Gloriously Compulsive and Maddening: Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation Reviewed

When he forgets that his day job is to be the thinking pseud’s David Icke, Curtis sometimes makes the most amazingly insightful connections.

‘Adam Curtis believed that 200,000 Guardian readers watching BBC2 could change the world. But this was a fantasy. In fact, he had created the televisual equivalent of a drunken late-night Wikipedia binge with pretensions to narrative coherence…’

You really must watch Ben Woodhams’s brilliant 2011 Adam Curtis-pastiche mini-documentary The Loving Trap, which you’ll find on YouTube. It’s so devastatingly cruel, funny and accurate that when I first saw it I speculated that Curtis would never be able to work again.

But this was fantasy. Of course, I knew that Curtis would be back, not least because to be parodied in this way is not an insult but a sure sign that you’ve seriously made it.

‘Combining archive documentary material with interviews, Curtis filled in the gaps by vomiting grainy library footage onto the screen to a soundtrack of Brian Eno and Nine Inch Nails.’ Yes, I’m sure Curtis — who, I suspect, takes himself quite seriously — must have winced at this dissection of his technique. But how many other documentary-makers get indulged by the BBC these days with 166 minutes of airtime to say whatever the hell they like?

His latest meisterwerk, HyperNormalisation (BBC iPlayer), begins in split screen in 1975 in two cities, New York and Damascus, with two events that supposedly explain the otherwise incomprehensible world we live in today. One was the city of New York effectively going bankrupt, causing bankers to supplant politicians as controllers of the world and ordinary people to jettison politics for Jane Fonda fitness videos; the other was Syrian President Hafez al-Assad nurturing a bold plan to unite the Arab world, only to be thwarted by the Machiavellian, divisive scheming of Henry Kissinger, leading inexorably to the invention of suicide bombing, Isis, the chaos in modern Syria and, somehow, Brexit.

Your instinct at this point might be to go, ‘That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?’ — and you’re probably right. What Curtis likes to do is construct a grand, overarching theory of everything whose inconsistencies, flaws and gaping holes he seduces you into ignoring with the confidence of his gently insistent voiceover, his fantastically well-sourced and pleasingly edited found film footage, and his ace ambient and dubstep soundtracks.

Whether you love it or you hate it — I do both — it makes for gloriously compulsive, maddening, fascinating viewing.

Read the rest at the Spectator.