‘While the band played on’

Adam Curtis, Like Lars Von Trier, is a manipulator of emotions. I mean this as a profund compliment. Being a scholar of people’s minds, I find Curtis takes account of the viewers, showing us our own complicitness in whatever topic he is exposing. I went to see Luke Fowler‘s film on R.D. Laing, All Divided Selves, on Wednesday. I loved it, especially what he called his methodology: his academic approach to archival footage coupled with snippets of what is closest to him, his family, to achieve a work that does not position itself, that is questioning of a figure and an approach.

Fowler’s work made me think of Curtis, and the relation to archival footage, the meaning of what we keep as history and memory. Curtis is heavily positioned in his work. He knows this, explores it and exploits it. And here, I am not aligning myself with camps Fowler or Curtis in relation to the material. I am just trying to think through my own position in relation to power, to the formation of my own knowledge and emotion when I see these works.

In a sense, I am asking someone (it may fall onto me, of course) to organise a round table with both of them to work through the questions Curtis raises in his latest blog post. Watch the videos, they are a perfect example of a methodological approach through images, as is Fowler’s work.

For the last year or so I have been collecting all sorts of footage of people dancing that I found in the BBC archives. In all I gathered over two thousand shots culled from all kinds of programmes. I then cut some of them together to music by the wonderful 70s German band Neu.

I think it gives a sense that we are all together in the dance.

I then took exactly the same sequence of images – I haven’t altered even a frame – and put them to a montage of some very different music. There are all sorts of songs and pieces in there – but it owes a great deal to the great romantic musical genius of our age – Burial.

I think that this other version leads you to look at the people dancing in a very different way. The feeling it evokes is how separate we are – and how isolated we sometimes are from one another.