Adam Curtis

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Adam Curtis
Adam curtis.jpg
Curtis at the San Francisco Film Festival in 2005
Born Martin Adam John Curtis
Dartford, Kent, England
Occupation Documentary filmmaker
Years active 1983–present

Martin Adam John Curtis, better known as Adam Curtis, is an English documentary filmmaker. Curtis says that his favourite theme is "power and how it works in society", and his works explore areas of sociology, philosophy and political history.[1] Curtis describes his work as journalism that happens to be expounded via the medium of film. His films have won four BAFTAs. He has been closely associated with the BBC throughout his career.

Early life[edit]

Curtis was born in Dartford, Kent. His father was Martin Curtis (10 August 1917 – January 2002), a cinematographer from Sevenoaks who worked with Humphrey Jennings.[1] His family had a left wing background.[2] Curtis attended the Sevenoaks School on a county scholarship.[3] He completed a Bachelor of Arts in human sciences at Mansfield College, Oxford, which included courses in genetics, evolutionary biology, psychology, politics, anthropology and statistics. He started a PhD, during which he taught in politics, but he became disillusioned with academia and decided to leave.[2]


Example of Curtis's "trademark" title screens.

Early career[edit]

Curtis applied to the BBC and was hired to make a film for one of its training courses, comparing designer clothes in music videos to the design of weapons. He was subsequently given a post on That's Life!, a magazine series that juxtaposed hard-hitting investigations and light-hearted content.


Of his general political outlook, Curtis has remarked,


Curtis cites the USA Trilogy, a series of three novels by John Dos Passos that he first read when he was thirteen, as the greatest influence on his film-making,

Other influences are Robert Rauschenberg,[1] Émile Zola[1] and Max Weber.[2]

Curtis makes extensive use of archive footage in his documentaries. He has acknowledged the influence of recordings made by Erik Durschmied and is "constantly using his stuff in my films."[4] According to a profile of Curtis by Tim Adams, published in The Observer,

Adams adds, "If there has been a theme in Curtis's work since, it has been to look at how different elites have tried to impose an ideology on their times, and the tragicomic consequences of those attempts."[5]

In 2005, Curtis received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.[6] In 2006, he was given the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television at the British Academy Television Awards.[7] In 2009, the Sheffield International Documentary Festival gave Curtis the Inspiration Award for inspiring viewers and other documentary makers.[8]


Curtis administers a blog subtitled 'The Medium and the Message' hosted by the BBC.[9] He has tentative plans to expand the project.[1]


Year Title Subject Parts Channel/Venue Awards
1983 Just Another Day: The Seaside A typical day in Walton-on-the-Naze. BBC Two, 19 April 1983[10]
1983 Trumpets and Typewriters: A History of War Reporting The history of war correspondents. BBC One, 19 July 1983[11]
1984 Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster.[12] The system-built housing of the 1960s. Narrated by David Jones. BBC Two, 4 September 1984[13]
1984 Italians: The Mayor of Montemilone The politics of a small Italian town and its communist mayor, Dino Labriola. BBC One, 2 July 1985[14]
1984 The Cost of Treachery The Albanian Subversion, in which the CIA and MI6 attempted to overthrow the Albanian government and to weaken the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in 1949, and the role of double agent Kim Philby. BBC One, 30 October 1984[15]
1987 40 Minutes: Bombay Hotel The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, contrasted with the poverty of the city's slums. BBC Two, 30 April 1987[16]
1988 An Ocean Apart The process by which the United States became involved in the First World War. 7 BBC One, 20 April 1988[17]
1989 40 Minutes: The Kingdom of Fun Documentary about the Metro Centre in Gateshead, developed by entrepreneur John Hall. It compares Hall's plans to regenerate North East England with those of Labour politician T. Dan Smith. BBC Two, 19 January 1989[18]
1989 Inside Story: The Road to Terror How the Iranian Revolution turned from idealism to terror, drawing parallels with the French Revolution two hundred years earlier. BBC One, 14 June 1989[19]
1992 Pandora's Box The dangers of technocratic and political rationality. 6 BBC Two, 11 June 1992[20] Originality and Best Factual Series, BAFTA Awards 1993[21]
1995 The Living Dead The different ways that history and memory (both national and individual) have been used and manipulated by politicians and others. 3 BBC Two, 30 May 1995[22]
1996 Inside Story Special: £830,000,000 - Nick Leeson and the Fall of the House of Barings Nick Leeson and the collapse of Barings Bank. BBC One, 12 June 1996[23]
1997 Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh The story, dating back to the 1950s, of the search for a cure to cancer, and the impact of Henrietta Lacks, the "woman who will never die" because her cells never stopped reproducing. BBC Two, 19 March 1997[24]
1999 The Mayfair Set Looks at the birth of the global arms trade, the invention of asset stripping, and how buccaneer capitalists shaped the Thatcher years, focusing on the rise of Colonel David Stirling, Jim Slater, Sir James Goldsmith and Tiny Rowland—members of the elite Clermont Club in the 1960s. 4 BBC Two, 18 July 1999[25] Best Factual Series or Strand, BAFTA Awards 2000[26]
2002 The Century of the Self How Freud's theories on the unconscious led to the development of public relations by his nephew Edward Bernays; the use of desire over need; and self-actualisation as a means of achieving economic growth and the political control of populations. 4 BBC Two, 17 March 2002;[27] art-house cinemas in the US Best Documentary Series, Broadcast Awards;[28] Historical Film of the Year, Longman-History Today Awards;[29] Nominated for Best Documentary Series, Royal Television Society[30]
2004 The Power of Nightmares Suggests a parallel between the rise of Islamism in the Arab world and neoconservatism in the United States, and their mutual need, argues Curtis, to create the myth of a dangerous enemy to gain support. 3 BBC Two, 20 October 2004[31] Best Factual Series or Strand, BAFTA Awards 2005[32]
2007 The Trap - What Happened to our Dream of Freedom Explores the modern concept of freedom, specifically, "how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom." 3 BBC Two, 7 March 2007[33]
2007 Television news reporters. Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, third episode of the fourth series
2009 The rise of "Oh Dear"-ism. Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, third episode of the first series
2009 It Felt Like a Kiss[34] Collaboration with theatre company Punchdrunk and Damon Albarn.[35] Manchester International Festival
2010 Paranoia and moral panics. Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, fourth episode of the second series
2011 All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace Argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity, and instead have "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us." The title is taken from a 1967 poem of the same name by Richard Brautigan. 3 BBC Two, 23 May 2011[36]
2011 Every Day is Like Sunday The rise and fall of press baron Cecil King, and the changing relationship between the public, politics and the media. His personal blog. (This is not an officially released documentary, but "a rough cut.")[37]
2013 Everything is Going According to Plan (Massive Attack v Adam Curtis)[38] Collaboration with Massive Attack. Based on technocrats and global corporations establishing an ultraconservative norm, with the internet providing a "fake, enchanting world, which has become a kind of prison."[39] Manchester International Festival
2014 "Oh Dear"-ism II - non-linear war. Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe, 30 December 2014
2015 Bitter Lake[40] How Western leaders' simplistic "good" vs. "evil" narrative has failed in the complex post-war era, and how many Islamic terrorist groups have their origins in the US's long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia. BBC iPlayer, 25 January 2015[41]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Interview: Adam Curtis". Film Comment. 17 July 2012. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "In Conversation with Adam Curtis, Part I". e-flux. February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Adam Curtis: The Perils of Binary Thinking". The Telegraph. 20 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "BBC - Adam Curtis Blog: Goodies and Baddies". BBC Blogs. 28 March 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "The Exorcist". The Observer. 24 October 2004. Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  6. ^ "SF Int'l Film Festival - Awards & Tributes - Adam Curtis". Archived from the original on 17 January 2006. 
  7. ^ "2006 Television Alan Clarke Award - BAFTA Awards". BAFTA. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "Sheffield Doc/Fest Award Winners". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  9. ^ Adam Curtis - The Medium and the Message - his personal blog at BBC Online
  10. ^ "Just Another Day: The Seaside - BBC Two England - 19 April 1983". BBC Genome. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  11. ^ "Trumpets and Typewriters - BBC One London - 19 July 1983". BBC Genome. 
  12. ^ "The Great British Housing Disaster (1984)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  13. ^ "Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster - BBC Two England - 4 September 1984". BBC Genome. 
  14. ^ "Italians - BBC One London - 2 July 1985". BBC Genome. 
  15. ^ "The Cost of Treachery - BBC One London - 30 October 1984". BBC Genome. 
  16. ^ "40 Minutes - BBC Two England - 30 April 1987". BBC Genome. 
  17. ^ "An Ocean Apart - BBC One London - 20 April 1988". BBC Genome. 
  18. ^ "40 Minutes - BBC Two England - 19 January 1989". BBC Genome. 
  19. ^ "Inside Story - BBC One London - 14 June 1989". BBC Genome. 
  20. ^ "Pandora's Box - BBC Two England - 11 June 1992". BBC Genome. 
  21. ^ "1993 Television - BAFTA Awards". BAFTA. 
  22. ^ "The Living Dead - BBC Two England - 30 May 1995". BBC Genome. 
  23. ^ "Inside Story Special - BBC One London - 12 June 1996". BBC Genome. 
  24. ^ "Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh - BBC Two England - 19 March 1997". BBC Genome. 
  25. ^ "The Mayfair Set - BBC Two England - 18 July 1999". BBC Genome. 
  26. ^ "2000 Television Factual Series or Strand - BAFTA Awards". BAFTA. 
  27. ^ "The Century of the Self - BBC Two England - 17 March 2002". BBC Genome. 
  28. ^ "BBC cleans up at Broadcast Awards 2003". Broadcast. 30 January 2003. Retrieved 22 October 2015. The BBC also won best single doc for 9/11 - A Firefighters' Story and best series, The Century of the Self, while BBC Films took best single drama for Out of Control. 
  29. ^ "Back to Narrative at the History Today Awards". History Today. 3 March 2003. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  30. ^ "Programme Awards Winners 2002". Royal Television Society. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  31. ^ "The Power of Nightmares - BBC Two England - 20 October 2004". BBC Genome. 
  32. ^ "2005 Television Factual Series or Strand - BAFTA Awards". BAFTA. 
  33. ^ "The Trap - What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom - BBC Two England - 11 March 2007". BBC Genome. 
  34. ^ "BBC - Adam Curtis Blog: It Felt Like A Kiss: The Film". BBC Blogs. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  35. ^ "The Culture Show - BBC Two England - 8 July 2009". BBC Genome. 
  36. ^ "TV review: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace". The Guardian. 23 May 2011. 
  37. ^ "BBC - Adam Curtis Blog: Every Day is Like Sunday". BBC Blogs. 27 July 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  38. ^ "Massive Attack v Adam Curtis (review)". The Observer. 7 July 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  39. ^ "Massive Attack v Adam Curtis (review)". The Guardian. 5 July 2013. 
  40. ^ "Adam Curtis: 'I try to make the complexity and chaos intelligible'". The Guardian. 24 January 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  41. ^ "Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 

External links[edit]