Adam Curtis (the British documentary filmmaker that brought us /The Century of the Self/ and /The Power of Nightmares/) has a new film that just aired its third of three segments last Sunday night. It is a very provocative text, strining together many arguments about, as is his usual method, the way ideas are used by people in power or in resistance to that power.
This is, I think, his boldest undertaking yet, trying to string together, in the first episode, the ideas of John Nash in game theory and James Buchananan on Public Choice to those of Isaiah Berlin and the US Neo-Conservatives like Fukuyama with ideas of negative liberty in the third episode--all posed in opposition to the concepts fo freedom (and revolutionary violence) posed by Fanon and Sartre which are then adopted by one of the architects of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and then other Shia revolutionaries afterwards. It is a sweeping attempt at addressing the role of ideas in world history, even if it is a bit prone to ideologism at times, and I'm sure he has pressed some events too much to fit his hypothesis, but this is hard not to do when you're trying to compress fifty years of history, theory and world politics into three hours. Definitly a case where the medium determines to some extent how complex the message can be, but it is a useful alternative to most documentaries like this which show, inevitably, the best side winning in the end (I think here of the PBS documentary /The Commanding Heights/ which takes a similar swath of time.)
I also see that, though there are things he is working out in a synchronicity between the three documentaries, there are many moments when he could be seen to be contradicting himself. But as interested as I am in
the text, I'm also interested in how it is playing in Britain, which, so far as I know, is the only place it's been officially released thus far. I know on the web, Curtis has quite a following around the world, and his films have been exchanged vigorously via vorrents and now, as seen below (at least for the time being) via Google video and you tube. But his popularity seems a bit more muted in his home country.
Anyway, I think people on these lists would enjoy the films and I'd be interested to hear what people think about his assertions. I have been trying to work out the origins of these ideas of negative vs. positive freedom in writing on my dissertation so his argument was particularly interesting for me. For those in the Cult Studs list, I'll note that I was pleasantly surprised to see an interview with Stuart Hall in the last episode explaining the ideas of Fanon (or a 30 second snippet of him doing so.)
It so happens that I'm currently reading Jessop, et. al. critique of Hall et. al.'s thesis of "Authoritarian Populism" from /Policing the Crisis/ and I'd say Curtis, while stimulating, has very little alternative explanation for what drives events other than a sort of ideologism and a will to power; there is no sense of an alternative version of human nature except as a different political project and it seems that whatever the leaders say or think simply trickles down into the population and also defines their world view (though the destruction of social institutions many of these theories
are founded on seems to make it a little less hierarchical: even if people don't believe that they should be free in this way, when the government is quickly dismantled, that's the reality they live with.) I'm still working a lot of this out. I will say that, if nothing else, it is an entertaining set of films, in particular when he counterposes the Bush and Blair govenments with images of the Jacobins. It is hardly an apt comparison but I know of many people who would be more than slightly upset by this.
See what you think (all links are to streaming video, but the MVG group should have torrents on mininova or TPB if you do a search. I think their rip of part two has a progressive audio glitch but it seems only to bother purists):
Part one: Aired 3/11/07
Part Two: aired 3/18/07
or Here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7849982478877371384
Part three: aired 3/25/07 (for some reason this one doesn't have as neat a packaging)
Here (broken into six segments)
2- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJfRngggTBI (with Stuart Hall interview a
few minutes in)
And here (Broken into 3)
I'll also give this interview by the UK website "Blairwatch" w/ Curtis, which also includes links to the author's synopsis of the first two episodes.
and these two critiques of the film which were recommended by Isaiah Berlin's estate via their website http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/
And of course there is always the wikipedia entry on the series: