Adam Curtis  

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"But this did not matter because Curtis spoke with such an impeccable, authoritative BBC manner that the audience took even gross generalisations and unsupported value judgements to be the absolute truth." -"The Loving Trap"

"You can trace back everything I do to that novel because it's all about grand history, individual experience, their relationship. And also collages, quotes from newsreels, cinema, newspapers. And it's about collage of history as well. That's where I get it all from." --Adam Curtis (in Film Comment, 17 July 2012) cites the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos as the greatest influence on his work.

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Kevin Adam Curtis (born 26 May 1955) is an English documentary film-maker. Curtis describes his work as journalism that happens to be expounded via the medium of film. Curtis says that his favourite theme is "power and how it works in society", and his works explore areas of sociology, psychology, philosophy and political history, using archive footage in a juxtapositional collage manner. He has been closely associated with the BBC throughout his career.

He is known for such documentaries as The Trap,The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares and HyperNormalisation.

While his work has generally met with critical acclaim (his films have won four BAFTAs, critics have called him a conspiracy theorist[1] and Ben Woodhams described Bitter Lake in the spoof "The Loving Trap" as the "televisual equivalent of a drunken late night Wikipedia binge with pretension for narrative coherence".

In 2021, Can't Get You Out of My Head was released.



Early career

Curtis applied to the BBC and was hired to make a film for one of its training courses, comparing designer clothes in music videos to the design of weapons. He was subsequently given a post on That's Life!, a magazine series that juxtaposed hard-hitting investigations and light-hearted content. He was a film director on Out of Court, a BBC Two legal series, from 1980 until 1982.


Curtis is inspired by Max Weber, a liberal sociologist from Germany who challenged the "crude, left-wing, vulgar Marxism that says that everything happens because of economic forces within society". Of his general political outlook, Curtis has also remarked:

'People often accuse me of being a lefty. That's complete rubbish. If you look at The Century of the Self, what I'm arguing is something very close to a neoconservative position because I'm saying that, with the rise of individualism, you tend to get the corrosion of the other idea of social bonds and communal networks, because everyone is on their own. Well, that's what the neoconservatives argue, domestically. [...] If you ask me what my politics are, I'm very much a creature of my time. I don't really have any. I change my mind over different issues, but I am much more fond of a libertarian view. I have a more libertarian tendency [...] What's astonishing in our time is how the Left here has completely failed to come up with any alternatives, and I think you may well see a lefty libertarianism emerging because people will be much more sympathetic to it, or just a libertarianism, and out of that will come ideas. And I don't mean "localism".'

He believes the Western world is haunted by the past, with no vision for the future, and that it has become pessimistic and backward-looking.


Curtis cites the USA Trilogy, a series of three novels by John Dos Passos that he first read when he was thirteen, as the greatest influence on his work:

"You can trace back everything I do to that novel because it's all about grand history, individual experience, their relationship. And also collages, quotes from newsreels, cinema, newspapers. And it's about collage of history as well. That's where I get it all from."

Other creative influences are Robert Rauschenberg and Émile Zola. Curtis makes extensive use of archive footage in his documentaries. He has acknowledged the influence of recordings made by Erik Durschmied and is "constantly using his stuff in my films".

Instead of specially composed music because it "creates a sort of monoculture", he uses tracks from a variety of genres, decades, and countries, as well as sound effects that he discovers on old tapes.

According to a profile of Curtis by Tim Adams, published in The Observer: "If there has been a theme in Curtis's work … it has been to look at how different elites have tried to impose an ideology on their times, and the tragicomic consequences of those attempts".

In 2005, Curtis received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. In 2006, he was given the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television at the British Academy Television Awards. In 2009, the Sheffield International Documentary Festival gave Curtis the Inspiration Award for inspiring viewers and other documentary filmmakers. In 2015, he was awarded the True Vision Award by the True/False Film Fest.


Curtis administers a blog subtitled 'The Medium and the Message' hosted by the BBC. He has tentative plans to expand the project.


Year Title Subject Parts Channel/Venue Awards
1983 Just Another Day: Selfridges Behind the scenes at Selfridges, a department store on Oxford Street, London. BBC Two, 29 March 1983
1983 Just Another Day: The Seaside A typical day in Walton-on-the-Naze. BBC Two, 19 April 1983
1983 Trumpets and Typewriters: A History of War Reporting The history of war correspondents. BBC One, 19 July 1983|
1984 Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster. The system-built housing of the 1960s. Narrated by David Jones., Prefabs in the United Kingdom BBC Two, 4 September 1984
1984 Italians: The Mayor of Montemilone The politics of a small Italian town and its communist mayor, Dino Labriola. BBC One, 26 October 1984
1984 The Cost of Treachery The Albanian Subversion, in which the CIA and MI6 attempted to overthrow the Albanian government and to weaken the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in 1949, and the role of double agent Kim Philby. BBC One, 30 October 1984
1987 40 Minutes: Bombay Hotel The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, contrasted with the poverty of the city's slums. BBC Two, 30 April 1987
1988 An Ocean Apart The process by which the United States became involved in the First World War. 7
1989 40 Minutes: The Kingdom of Fun Documentary about the Metro Centre in Gateshead, developed by entrepreneur John Hall. It compares Hall's plans to regenerate North East England with those of Labour politician T. Dan Smith. BBC Two, 19 January 1989
1989 Inside Story: The Road to Terror How the Iranian Revolution turned from idealism to terror, drawing parallels with the French Revolution two hundred years earlier. BBC One, 14 June 1989
1992 Pandora's Box The dangers of technocratic and political rationality. 6 BBC Two, 11 June 1992 Originality and Best Factual Series, BAFTA Awards 1993
1995 The Living Dead The different ways that history and memory (both national and individual) have been used and manipulated by politicians and others. 3 BBC Two, 30 May 1995
1996 Inside Story Special: £830,000,000 - Nick Leeson and the Fall of the House of Barings Nick Leeson and the collapse of Barings Bank. BBC One, 12 June 1996
1997 Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh The story, dating back to the 1950s, of the search for a cure to cancer, and the impact of Henrietta Lacks, the "woman who will never die" because her cells never stopped reproducing. BBC Two, 19 March 1997
1999 The Mayfair Set Looks at the birth of the global arms trade, the invention of asset stripping, and how buccaneer capitalists shaped the Thatcher years, focusing on the rise of Colonel David Stirling, Jim Slater, Sir James Goldsmith and Tiny Rowland—members of the elite Clermont Club in the 1960s. 4 BBC Two, 18 July 1999
2002 The Century of the Self How Freud's theories on the unconscious led to the development of public relations by his nephew Edward Bernays; the use of desire over need; and self-actualisation as a means of achieving economic growth and the political control of populations. 4 BBC Two, 17 March 2002; art-house cinemas in the US Best Documentary Series, Broadcast Awards; Historical Film of the Year, Longman-History Today Awards; Nominated for Best Documentary Series, Royal Television Society
2004 The Power of Nightmares Suggests a parallel between the rise of Islamism in the Arab world and neoconservatism in the United States, and their mutual need, argues Curtis, to create the myth of a dangerous enemy to gain support. 3 BBC Two, 20 October 2004 Best Factual Series or Strand, BAFTA Awards 2005
2007 The Trap: What Happened to our Dream of Freedom Explores the modern concept of freedom, specifically, "how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom". 3 BBC Two, 7 March 2007
2007 The Rise and Fall of the TV Journalist Short film chronicling the transformation of mainstream media and the balance of political power in the last few decades by looking at how the role of the broadcast journalist has changed since the 1950s. Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, third episode of the fourth series
2009 Oh Dearism Short film about how mainstream media simplify complex events and present them as "scattered terrible things happening everywhere, Oh Dear", leaving the public feeling powerless to do anything about them. Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, third episode of the first series
2009 It Felt Like a Kiss Collaboration with theatre company Punchdrunk and Damon Albarn. Manchester International Festival
2010 Paranoia and Moral Panics Short film using the paranoia of Richard Nixon to explore how a similar outlook on life has been propagated on a larger social scale in the new media age and the resulting moral panics and immobilisation of politics. Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, fourth episode of the second series
2011 All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace Argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity, and instead have "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us". The title is taken from a 1967 poem of the same name by Richard Brautigan. 3 BBC Two, 23 May 2011
2011 Every Day is Like Sunday The rise and fall of press baron Cecil King, and the changing relationship between the public, politics and the media. His personal blog. (This is not an officially released documentary but "a rough cut".)
2013 Everything is Going According to Plan (Massive Attack v Adam Curtis) Collaboration with Massive Attack. Based on technocrats and global corporations establishing an ultraconservative norm, with the internet providing a "fake, enchanting world, which has become a kind of prison". Manchester International Festival
2014 Oh Dearism II Short film examining the global events of 2014 to reveal a chaotic morass, the reporting of which is increasingly difficult to comprehend in the context of the 24-hour news cycle and the internet. Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe, 30 December 2014
2015 Bitter Lake How Western leaders' simplistic "good" vs. "evil" narrative has failed in the complex post-war era, and how many Islamic terrorist groups have their origins in the US's long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia. BBC iPlayer, 25 January 2015
2016 Living in an Unreal World Short film for VICE Media about the illusion of stability, freedom, and prosperity in the West, comparing it to life in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. Facebook, 15 October 2016
2016 HyperNormalisation "How we got to this strange time of great uncertainty and confusion where those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed and have no idea what to do". BBC iPlayer, 16 October 2016

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Adam Curtis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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