a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In the Hall of the Mountain King

What, it's already been a week? In the new issue of the Weekly -- coming to a Gilmore Girls episode near you! sorta! -- I penned reviews of Block Party and current Oscar-nominee Street Fight, an A-list on the just-kicked-off Backseat Film Festival ("the drinking man's film festival"), and, as ever, Rep. The latter boasts words on a night of one-off actors-gone-autuer moments, including Peter Lorre's The Lost One and Johnny Depp's self-suppressed The Brave, plus an I-House doc fest that brings to Philly both Darwin's Nightmare and Adam Curtis' riveting, knotty The Century of the Self. Looks like space restrictions did a number on that final one (or mostly its second half). No worries. After all, what are seldomly-posted-on blogs for? Here goes what I turned in, uncut, and by that I mean unedited and long in the ass:

Copyright issues have done all they can to keep Yanks from the epics of Adam Curtis, a BBC documentarian whose The Power of Nightmares became something of a craze last year for obvious reasons: it does a side-by-side on the rises of both neoconservativism and Islamofascism. (You can watch a tiny version of it online at the public doman site Internet Archive.) Made of a quartet of hour-long docs (there will be a thirty-minute intermission at the halfway mark), Curtis’s 2002 miniseries The Century of the Self examines the 20th century through the impact of Sigmund Freud, whose debunked but entrenched theories, Curtis shows, helped create a culture whose needs can only be sated by consumerism. The doctor’s most effective mouthpiece, in fact, turned out to be his family, chiefly his American nephew (and agent) Edward Bernays, whom Curtis views as no less than the chief architect of the century. A marketing genius, Bernays took his cousin’s revolutionary theories on psychology and applied them to business, in turn inventing focus groups, market testing, and product placement. (In a clip from a 1991 interview, the man calmly and eerily explains coining the term “public relations” only because “propaganda” had been tarnished by the Germans.) Even when Bernays was technically out of the picture, the beast survived and adapted. Once people switched to Freud’s rival, Wilhelm Reich, and brought forth the self-actualization movement of the ‘70s, advertising simply switched from stressing peer pressure to claiming that products could help people express their inner selves. Curtis’ tale is a knotty one, yet he never loses track of it, taking his time to untangle the issues clearly and thoughtfully: I’ve rarely heard a better theory on how a generation could go from Jimi Hendrix to Ray Romano than I have here. (Much less how Reagan and Thatcher took over.) Rarely less than dizzying and always absorbing, its one criminal misstep is, thankfully, kept to the final minutes: you really shouldn’t have capped things off with a certain overplayed Louis Armstrong standard, bud.


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