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It Felt Like A Kiss (#110 of 2)

Like Half-Forgotten Dreams: Adam Curtis and the Fragments of History

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Like Half-Forgotten Dreams: Adam Curtis and the Fragments of History
Like Half-Forgotten Dreams: Adam Curtis and the Fragments of History

What do Fidel Castro, Sigmund Freud and Rock Hudson have in common? Aside from their well-known beards, they’re all part of the interconnected fragments of history in the documentaries of Adam Curtis.

Curtis’s work is recognizable from the first frame: the titles in bold Helvetica or sometimes Arial, a stream of chopped-up news clips, found footage and promotional films, and Curtis’s measured narrator’s voice, sounding so much like a professor explaining with infinite patience things which are quite obvious to him. His programs, almost all produced for the BBC, are historical and political critiques with provocative theses. The Power of Nightmares states that both American neoconservatism and Islamic extremism owe their rise to the failures of utopian liberalism, while The Century of the Self argues that Freud’s legacy underpins modern consumerism and undermines modern democracy.

If the most visible American documentary ethos lies somewhere between the sober reverence of Ken Burns and the shiny agitprop of Michael Moore, Adam Curtis’s work, in contrast, feels fundamentally British: heavily analytical and laced with cynicism about those in power, no matter what government or ideology. It’s difficult to find popular analogues to his work; the closest might be politically conscious exposés like The Corporation or the films of Robert Greenwald. But those films are constructed as a form of activism; they want to reveal injustice in the world in an effort to fight it, and those narratives have genuine villains to lay blame upon.

True/False Film Fest 2010: Restrepo, Familia, and It Felt Like a Kiss

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True/False Film Fest 2010: <em>Restrepo</em>, <em>Familia</em>, and <em>It Felt Like a Kiss</em>
True/False Film Fest 2010: <em>Restrepo</em>, <em>Familia</em>, and <em>It Felt Like a Kiss</em>

[Click here to read the second dispatch.]

“Thanks to our incredible volunteers, who are getting drunker as the day goes on but still doing an incredible job.” That intro—I forget for which film—was right on both parts: the 600 strong volunteers of True/False surely make a lot of things possible, even if they were all drinking (one of the big venues has a full bar) to while away the tedium of passing out queue tickets. (Special points for inventiveness to the man who stayed in character as Captain Jack Sparrow. He had the swaying walk down and everything.)

But, arguably, the main thing that makes True/False so unspeakably awesome is that they do not care about premieres. At all. Without a doubt, the premiere culture is one of the worst aspects of any festival that can’t get any good ones but still wants their red carpet moment. It’s always some kind of damn mediocre ensemble drama starring Glenn Close or someone, and it always fades into oblivion, and it’s pernicious.

The True/False guys—by which I mean festival heads David Wilson and Paul Sturtz—clearly don’t care about any of this, which is fantastic. (What’s even better is that the Secret Screenings—an idiocy necessary to preserve the “premiere status” of terrific films—are really, really good. The one I saw has the potential to be one of the Films Of The Year. I hope more people pay attention when it’s officially “premiered” or whatever. You get the feeling even if they had premiere status, they wouldn’t abuse it.) What they’ve constructed is a micro-festival that offers a strong personal voice and an argument (roughly, form matters just as much as the polemic, and your righteousness alone will not save you). This is a micro-fest done right.

OK. Let’s wrap up these films.