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How Adam Curtis gets into your head

The filmmaker talks about tyranny, the limitations of progressive politics, and myth of England

By Arron Merat   April 2021

Adam Curtis documentaries are as much about creating moods as telling stories. He has spent his career forging grand narratives about the way the world works by assembling rare film footage and setting it to pop and dance soundtracks—all with his own distinctive clipped, deadpan voiceover. It’s become something of a brand, and turned him from a cult documentary-maker into a cultural phenomenon. His films betray years of digging through the BBC archives. He has an eye for emotionally compelling footage: a wild bird befriending a soldier; a teenage black girl’s call for violence; crazed Afghan hounds juxtaposed with the state visit to London of the last Afghan king.

While his films have covered a wide territory—the British establishment, the war on terror, political propaganda—they are animated by a concern for human freedom, and what Curtis sees as the “pessimistic managerialism” curtailing it.

Curtis is unique among…

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