A few weeks ago, the British documentarian Adam Curtis debuted his newest mega-project online: a six-episode, eight-hour BBC series titled, Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World. It’s the latest in Curtis’s 30-year run of documentaries that stitch together found footage drawn largely from the BBC’s archives into epic origin stories of our political and cultural times. Available in its entirety on YouTube, Can’t Get You Out of My Head traces associative connections between a number of figures across history—including Jiang Qing, Michael X, Afeni and Tupac Shakur, Edouard Limonov, and others—to craft a dizzying account of the emergence of the global economy, the rise of individualism, and the spread of conspiracy theories.

In this week’s episode, Film Comment editors Clinton Krute and Devika Girish debate Curtis’s aesthetic strategies and political arguments with two old friends: Film at Lincoln Center assistant programmer Dan Sullivan, and Violet Lucca, a former Film Comment editor (and the original host of this podcast!) who now works as web editor at Harper’s Magazine. They take on a number of questions in a lively, often impassioned conversation. Is Curtis a journalist, a filmmaker, or a propagandist? Who is the audience for his films? Do his grand theories hold water? And more.

Links & Things

Adam Curtis’s YouTube channel, where most of his works—including Pandora’s Box (1992), The Century of the Self (2002), The Power of Nightmares (2004), and Can’t Get You Out of My Head—can be viewed for free
Nick Bradshaw’s interview with Curtis in the April 2021 issue of Sight & Sound
Three films by John Akomfrah and the Black Audio Film Collective on Ovid.tv
Nine films by Bertrand Tavernier (R.I.P.!) on Criterion Channel

This episode of the Film Comment Podcast is sponsored by MUBI. Film Comment readers and listeners can get 30 days of great cinema free at mubi.com/filmcomment.