Three films about the power of the past. This series by acclaimed filmmaker Adam Curtis investigates the way in which both history and memory (national and individual) have been used and manipulated by politicians and others.
The Living Dead 1/3: On the Desperate Edge of Now
On the Desperate Edge of Now- This episode examined how the various national memories of the Second World War were effectively rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War period. For Germany, this began at the Nuremberg Trials, where attempts were made to prevent the Nazis in the dock—principally Hermann Göring—from offering any rational 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 ally in the Cold War. For the Allied countries, faced with a new enemy in the Soviet Union, there was a need to portray WW2 as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, even if this meant denying the memories of the Allied soldiers who had actually done the fighting, and knew it to have been far more complex. A number of American veterans told how years later they found themselves plagued with the previously-suppressed memories of the brutal things they had seen and done.
The Living Dead 2/3: You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough
You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough- In this episode, the history of brainwashing and mind control was examined. The angle pursued by Curtis was the way in which psychiatry 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 Cold War theories of communist brainwashing and the search for hypnoprogammed assassins. The programme’s thesis was that the search for control over the past via medical intervention had had to be abandoned and that in modern times control over the past is more effectively exercised by the manipulation of history.
The Living Dead 3/3: The Attic
The Attic- In this episode, the Imperial aspirations of Margaret Thatcher were examined. The way in which Mrs Thatcher used public relations in an attempt to emulate Winston Churchill in harking back to Britain’s “glorious past” to fulfil a political or national end. The title is a reference to the attic flat at the top of 10 Downing Street, which was created during Thatcher’s period refurbishment of the house, which did away with the Prime Minister’s previous living quarters on lower floors.