- Christian Lunzer/Wikimedia Commons
- Sigmund Freud is one of the main “characters” of Curtis’s essay series.
Tomorrow at 2 PM, the Edgewater branch of the Chicago Public Library (at 1210 West Elmdale) will screen selected moments from The Century of the Self, the 2002 documentary series that first brought Adam Curtis to international attention. This free event is part of the branch library’s “Modern Lives & Movements” program, an ongoing series of lectures and discussions on various topics. Through the end of the year, the subject under consideration is “The Science of Sex,” with further programs devoted to a new biography of Masters and Johnson (on December 5) and “the current state of insight into sexuality, gender, and orientation” (on December 14). The Century of the Self relates to this subject only tangentially. It’s a characteristically diffuse meditation on the concept of individualism, arguing that Sigmund Freud’s breakthroughs in psychoanalysis led to the rise of the public relations industry, among other dubious phenomena of the 20th century.
As Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of Curtis’s subsequent series The Power of Nightmares (2004), the British essayist connects his disparate subjects with “symmetries too neat to be entirely persuasive.” I think this is intentional on Curtis’s part. His works inspire incredulity as a means of triggering critical thought—even if you disagree with his central argument, you still have to traverse a world of ideas in order to refute it. (You also have to navigate some mind-blowing reconfigurations of archival footage, which put most other found-footage documentaries to shame.) Tomorrow’s screening and discussion should provide a useful introduction to Curtis’s filmmaking for those who aren’t familiar with it—as well as an enjoyable exchange for those who are.