I love a good documentary and there are few better than those made by Adam Curtis. He painstakingly trawls through the BBC’s archives weaving rushes of footage together to tell a story. His subject matter varies from politics to advertising but his latest effort, Bitter Lake, focuses mostly on a part of the world that seems to be forever in the news: Afghanistan.
I often berate myself for not having a decent understanding of international affairs but in my defence it’s a complex web of history, politics and relationships so not exactly something that can be mastered via a few hours on Wikipedia. That’s why I have such admiration for Curtis, he can cut through the rhetoric and agendas and get straight to the point. No spin, no lies, damned lies and statistics, no sexing-up. Just the truth along with cause and effect presented in a matter-of-fact way; information in its purest form.
The title of his latest documentary, released exclusively on iPlayer, refers to a meeting in February 1945 between Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia that in its simplest form agreed an alliance whereby the US would support Saudi Arabia in return for oil. No-one saw it at the time but this special relationship had a huge effect on the world thereafter from the conflicts in the middle East and Israel to the September eleventh attacks and the financial crises and resulting recessions.
As is usual with Curtis’ films he does his own narration and the soundtrack is chosen mostly from the experimental/esoteric end of the electronic music spectrum which along with the unseen archive footage he uses makes for a unique visual experience that at times is closer to video art than TV documentary.
I won’t attempt to distil the two-and-a-half hours of Bitter Lake into a bit-sized review, I couldn’t do it justice, but after watching it (twice) what saddens me most is that at the core of so many of the world’s problems is the seemingly insatiable desire for two things: wealth and power. Things our world leaders seem hell-bent on attaining ahead of anything else. Nothing new there then.