I’d throw in a free hand job just to have you watch anything by Adam Curtis, a history buff and media critic, with a platinum access card to all of BBC’s news and film archives. This man has some interesting and original views, which he writes long expository essays on. Then he reinforces his point by trolling through century old historic footage, adding voice-overs in an authoritative BBC tone. This style is like 90’s electronica sampling 80’s hip hop, but with video. It’s very different from your usual in-the-trenches type of documentary style.

Since Curtis relies on a large body of historic footage, he is able to give you the big picture, with a lot of small sub-stories. Some of these are astounding.

In part 1 of Century of the Self he explains how Freud’s theories on psychoanalysis were used by his nephew Edward Bernays to control America’s mass mind, converting it from a need based economy to a desire based one. Edward Bernays, is considered the father of Public Relations, a more euphemistic term for propaganda. Here is his PR masterstroke.

In 1910, cigarette smoking was a very male thing. It was taboo for women to smoke openly, it was something they just didn’t do. American tobacco companies had approached Bernays to do something about that, because they only way they could increase their market share was to make the pie bigger.

So on the carnival day, when the entire city of New York cheered on the streets, Bernays arranged for ten attractive models to smoke cigarettes openly. This created quite a media scene that time, and all the journalists flocked to the women, asking why they were smoking. One of them said, “These are our torches of freedom. Modern-day slogans like War on Terror, and War on Drugs, owes some degree of credit to Edward Bernays.

The bigger story in all of this is how the fulfillment of personal needs becomes the highest ideal, with corporations growing ever powerful by arousing first, and then consummating the individual’s desires. How this gives rise to the Me generation, which didn’t reject materialism, but instead asked for more customizable options. People grew so self important that they defined themselves by what they consumed.. These gradual changes in psyche changed attitudes in sectors as varied as marketing and politics.

The Power of Nightmares explains how politicians seized control from an increasingly irate and liberal public by feeding their fears. The documentary shows the rise of Neocons and Islamic fundamentalists, and how the two forces grew in power by creating nightmare visions of evils that can take over the world.

One of the best stories in this documentary is how American media hyped up al-Qaeda to be this elite cadre of operatives with secret underground lairs in the hills of Afghanistan. In their search for Bin Laden, British and American troops bombarded these hills and made exhaustive searches, with not a single militant found there, let alone a lair.

Pandora’s Box is a view of the effects of scientific and intellectual arrogance, and some of the bigger miscalculations people of science and power made. All the six episodes have a similar theme: grandiose dreams, soon giving way to harsh and grounded truths.

Download these movies from Archive.org

And torrents are always available.

He’s also worth adding to your RSS feed.

Here’s an awesome collab he recently made with Massive Attack.

The Epic 101s is a curated list of the best documentaries, movies, videos, and music. Whether you’re living under a rock, or behind a company firewall, or sifting through dreck on your information stream, here’s a remedial list of things that are upworthy, deserving of e-props and analysis. Add the 101’s to your media diet or torrent feed, for a drip-feed of nutritious and enlightening entertainment.

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