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Adam Curtis Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (2)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Personal Quotes (11)

Overview (2)

Born in Dartford, Kent, England, UK
Birth NameKevin Adam Curtis

Mini Bio (1)

Adam Curtis was born on May 26, 1955 in Dartford, Kent, England as Kevin Adam Curtis. He is a director and producer, known for The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004), Pandora's Box (1992) and HyperNormalisation (2016).

Personal Quotes (11)

[on ideas and consequences] Well, a lot of people go on about how I'm a leftist, but I'm not really, because I believe that ideas have consequences. And why I like people like Weber [German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920)] is because they are challenging what I see as that crude left-wing vulgar Marxism that says that everything happens because of economic forces within society, that we are just surfing, our ideas are just expressions-froth on the deep currents of history, which is really driven by economics. I've never believed that. Of course, economic forces have a great effect on us. But actually, people's ideas have enormous consequences. And to be honest, if you had to reduce what I do, I spend my whole time just looking at how ideas have consequences, not necessarily what the promoters of them intended, because I think that's a really big thing in our time. I came into writing and describing and filming the world at the very moment that those old left-wing certainties were beginning to collapse, certainties that said somehow progress and modernity were on a inevitable path towards a particular destination in history. But it was also equally obvious to me the right-wing reaction-where you just bring a market force in to create a form of stability that goes nowhere-was equally not going to work. And I became interested in examining how ideas have led us to this position in ways that those who had the ideas didn't really intend. People like Weber who were, in a sense, conservative sociologists of the late nineteenth century were looking at the consequences of rationality. At how scientific ideas were used by those in power in modern society-and what the consequences then were. I think this is still incredibly important to look at today. And above all Weber's writings about bureaucracy. One of things I'm fascinated by at the moment is the rise of managerial theory. It works in absurd, comic ways. It leads to the police being told that they have a certain quota of criminals they have to catch, so if they can't catch them, they go and make them up. These are very comic, silly things that I would have done on a program like That's Life!, but they're also expressions of something that Weber wrote about back in nineteenth century which he called the "iron cage," about how rationality, when applied to social situations to try and control and manage societies, would often lead to absurd outcomes. Now, my brain can encompass both those things, the sort of silly "talking dogs" ideas of what bureaucracy leads to, but also intellectual theories about it. And I think the connections between them are very, very interesting. That's what inspires me. [2012]
[on 'false' ideas and reality] You get trapped by this. Trapped by a false idea. That's what I was trying to describe in The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004). Once you get trapped by your imagination, you think the worst and therefore you have to plan for the worst. It becomes a self-fulfilling thing. [2005]
[on German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920)] The person I love best in the whole world is a sociologist from the late 19th century named Max Weber who believed that ideas have consequences. People have experiences out of which they form ideas. And those ideas have an effect on the world. [Curtis referring to The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004)] It is true that a man listening to music back in 1949 had an experience that became one of the rivulets that ran into his formation of an idea. And that idea, in a very strange way, led people to do destroy the World Trade Center. Now, of course, that's the construction and maybe people prefer to believe that history is much more complicated. Which, of course, it is. But the construction has a truth to it. It shows dramatically how particular experiences form particular ideas with particular consequences. Even though it doesn't actually ever work out the way the person who had the idea intended. It's perverse, but it's also a way of dramatizing to people how ideas work, how history works - in a different way from all those boring history programs on American television that try to explain the world to you. [2005]
[on society and individualism] Exactly - the moods move through society. It's something we're often unaware of these days because we're so obsessed by our own experience, that the mood we feel is probably common to a lot of other people at this point in time. I would refer to sociologists like Durkheim [Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)], who, back in the late nineteenth century, told us something that we forget these days, which is that we're actually very similar to each other. And a lot of what we think comes from inside of us actually comes from outside. [2012]
[on history] History is a series of unintended consequences resulting from confused actions, some of which are committed by people who may think they're taking part in a conspiracy, but it never works out the way they intended. [2005]
[his advice to young filmmakers, journalists and artists] You mean, how can you create something that's genuinely different? You look for the story that grabs your imagination and that feels different from anything else. That's all. There's nothing else. Then you've seen the future. You can try and copy what you're supposed to do, which you should do, to begin with. But after that, everything is about making sense of the fragments. That's how you see the future. [2012]
[on his work and aesthetics] It is at heart journalism about power in the modern world-using film. But mood-wise I do try and take factual stuff and make it feel like a novel. It doesn't mean it's fiction. The facts are true, and I then erect an argument on top of that, but I always want it to have the feel you get from reading a novel, that draws you in emotionally. Some people say that the way I edit, it's hypnotic, and you create mood. It's like you would in a novel. [2012]
[on entertainment and integrity] I have this theory that you can take very complicated ideas, which are at the root of our present world, simplify them, make them entertaining and funny, yet still keep the essence of what they're saying. That's the fundamental thing I believe in. And I loathe the opposite view that you can't do this without being complicated and obscure and talking as though to only a small, elite group. So I would read someone like Max Weber [German sociologist (1864-1920)] and think to myself, well, actually, that's similar to a funny story I found last week about targets and hospitals. I can put the two together. [2012]
[on history as a construction] I'm very suspicious of this idea of a balanced version of history. All history is a construction - often by the powerful. What I do is construct an imaginative interpretation of history to make people look again at what they think they know. I like to ask people, "Have you thought of this?" Like zooming up in a helicopter and looking at the ground, looking at the world in a new way. Because I think that so much of this interpretation of events is a deadening repetition agreed upon by certain people, a sort of collectivity of news reports. And often it's completely wrong. But somehow, they all agree on it. People criticized my film by saying things like, "Why aren't you balanced? What aren't you putting in the other views?" And my response was, "What if the other view is wrong?" That's the real problem of the balanced view - what's called 'perceived wisdom.' What if perceived wisdom's wrong? What if - when you go and look at the evidence for sleeper cells in America - there doesn't appear to be anything there? You know, that's the difficult area. And so it becomes up to you to judge whether to go against perceived wisdom or not. [2005]
[on popular culture and Alan Moore] I think he's a genius. Because he is obviously driven by this idea that you could do really complicated things, both in narrative and in what you're saying, yet do them in a really entertaining pop way. I would never compare myself to him because he is a sort of god, but I mean it's what I try and do-pop stuff, right? I do jokes. I use silly music. I have dancing animals, anything. But I try not to compromise in what I'm saying. I don't simplify it. I mean, I simplify it, but I don't degrade it. [2012]
[on literary and cinematic inspirations] All my heroes come from literature, not from film. My literary hero is John Dos Passos. Visually, I have heroes, people with really good eyes-like Erik Durschmied, who was a BBC cameraman who worked mainly in the 1960s and '70s. (...) I've never met him and don't know very much about him. But he had the most beautiful eye ever. There was a fashion in television in the 1980s, where everyone would use this completely flat composition. The high point of it was in those films like The Draughtsman's Contract (1982). I hated it. It was like graphic design, completely framed, composed, and controlling. What Erik Durschmied did was the opposite - with his eye you could have a shape in the corner at an angle, and it would be completely dynamic and odd, just capturing the moment as you experience it without trying to control it. Visually, he's my hero. I stumbled upon him by complete accident. There's a film in the BBC archives called "America: Democracy on Trial". It's a fascinating film. It was produced in 1968 by a man called James Mossman, who is another of my heroes-he was a current affairs reporter who'd been fired for confronting the Prime Minister live on television in 1968, and went off and made this documentary. It's shot by Erik Durschmied with no commentary - it's just about life in San Francisco at a time when America was beginning to tear itself apart. It's not agitprop - just a beautifully made film about how the confusions about power are flowing through ordinary people's lives. Visually, it beats the hell out of a lot of the self-conscious vérité approaches documentary filmmakers were using at the time. You can see this kind of eye reemerging in the 70s with people like Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He understood it. It's an ability to compose a moment through how something is experienced and translate it into cinema. [2012]

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