Adam Curtis is a genius. He’s been making documentaries for television and leaving all destroyed in his wake. He’s given us The Century of the Self, The Trap – What Happened to our Dream of Freedom, the incredible The Power of Nightmares and provided a short documentary which appeared in Charlie Brooker’s News Wipe. Now, taking TV Scoop into new territory, along with the Punchdrunk Theatre Co, he’s made a documentary that you can’t see on TV… but worth covering on these pages all the same.
Curtis has taken over a disused 5 storey building in Manchester for ‘It Felt Like A Kiss’, which is part of the Manchester International Festival. There’s been a lot of big talk about it, which was more than enough to pique my giddy glands… however… the past two days has seen me close to puking with terror.
Before I even entered the fray, I was sent a mysterious email concerning the event which said things like “The filmed content contains graphic scenes of strong violence that some people may find disturbing”, “The event is not suitable for people with a heart or respiratory condition” and the incredibly ominous “Patrons enter at their own risk.” I know someone and his girlfriend is one of the actors in it… and he told me she’d been having nightmares about the whole thing.
What on Earth was I letting myself in for?
Curtis, who has now turned his back on TV to make documentaries and share ideas solely online on his own BBC page (here) had been sharing trailers and teasers, all of which added to my anxiety. Stood outside the building, tension mounted and a cheery volunteer said “make sure you’ve had a poo and a wee before you go in…”. Was it going to be that bad? I’d pretty much convinced myself I was going to die in there.
Then you enter the blackness through a gawping clown mouth.
Of course, I’ll keep this spoiler free for those that are attending the event, or indeed, going to spend their time trying to get their hands on returned tickets (to say that I advise this would be an understatement), but I’ll try to convey what happens to you.
Over many floors, you travel through time, able to interact with absolutely everything. If you stumble across a CIA filing cabinet, by all means, have a nosey. I inspected criminal reports, letter boxes, postcards, racks of clothes, audio equipment… everything is ON limits.
Through the winding corridors, the dimly lit rooms of terrifying enchantment, through the strobe lit spaces, you blink and paw your way around a time-line that slowly begins to make some kind of sense. Figures lie slumped, droning music tracks your footsteps and classic rock ‘n’ roll appears from nowhere, all leading you to Curtis’ latest piece, somewhere in the belly of the building.
In effect, you’re given an almost living, breathing history of the world since 1959 and suddenly, a thread appears and then, astonishingly, everything starts to slot into place. Like all good art… it starts to slot into place in comparison with your own life. You begin to look at yourself. Not in some chin-stroking poncefest… this is Adam Curtis. He makes you reassess whether you like it or not in a language that’s direct and easy to understand.
Huge ideas emerge from the looking glass… seemingly inauspicious events reveal a huge knock-on effect… you begin to think about history in a completely different light… which is nothing to be sniffed at. Between Curtis and Punchdrunk, they’ve created one of the most visceral and staggering things I’ve ever taken part in. It’s a documentary that you physically walk through.
To cement the ideas, you have to go through the mill. There are sections that will scare your trousers brown. There are decision to be made. The building itself plays games with your mind and you run blindly around only to discover that you’re being taught a lesson in fear, loathing, loneliness and freedom.
Not so. The whole experience was exhilarating and stupid amounts of fun. If possible, you need to experience this funhouse gone mad. With any luck, the project will make its way to other cities and, hopefully, Curtis’ collage documentary will find itself online for all to see. Until then, I’m staying under the bed, teeth chattering, knuckles white and having a good long think.
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