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Adam Curtis @ e-flux

The retrospective of work by "the 21st century's calm, reasonable, insidious Cassandra" is on in New York through April 14.
The DailyAll Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

"'Adam Curtis is not an artist, but a television journalist,' notes Hans Ulrich Obrist in his press release for the Adam Curtis retrospective [The Desperate Edge of Now] at e-flux through April 14th." Erin Nixon for Idiom: "Obrist's decision to show the work of Curtis serves a timely and important function: to break down what divides art and political reportage as both disciplines struggle to make sense of our current political and economic uncertainty. As Obrist notes, many artists have become interested in Curtis's work, which combines avant-garde filmmaking and journalistic investigation, offering a radical critique of the contemporary world that not only analyzes the ideologies that shape our world but counters them formally. Similar to the way that early 20th century artists opposed to traditional art made 'anti-art,' Curtis makes anti-propaganda films by subverting the political documentary."

Last month in Moving Image Source, Michael Atkinson argued that Curtis is "the 21st century's calm, reasonable, insidious Cassandra, whose accumulating film corpus passes itself off in the mainstream as a set of mere history lessons slouching leftwardly, all about the State of Things and How We Got Here. As the filmography builds, however — with his new three-part film, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2010), what could be characterized as pure-grade Curtis totals over 24 hours of thick archival trouble — it's clear that Curtis is hardly just a television pedagogue. He is, rather, a modern apocalyptist, a 'deep politics' practitioner focused on outlining the vectors of force behind recent history that all of us have conscientiously forgotten, and which are largely responsible for the terminally compromised world we live in."

"In The Power of Nightmares (2004), three films follow the parallel stories of neoconservatism and modern Islamism, and how these movements created today's climate of fear in politics," writes Lecia Bushak for Capital. "The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2007) argues that the vision of freedom (and of the free market) ingrained in Western culture is limited — and also, of course, a 'trap.' … The emphasis on style over argument makes him something of an easy target... When Curtis wrote an article in The Guardian on the self-regulating 'ecosystem' myth explored in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, the comments exploded with debate over his argument's accuracy, noting that the argument was 'elegant … but not conceptual[ly] elegant, with much inductive logic and far too little references to arguments beyond the narrow confines [Curtis] choose[s].' This could be applied to most of Curtis' narratives. Such charges, Curtis told The Guardian, 'sort of pissed me off.... There's an affectionate tone in that series. I'm kind of taking the piss out of conspiracy theories.'"

Obrist has conducted a lengthy interview with Curtis, which e-flux Journal has run in two parts. From the first: "Well, a lot of people go on about how I'm a leftist, but I'm not really, because I believe that ideas have consequences. And why I like people like [Max] Weber is because they are challenging what I see as that crude left-wing vulgar Marxism that says that everything happens because of economic forces within society, that we are just surfing, our ideas are just expressions — froth on the deep currents of history, which is really driven by economics. I've never believed that."

And from the second: "I realized that, provided that you are intellectually clear in what you're saying, then you can be as silly, and as emotional as you want."

Be sure to follow Curtis's blog, The Medium and the Message.

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