The Living Dead (TV series)
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The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past was the second major documentary series made by British film-maker Adam Curtis. This series investigated the way that history and memory (both national and individual) have been used by politicians and others. It was transmitted on BBC Two in the spring of 1995.
Summary of episodes
On the Desperate Edge of Now (30 May 1995)
This episode examines how the various national ideals and memories of the Second World War were effectively rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War period, only to violently resurface later with events such as the Protests of 1968, the emergence of Red Army Faction, and the turmoil of the Yugoslav Wars.
For Germany, this process began at the Nuremberg Trials, where the use of the film The Nazi Plan endeavored to reveal the criminality of the Nazi state, and attempts were made to prevent defendants, principally Hermann Göring, from offering any rational or contextualized argument for what they had done. Subsequently, however, bringing lower-ranking Nazis to justice was effectively forgotten about in the interests of maintaining West Germany as an important new ally in the Cold War. For the Allies, faced with a new enemy in the Soviet Union, there was a need to portray World War II as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, even if this meant creating a disjunction by denying the memories of the individual soldiers who had actually done the fighting, and knew it to have been far more ambiguous.
The title of this episode comes from a veteran's description of the uncertainty of survival in combat. A number of American veterans related how years later they found themselves plagued with the previously-suppressed memories of the brutal things they had seen and done.
You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough (6 June 1995)
In this episode, the early history of the CIA's use of brainwashing and mind control is examined. Its thesis was that a search for control over the past, via medical intervention, had to be abandoned and that, in modern times, control over the past is more effectively exercised by the manipulation of history. It concluded that despite successful attempts to remove memories of the past, doing so often left an emotive void that was difficult to refill.
The angle pursued by Curtis was the way in which psychiatry historically pursued tabula rasa theories of the mind, initially in order to set people free from traumatic memories and then later as a potential instrument of social control. The work of Ewen Cameron was surveyed, with particular reference to the early medical use of electroconvulsive therapy, Cold War theories of communist brainwashing, and the search for hypnoprogammed sleeper agents and assassins. After the intelligence agency failures of the Kennedy assassination and failed assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, this work was later abandoned in favor of computerised memory and intelligence research such as DARPA.
The title of this episode comes from a paranoid schizophrenic seen in archive film in the programme, who believed her neighbours were using her as a source of amusement by denying her any privacy, like a goldfish in a bowl. Some footage from this episode, an interview with one of Cameron's victims, was later re-used by Curtis in The Century of the Self series.
The Attic (13 June 1995)
In this episode, the national aspirations of Margaret Thatcher were examined, particularly the way in which she used public sentiment in an attempt to capture the national spirit embodied in the famous speeches and writings of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. By harking back, or summoning the spirit of Britain's "glorious past" (to fulfil short-term political or national ends), it is revealed that the process invariably backfired in the long run, entrapping the invoker in the societal maladies of the present.
The example provided is the wartime levels of patriotism invoked in the Falklands War crisis, in which Thatcher's rugged determination matched national sentiment, only to dissipate a few years later with events such as the British Poll Tax, leading to her resignation.
The title is a reference to the attic flat at the top of 10 Downing Street, which was created during Thatcher's refurbishment of the house, which did away with the Prime Minister's previous living quarters on lower floors, replacing them with 18th century board rooms. Scenes from the psychological horror film The Innocents (1961) (a film adaptation of Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw) are intercut with scenes from Thatcher's reign.