Ewan Gleadow

TV Review: Can’t Get You Out of My Head

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Copyright: BBC

Charming and erratic appear to be the two best words to describe documentary maker Adam Curtis. His doom-highlighting touch throughout his latest series for the BBC, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, is given ample time to dissect and discuss a variety of hot-topic issues the modern era faces, and where they may stem from. He does so with inconsistent pacing, and in those early episodes, a narrative is not quite clear. As he pushes on, though, his point and aim become clearer and clearer. He manages to preside over so many topics and terrors, bringing them all together, some better than others. It is an unpredictable series of historical events, that Curtis utilises to highlight the imbalance of power and its inevitable corruptibility 

“…the old forms of power had not gone away. And neither had the violence and corruption that had always been a part of that power.” is the key point Curtis makes. He always links back to power, its corruption, and the impact it has on the modern era. We are now seventy years past the point of the fall of the British Empire, yet Curtis makes a compelling and well-documented argument to say it is still a cutting, worrying struggle with that Britain is still yet to part with. There lies his timeline, and by the fourth episode we are cemented into the 1980s, with Live Aid and Thatcherism picked apart not through wordplay, but comparison to the issues they failed to solve during their time in power. What they do, or rather, what they fail to do, is react to events. They present words and speeches that detail their advice and intelligence, but they fail to make the social or political change they truly seek, merely leaving the imprint of apparent change.  

How we as a culture understand and condition ourselves with the meanings of words is addressed also. What does “Homeland” really mean? They are questions worth addressing, but Curtis’ erratic side comes to life far too often. He is too quick to cut away, to let his audience decide for themselves the impact of this all. It works, and why explain something when footage is there to show it for you? There is little structure, and to some, this will appeal with great effect. Hopping from an abundance of topics, the faux narrative style displayed does work to some extent. Songs and clip shows are used as intermediaries not just to give the audience breathing room, but time to think. Curtis hops from subject to subject with initially no link between them, but soon it becomes clear that the link swirling all of these stories are, in fact, very obvious. The problem with making so many points is Curtis loses his way now and then. While the jack of all trades is often better than the master of one, it is hard to gauge both where Curtis wishes to go with his point, or what he wants to say with it. Defiantly interesting, but why? 

It is fascinating to see how the dots begin to connect. Much of it seems rather simple, others are solid pieces of investigative journalism. The later episodes of the series are the most rewarding, but it is the necessary history found in the earliest episodes that are required background viewing. It comes together in a satisfying enough way, but much of it could be picked apart by bigger brains than mine. His analysis of modern warfare, in particular, strikes up the more interesting, meatier points Can’t Get You Out of My Head wishes to make.  

Curtis is a man who will forevermore be difficult to get out of my head. He has an exceptional ability as both a narrator and a storyteller, weaving apparently uninteresting pockets of history together with somewhat surreal moments that have leaked into reality. Can’t Get You Out of My Head is a collation of such moments, all of them a real treat for the history buffs and worriers out there in the world. Is Can’t Get You Out of My Head a rallying cry for us to rise above the incapabilities of government? Or is it just a collection of odd setpieces that link together with infrequency? I hope and believe the former is true. It is as Curtis states when regarding Live Aid, and its impact on the world. “It might be possible to change the world, but to do it, you had to bypass all politics because politicians, both left and right, have become corrupted by power and petty nationalism.” If you take one thing away from Can’t Get You Out of My Head, take that.