Can't Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History Of The Modern World
- Brian Donaldson
- 11 February 2021
Bewildering and mesmerising sextet of films about politics and power which raise more questions than provide answers
The world is an exciting, maddening and confusing place. As a documentary-maker and visual historian, Adam Curtis' films (HyperNormalisation and Bitter Lake for two) have been a perfect cipher for those elements to run wild. Packed with eclectic soundtracks and images that tantalise, horrify and baffle, allied to Curtis' simultaneously soothing and scary narration of his own scripts, his work begins with a grand theme and aims to throw as much at the wall as possible in order to build up a picture that persuades the viewer of his case.
Can't Get You Out Of My Head takes six episodes and over eight hours to dissect his chosen targets here of power, politics and paranoia, all of which are fuelled by technological advancement and social attitudes that either change with the times or are stuck rigidly in place. The Curtis reach is wide (Britain, America, China and Eastern Europe are the main locations here where his theories are road-tested) and the research is deep and extensive (the archive footage of people dancing could fit into one lengthy film all of its own). But for all of the heavy groundwork and mammoth editing, it's often not clear where any of it is headed. And no matter how many times he says a phrase similar to 'what happened next was extraordinary', a Eureka moment is always slightly out of reach.
The joy of an Adam Curtis film resides in following his journey which is never less than richly coloured and compactly detailed, with surprising (and yes, extraordinary) stories of those who often played a marginal role alongside the real players of history. So we have the tragic arc of Mao's seemingly Machiavellian wife Jiang Qing, or social activist Michael X, the UK's wannabe Malcolm X, who ended up paying a terrible price for his own vaulting ambitions and psychological flaws. If you sit down to Can't Get You Out Of My Head to receive all the answers about this mystifying planet, ultimate frustration lies in wait. But should you wish to learn some intriguing unheard stories and have many questions raised while seeing a room full of people waltzing, this is essential viewing.
All episodes available now on BBC iPlayer.