Adam Curtis's Bitter Lake.
January 26, 2015 12:52 AM   Subscribe

Bitter Lake "is a new, adventurous and epic film by Adam Curtis that explains why the big stories that politicians tell us have become so simplified that we can’t really see the world any longer." [available on the UK BBC iplayer for a month] [trailer with Curtis's preview]
posted by feelinglistless (19 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be watching this tonight and I'm really looking forward to it.

I've immense respect for him and I love his blog but I do sometimes get the urge to sit down and fact check the hell out of everything. His method of setting out a grand narrative often feels like an overt simplification of events. Funnily enough, that's the thing that he most often criticises about politicians. There's also a great micturation-extraction out there on the Youtubes.

He's had some great interviews in the Grauniad and the New Statesman in the run up to the release of this where he's revealed a little more about his method.
posted by longbaugh at 2:03 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

There appears to be a mirror of it on youtube at the moment.
posted by Catblack at 2:43 AM on January 26, 2015

Can't wait to watch this. See also Jon Ronson's interview with Curtis at Vice.
posted by rory at 3:04 AM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

His method of setting out a grand narrative often feels like an overt simplification of events.

Sure, but... every method of setting out a grand narrative is an overt simplification.

I enjoy the micturation-extraction video too, but it doesn't diminish my admiration for Curtis's work one bit (I went through a period of watching it all, right down to the Henrietta Lacks one. It stands up to binge-watching, even with his eminently parody-able style).
posted by rory at 3:15 AM on January 26, 2015

Love that Vice interview - I didn't realise Ronson and Curtis were friends and I'd not seen that previously so thank you.

I think my main concern is that Adam Curtis's documentaries appeal to me so very much that I end up having to run my "mental anti-virus" to make sure that they are actually factual. It always sounds absolutely 100% plausible but I'm aware that the way he delivers his narrative is designed to have that effect. I love his technique and I've been watching his stuff for a long while now but I am just wary about swallowing stories wholesale, particularly where they agree with my existing prejudices.
posted by longbaugh at 3:57 AM on January 26, 2015 [14 favorites]

A good line of critical thinking, longbaugh; I can't fault you for it.
posted by rory at 5:53 AM on January 26, 2015

The only simple truth I know is "whatever it is, it's not that simple", and I do have to remind myself that the all the things I 'know' about humanity and human nature are never true for everybody. We need something like Adam Curtis's "Bitter Lake" at frequent intervals (well, at least I do) for that reminder.

file under: Monday Morning Wakeup Call
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:27 AM on January 26, 2015

I watched it. I wouldn't think that anyone who's taken an interest in what's happened in Afghanistan and the history of the relationship of the West with Saudi Arabia will find much that's surprising or controversial; it's broad-brush work and any analysis stops about one level down. If there is a conclusion, it's that "good-v-evil can't deliver if you assume that's all you need to worry about, but nobody's come up with a better idea so we're being dragged into the morass" with a side order of "struggling makes it worse" and an entire banquet of unintended consequence.

If you're an engaged progressive, you'll have worked that lot out for yourself already.

Which is not to say it's not worth watching. Lots of riveting and disturbing footage, some surreally beautiful moments, and many, many strata of irony (I doubt you'll find another documentary on the interplay of fundamentalist and Western thinking that includes Blue Peter, Duchamp's Fountain and Sid James alongside geological hydrodynamics, poisoned Pepsi and the impotence of big bombs.) And there are a few stand-out sequences that won't leave you - one, oddly, in the Moscow metro.

Is it preaching to the choir? Perhaps, but I'd love to know what it looks like to those who don't already know the tune. If it is a simplified narrative that propagandises by deliberate omission or misrepresentation, rather than a legitimate crystallisation of a valid point of view, I'd also love to hear how.
posted by Devonian at 11:54 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Adam Curtis frustrates me a lot. In the end, I think he harbours an odd hybrid of Maoism and Libertarianism while attempting to appear impartial.

In essence, he seems to feel that:

-We have disintermediated elites for good and ill
-Unintended consequences abound

His best recent work is something he did for Charlie Brooker ages back. I loved Brooker but turned away when in one of his yearly update things he referred to Mohamed Bouazizi's suicide as a 'tomatodom' in the same programme where Channel 4's admittedly crude expose of nomadic raiders living on the generous UK Welfare State (My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding) was libelled as racist. As if a lifestyle choice was ethnicity.

Curtis sees agency where it does not exist. A great, flawed, artist.
posted by The Salaryman at 12:46 PM on January 26, 2015

the you tube mirror is already down. I thought he had a website?
posted by polly_dactyl at 2:32 PM on January 26, 2015

here's another youtube
posted by p3on at 3:30 PM on January 26, 2015

apparently this one's missing half an hour of footage though
posted by p3on at 4:19 PM on January 26, 2015

ok here's the whole thing
posted by p3on at 4:31 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just watched. Although I love Adam Curtis I'd also come to the conclusion that you need to keep your guard up with him - but this seemed to be less fanciful than other works of his.

There is so much that's crazy and really true.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:32 PM on January 26, 2015

I think that even if none of Adam Curtis' claims had ever been true, his films would still be worth watching just for the massive quantities of remarkable footage he always has to share. Like, amidst the all the strange, tragic, beautiful and/or disturbing clips that make up this film there's also this WTF-hilarious excerpt from an autobiographical film Hafizullah Amin commissioned and appeared in as himself. As the secret police prepare to escort him away from his home and family, man, that collegial farewell clap on the arm he leaves his wife with as he saunters right the fuck off. I will be always in Curtis' debt for his having shown me that magnificent sight.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:00 AM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I found it in some respects to be a difficult watch but then given the subject matter I feel this is more a requisite than an overt criticism. I understand the criticisms that are out there about this work - that it is too long, selective layered argument utilising everything that fits the narrative and disgarding things that do not, the implication of impartiality and all the problems that follow from that - ultimately though I am just glad that this work exists. I am glad there is a place for discursive, lengthy and thought provoking pieces. It put me more in mind of Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi in terms of the visual spectacle. There is a tension between the unbelievable strong visuals (ok ok maybe the carry on element was a step too far in hindsight) and the impact this has on the voiced narrative. I sat pretty transfixed truth be told. Memorable moments - the marine corp clip regarding disobeying orders - the amputee little girl with one eye and the videographer asking the father to take the flower from her - the soldier playing with the bird - the long haunted look of the afghan soldier on duty in the watchtower - the karzai assasination attempt - oh and the d'oh moment of the unintended consequence of the damn rising the water table helping to kickstart increased opium production. Truely a rich feast.
posted by numberstation at 2:09 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

He loves telling ghost stories and what amazing ghost stories they are. I am totally jealous of the 'found footage' he has to play with. He needs to tighten up Bitter Lake but I can understand the desire to use all the images. He would have felt terrible even leaving out what he has.
posted by vicx at 8:48 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Use Hola to region unblock sites.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2015

This documentary is gorgeous and amazing. Adam Curtis is like Werner Herzog meets Errol Morris. Or, something.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:55 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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