best current documentary filmmakers, a short list that would include Alex Gibney, Barbara Kopple and Frederick Wiseman.
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” the latest work from Curtis, is readily available on Youtube as well as BBC iPlayer, the latter of which is a BBC platform with streaming capability showcasing existing Beeb programing and original content.
At over eight hours leisurely paced over six episodes Curtis looks at “An Emotional History of the Modern World.”
Those familiar with Curtis will instantly recognize his signature use of found footage and historical evocation laced with particularly apt musical accompaniment and editorial comment.
According to Curtis the rise of individualism has brought an increase in common anxiety. Even as new systems replace the old systems events retain the old normality. Curtis takes this dictum to a symbolic level in his use of music.
An example that stays in your head includes a cover version of The Smith’s “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out,” as performed by Schneider TM that reinvents the song as “The Light 3000.” Or, This Mortal Coil’s cover of the Rodney Crowell song “‘Til I Gain Control Again.”
Curtis builds up to a moment by introducing visual elements in different episodes over the 472-minute running time. So animal behavior experiments where we see a duck in an early episode pay off in the last episode where Curtis ruminates on the spy capability of the household appliance Roomba while playing footage of a duck chasing a cat wearing a shark outfit sitting on said Roomba to the accompaniment of Skeeter Davis warbling “End of the World.”
But that’s what’s on the surface of the barrage of archetypal images. It’s the layers of conspiracy used to control societal thought and investigation into patterns that Curtis wants to remain after the eye candy has worn off.
Different episodes introduce people as diverse as Michael X, Jiang Qing and Afeni Shakur (Tupac’s mother) and the situations that make their tales similar.
Opium used to enslave the Chinese in the 19th century British Opium Wars has become today’s OxyContin used to soothe the modern day concerns of the individualist conflicted with feelings about the future.
Cancel culture has always existed here exemplified by post-Vietnam War leftists turning against pacifist Joan Baez for supporting Boat People fleeing the new regime.
Conspiracy theories are part of the algorithm that keeps the people easily occupied and thus suppressed, with the most popular being the Illuminati.
Another figure in Curtis’ litany of influential behind-the-scenesters is Kerry Thornley, who knew Lee Oswald in the Marines and was using him as the model for the lead character of a novel. Later when Oswald was accused of shooting the President Thornley saw parallels in conspiracy and Jim Garrison’s subsequent investigation into the assassination.
Additionally, Thornley (and Robert Anton Wilson) conspired to contribute to the Illuminati mystique by creating false narratives that they published in alternative publications of the late-60s.
Curtis brings the series to the doorstep and up to date by covering Trump and Brexit in the last episode.