A historian with a twist, Adam Curtis has worked primarily for the BBC creating engaging Bafta winning documentaries; but this isn’t your average documentary film maker, his works are usually counter trend, searching the psychological depths of society, unlocking the truths hidden across modern political history and exploring his major theme of “power and how it works in society.”
In 2002 Adam Curtis created a documentary titled ‘Century of the Self’ and it soon became a cult classic. The documentary focused around the work of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud and Freud’s propagandist Nephew, Edward Bernay’s. The series elegantly explores how those in power around the early 1900’s utilise Freud’s behavioural theories in attempt to control the ‘dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy’. The Show primarily focuses on how Edward Bernay’s became the first man to apply these psychological methods within public relations in the 1920’s. The Century of the Self expands on its deep rooted questions anchored to commodification, consumerism and their implications in society. As well as this Curtis uses the documentary as a vehicle to explore the modern way that people view themselves by systematically dissecting and discussing the relationship between the self, the product and the advert. The ground breaking documentary continues by examining how the business and political worlds capitalised on these psychological techniques and exploited on their ability to read, create and fulfil the desires of the public. Throughout the documentary Curtis consistently raises the concern of the intention of the corporations and elite powers that initiated and began to utilise these psychological findings in this relatively new level of engagement with the public. Before this point advertisement, speeches, slogans all relied on connecting with the audience rationality, consciously by connecting with the peoples needs as a group collective; but there was a turn with Edward Bernay’s that changed the focus onto the subconscious mind. In place of rationality these same corporations and elite powers began to appeal to the primitive emotional impulses of the individual consumer, focusing majorly on the self-interest of the consumer society. Through this the corporations had a new powerful type of influence over the individual minds of the masses.
Another notable documentary by Adam Curtis created is the 2015 film, Bitter Lake. In this documentary Curtis argues that Westernised politics have portrayed an over simplified narrative of the militant Islam to the public; the documentary focuses on the USA alliance with Saudi Arabia over the cold war and their agreement to trade oil. In turn USA allowed Saudi Arabia to capitalise on the increased wealth from the oil as well as gaining security and the permission to continue its violent interpretation of Islam; this in turn lead to large uprising of groups of individuals that have caused a great disturbance and horrific crimes against humanity including the rise of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state.
Curtis has created a vast array of important documentaries that should be a must watch for the everyday citizen to get a firmer understanding of the modern world we live in and the way that the relationship between the large scale corporations, the governing bodies and the consumer masses is regulated and kept in place. Curtis aims to educate where there is a void in the general education regime and this is an important factor in a day of mass deception, societal distraction and entire countries that find themselves deep in the sway of adverts that speak directly to their raw innate instincts. Curtis reminds us the importance of learning about the modern world and how it is run. Through such an understanding we can take lead of our lives, this is especially poignant in a modern society in which we see the masses gaining their deep set ideologies, political views and daily activities dictated by forces they are yet to understand.