‘While the band played on’

23 November 2012 | , , ,

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.

3 thoughts on “‘While the band played on’

  1. I think that a brilliant idea to bring Curtis and Fowler together. In the meantime take a look at this this conversation between Adam Curtis and Hans Ulrich Obrist brought together by eFlux people.
    You can get a good idea where Curtis is coming from. He did a PhD in politics at Oxford and also taught there:

    “To get a PhD, you have to find something that no one else has done, possess it, and then build a ring fence of quotations and references around it to protect it. In the 1980s, the academic world was facing uncertainty and because of that becoming increasingly cynical and corrupted. So I decided to leave, but without knowing what to do next. […] And I ended up making films about talking dogs. So there wasn’t a moment of epiphany, but it was more like a strange drug-induced experience of lurching from one extreme to another, from teaching politics at Oxford and getting bored to making films about talking dogs and dogs that could sing. But I loved it, I just thought it was simply wonderful.”

    So now i am really curious, i must admit.

  2. What an interesting guy, Michael. I really enjoyed hearing him talk at the Boring Conference last year, as I enjoyed Luke this Wednesday. Two fascinating moving image people. Lets get them together, Michael, me and you!

    PS: That interview is amazing. I got it as an epub from you!

  3. Oh, yes, i remember you saying so. I had a long discussion w a friend of mine about an issue he mentions in the eflux publication. Which i consider a really serious one.
    In a nutshell: Curtis says that today things have become so complex that it is next to impossible to understand enough in order to tell a coherent story. That means his methods are experiencing a breakdown and have become outdated. That is quite a disaster. As i understand it he appears to blame ‘them’ (politics, banks, etc.) for deliberately obfuscating what they are doing. My friend says that this was a sign of the times and that he simply should adopt new methods of storytelling. We have to discuss this another time.

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