What Adam Curtis does brilliantly: find stunning archive footage, link it with provocative music, and combine both with subversive ways of thinking. His series about the rise of neoconservatism, 'The Power of Nighmares', is one of the best documentary series I've seen. 'All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace' is just as entertaining and thought-provoking; but a little more tendentious. Curtis wants to associate the growing role of computers in our society with a post-Christian, post-socialist morality that could be seen either as idealism or as a philosophy of despair. On the way, he tells fascinating stories, about Ann Rynd, ecologists, and civil war. In general, the tales are well told and the points Curtis makes pertinent; but the overall narrative is a little stretched. In particular, the role of certain individuals is perhaps overplayed. For example, Richard Braughtigan, who supplied the phrase used in the program's title, was a depressive, drunken comic writer, not someone widely known as an influential prophet. And the idea that Bill Clinton was a statist until his ideas were hijacked by Alan Greenspan, and that the Clinton era represents a lost chance in which humanity (or at least America) could have decided to do things differently, is frankly absurd. But watch the footage of Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, to the accompaniment of Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne', and it's impossible not to believe that Curtis is a genius. And as someone willing to challenge the dominant narrative frameworks of our age, an important one at that.
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