"All these people, Tim, were fighting for you, though they didn't exactly know it.". A Diary for Timothy is a narration spoken to a newborn baby, Timothy James Jenkins, born on 3rd. September 1944, chronicling the last few months of the war in Europe. Written by E. M. Forster, this is a propaganda film but expresses the hopes and fears for the future of different people at that time.
Africa Addio ("Farewell Africa") is an Italian documentary dating back to the 1960s. It is often billed as a story of (critique of?) the colonisation of Africa. As you will see, what the film is really about is Africa's decolonisation and the grave consequences of this.
1930 silent documentary film highlighting social inequalities in Nice, southern France.
This is the BBC adaptation of the famous Aldous Huxley novel. I'd recommend reading the novel first.
It's interesting to compare Huxley's work (published in 1931) with Orwell's magnum opus, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published seventeen years later. Whereas Orwell's concern is with the political and sociological aspects of the dystopian fictitious society he created and the nature and exploitation of power, Huxley's concern is with genetics and biology and the effort to create a 'perfect society' based on absolute safety and the abolition of suffering: in short, a utopia that is in practice a dystopia. While both works were prescient, it is my view that Huxley's work has proved to be the more important and will endure.
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a critique rather than a prediction or prophecy, and modelled on the authoritarian societies that existed at that time in Europe: 'English Socialism' was a totalitarian form of state-capitalism. By contrast, Huxley's work is a prediction or prophecy as much as a critique and is more subtle than Orwell's, telling us something deeper about the psychology of totalitarianism. Orwell's explanation of totalitarian psychology is rooted in the pursuit of power for its own sake - "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever" - whereas Huxley seems to be suggesting that in the future, humans will be controlled through psychological submission, something that Huxley referred to as 'the ultimate revolution'.
A feature film adaptation was released in 1998. I think the TV version is better.
Concentration camps in Britain - part of our forgotten history. Lest is be thought that Labour is the "workers' party".
Capitalism and Other Kids' Stuff is a film by Britain's oldest (and only genuine) socialist party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain ('the Socialist Party'). This is a filmic deconstruction of capitalism: the social system that governs and regulates our everyday lives and about which most of us give precious little thought. We all live in a bubble and prefer to ignore or deny reality. Time to wake up. As one YouTube user comments below the video: "...this is how the world actually is."
Here's Danny Lambert, one of the Socialist Party's candidates in the 2014 Euro elections, speaking to the BBC show, Daily Politics. He explains very well the concept of socialism, a co-operative society, in comparison to capitalism, a commercial society.
Here's another Socialist Party member, Adam Buick, speaking to the BBC before the 2015 general election:
Documentary about the Friedman family, two of whom would be convicted of child sex abuse.
In Children of Darkness, the filmmakers study the lives of mentally-ill and emotionally-disturbed children held in various institutions in the United States.
In one scene near the beginning of this film, an interviewer asks a teenage girl: "Are you going to stay alive or ar you going to die?" That question seems to recur throughout this sad film and, in the end, it's the question asked of the viewer. Make the most of your life.
Iranian docudrama, or re-enactment, of a real-life incident in which a film-lover, Hossain Sabzian, impersonates a film director and cons a family into dbelieving they would star in his non-existent 'film'.
I think Crumb is my very favourite documentary. It's about cartoonist Robert Crumb and his (rather dynsfunctional) family.
I love comics - it's a bit immature, but I love the colours and imaginative potential, and the pastiche quality, and the way that cartoons and graphics enervate a dominant culture by eviscerating its shibboleths, and reproduce and mix-up genres. There's also something psychological about it in a kinesthetic sense, in that it takes me back to the senses of my childhood: the colours and smells.
Back in the 60s, Crumb as a cartoonist was associated with the underground and counter-cultural movement (another famous cartoonist of the same milieu was Ace Backwords), but he has since evolved into a true iconoclast rather than a pretend one - though for his past work, oddly. That tells you how much society has declined culturally. Many of Crumb's cartoons now look prophetic.
Some people think this is the greatest documentary ever. I'm not sure about that - but it's certainly very good.
Documentary about the commercial exploitation of animals and more broadly how humanity uses animals for its own instrumental purposes. The film has a radical and vegan agenda and is meant to be consciousness-raising, though I am not personally convinced by the attempt to equate 'speciesism' with racism and sexism, even if the latter terms are valid.
Faking It: How the Media Manipulates the World Into War is a documentary examining the role of the mainstream media in manipulating public opinion, hiding the true agenda of Western governments and generally promoting ignorance. I am not sure I entirely agree with the premise of this film or its conclusions. I don't think the public are always as credulous as the film-makers contend (though they sometimes are). As I see it, the problem is more with the power structures in place, which make a large section of the population effectively voiceless. That said, there is still a great deal of truth in the core point that media has now become an arm of government and plays a central role in shaping public opinion.
An example of official media manipulation is the relationship between war and public opinion. As repeated opinion polls show, most of the public actually like war - for instance, it's often forgotten now that the Iraq War of 2003 was very popular with the public before the invasion commenced, perhaps because it was popular with liberal media people and was thus promoted favourably by most mainstream news outlets. The War only became unpopular once those same media people decided to pursue a different agenda and, unusually, began to oppose the government.
What this documentary also does well is capture the Orwellian nature of modern media propaganda, which is aimed at promoting pointless wars. A quote from Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four might be apposite here: "Oceania was at war with Eurasia; therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia". This is nothing new of course, but as causus belli become increasingly remote from real issues and concerns, it is starting to feel like we are living in a kind of virtual dystopia in which governments prosecute war to control and manipulate us through fear.
The conclusion posited by Faking It is meant to offer some hope. The argument is that the emergence of 'independent' online media is making it harder for the mainstream media to tell lies and manipulate people. I'm not sure about that either. Again, no doubt some truth in it, but we would also need to see some analysis of the ownership structures in online media. It is a mistake to believe that digitisation means greater independence. Most digital media is still mainstream in its content and editorial line, which suggests conventional ownership structures remain in place. For cultural and historical reasons, it's also the case that the agenda of truly independent media tends to be aligned with the intellectual orthodoxies of the Left, which makes a lot of digital media in practice not very independent at all, even if they aspire to be in theory.
A useful information and sources page can be found here.
F For Fake, Orson Welles' last major film, tells the story of Elmyr de Hory's career as a professional art forger but more generally examines issues of authorship, authenticity and value in art. The film is a kind of essay by Welles exploring these themes but doesn't seem to have any clear form and is difficult to follow at times. There are segments on, among other subjects, Picasso (the Spanish artist associated with the Cubist movement) and the cathedral at Chartres (nobody knows who designed it). Those are my favourite parts of the film. Welles' masterpiece was Citizen Kane, but F For Fake is probably his most interesting work.
Welles also produced a nine-minute trailer for the film, which is practically an essay in its own right. It's a restored trailer that Welles filmed several years later, in 1976 I believe:
Documentary about the Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway, San Francisco, which ended in violence and thus bookmarked the 'peace and love' era of the preceding decade.
An early 'fly-on-the-wall'-style documentary. This is about two relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis living in squalid luxury in a mansion in East Hampton, New York.
Perhaps a little over-long, but still an interesting documentary about race and class in America, examined through the story of two African-American high school basketball players. Both from poor backgrounds, they are scouted to play for a predominantly white high school.
Excellent compilation by YouTuber, Granville Thorndyke. I think the skit at the beginning in which one of the performers refers to the other as 'Timothy' could be a reference to a famous wartime propaganda film called, 'A Diary for Timothy' (see the video to the left of this one on this page).
This remains the best Alt Right video I have seen to date - perhaps the best on YouTube in any category. I treasure it. I like the nostalgia, the quotes from famous and accomplished Englishmen - especially that beautiful quote from (the ethnically English) Orson Welles - and the contrasts between the old times and today. Only an English person could fully understand this video, I think. Whoever made this must be English, or if not, must have developed a very good feel for what gets under the skin of the English. They've certainly got to me.
"We seem to be selling our morals for a mess of cultural pottage..." Michael Caine.
Who would have thought Michael Caine would say something like that?
Another video from Granville Thorndyke:
Lengthy televised history series on Ireland. I assume this was broadcast on Irish TV originally.
This is Part 1 of an interesting Vice interview with some Black Israelites in the United States. [Note: They are not strictly Jews, though there are close similarities]. The interviewees seem knowledgeable and intelligent.
This is a Ken Loach film. The story is about 'Angie', who starts her own recruitment agency and ends up in over her head.
Interesting talk and a new perspective on the porn industry from feminist pornographer Erika Lust.
Ethnographic study and travelogue about an isolated mountainous community around the town of La Alberca, in western Spain.
Surrealist film in which scenes from Parisian suburbia are contrasted with scenes from a slaughterhouse.
A brutal documentary on the North American fishing industry. One of my favourites actually. I like it when, as here, the filmmakers don't bother with narration and instead allow the material to speak for itself. Leviathan is filmed in an experimental style, which does make it difficult to watch.
Wartime propaganda film. Considered a classic. I'm not really sure what the film is trying to do, other than maybe promote a sense of 'national unity'.
Interesting debate between two feminists.
Possibly the first-ever 'documentary', Nanook of the North is a filmic record by Robert J. Flaherty of an expedition in northern Quebec and follows the lives of Inuits he encounters there.
A Roman Catholic priest, Padre Nazario, shows selflessness and compassion for everyone he meets, even giving away his belongings, and is roundly abused and exploited in return.
A 1930s documentary about the mail train from London to Scotland - 'the Down Postal Special'.
The 1956 adaptation, starring Edmond O'Brien, is less well-known. In my view it is underrated, and possibly even the best of the three. For some reason the main antagonist is re-named 'O'Connor' in this version - possibly due to a perceived need to avoid confusion with the lead actor.
An in-depth examination of our financial and economic system from a UK perspective.
I don't necessarily understand this film and find the plot a little incoherent, but I liked watching it because it is beautifully-shot and very atmospheric, and in its own way, comforting. The themes explored seem to be the human spirit, the longing for meaning (which I think all people have deep down), the importance of a 'simple life', and the value of personal sacrifice for the greater good.
The director, Andrei Tarkovsky, was one of the great filmmakers of the 20th. century, having also directed the Soviet science fiction masterpiece, Solaris.
Below is a 'short' version of the same documentary.
I've always had an instinctive dislike of Fox News and Rupert Murdoch's media empire. This documentary film shows how Murdoch's flagship American TV channel, Fox News, undermines civic democratic systems and promotes a right-wing pro-corporate agenda. The film also explains the questionable journalistic practices behind Fox News, using interviews with former insiders.
Back in 2004, I still had very left-wing views and I was quite taken by this documentary. Now? It's still interesting, but today I'm less enthused due to what I see as the filmmaker's naivety. The premise of Outfoxed is absolutely right: Fox News isn't a news outlet, it's a source of entertainment and biased information [infotainment?], but that's a vice not unique to the 'Right'. I have a feeling that if Fox News started adopting a more left-wing editorial position, there would be no objection from the makers of this documentary. It's also important to note that Fox News has one or two talented broadcasters, including the much-maligned Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly may be disliked by the metropolitan crowd, but his insights are often excellent.
For me, personalities like O'Reilly embody the Curate's egg quality of America's Beltway Right. They are a necessary check against the excesses of their more liberal colleagues, but they are also part of the game. It's unclear just how cognisant O'Reilly actually is, but the following is an example of O'Reilly at his best. He knows he is working for a lie machine.
In 2014, Brave New Films released Outfoxed Effect: Ten Years Later, a short film looking at the ten years since Outfoxed and whether things have changed since. The film also puts Outfoxed in some context through interviews with sympathetic media figures who saw the film. I was disappointed, and I do think this is where the inherent bias of the Outfoxed project shows through clearly and lets the filmmakers down. Fox News and its headline personalities like Sean Hannity (a ridiculously smarmy, cartoon villain figure who can't be real) and Bill O'Reilly exist to serve a market, something that Outfoxed don't seem to grasp. Over the last five years or so, as the Zeitgeist in American politics has shifted towards the Left, Fox News and its personalities have gravitated noticeably over to something like a centre-left position on certain select issues, particularly on the immigration issue. This is an intriguing development that would have been inconceivable at the time Outfoxed was made. It's a sign of the interesting times we live in.
Primary is about the 1960 election for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in Wisconsin. This was contested between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.(Sidenote: Humphrey would later be Vice President to Kennedy's successor, LBJ, though not until 1965 as there was no Vice President during the two years after the assassination).
This is quite an interesting documentary because of the methodology adopted by the filmmaker, which is very fluid and intimate, right down to the shaky camera work, taking you behind the scenes of a high-profile political campaign. This film also provides us with a window into a bygone culture: white 'Middle America' at the close of the 1950s. Was this a better society than the America (and wider European civilisation) of today?
One thing I was looking for when I first watched this was some indication of a significant difference in the way politicians of the time engaged with the electorate compared with now. American society in 1960 was in the early stages of the TV era. The vapid, sophomoric type of politics in which candidates moulded their behaviour, mannerisms, style of speaking and even policies around the whims of the media, was still to come and had not gripped American politics fully at that point.
Well, Humphrey is certainly down-to-earth in his mannerisms and seems more honest than Kennedy. From where I'm sitting, it looks like the classic dichotomy of Kennedy, the smooth neo-Grecian Washingtonian, versus Humphrey, the corn-fed Mid-Western populist, but maybe that's a naive impression on my part? Overall I have to say I can't see any real differences between the style of politics conducted then and today. Image matters, it's just that the candidates in Primary manipulate their own image in different ways, according to how they want to project themselves to the electorate - not much different to what happens today.
There are a few scenes here and there with Kennedy pruning himself before the cameras; meanwhile there are scenes that exemplify Humphrey's attempts to put himself in sharp relief to his privileged opponent as 'the common man'. There's quite a funny scene somewhere in which Humphrey is being driven along a freeway and wax lyricals affectionately about the 'rolling hills of Wisconsin". You sort of know he is basically a bluffer, but he also seems like a decent man.
Although each candidate has redeeming qualities, they and their staff are just political people at the end of the day, pulling the wool over people's eyes. Guff and political lying wasn't invented by the Harold Wilsons, Thatchers, Reagans, Clintons or Blairs - political prestidigitation has a long pedigree.
Explanation of a theory regarding the psychology of 'white guilt'.
Interesting segment from a BBC broadcast. This is an interview with the spokesman for National Action, a National Socialist street-based group for young people. I think the National Action member comes across very well.
Documentary about four Bible salesmen.
75% of toys are made in China, a country that is believed by many in the West to be 'Communist'. Santa's Workshop, a documentary film, should explode the misconception of China as a communist or socialist society. There is nothing communist or socialist about a country in which independent trade unions are banned and anyone who attempts to freely organise in the workplace faces a prison sentence.
The reality is that China is a capitalist country with a significant market economy and, over the last decade, foreign companies have taken advantage of the Chinese government's neo-liberal policies and the low wage and low cost base that the country offers. Working conditions recorded there are horrendous. This film concludes with some suggestions on how we can move towards a more humane toy industry.
A documentary about the anti-war movement in the US armed forces during the Vietnam War era. A bit of subversive history.
Very informative documentary (albeit a little alarmist at points). Unlike other film treatments of this type, the focus here is technological and the interviewees are quite literate about the technical issues.
Taking Liberties is a creature of its time in that it suffers from the usual lefty themes and cliches and a heavy dose of alarmism and historical ignorance, but the film does highlight the disturbing erosion of freedoms in Britain during recent times. What Taking Liberties also does well is draw attention to the futility and counter-productive nature of a lot of the anti-terrorist precautions now enforced in public spaces, measures that can even be dangerous. This is an important observation and should have led the narrator to talk about why all these useless or dangerous measures are being introduced and whether this points to an agenda.
The problem is that the makers of this film do not seem to have any understanding of why things happen, why successive governments have pursued an agenda of restricting normal freedoms. Taking Liberties implies that it's largely political and media-driven, highlighting (rightly) the hysterical overreaction of the Blair government to terrorist threats, but that's a limited analysis and a lot of what the narrator says is pretty naive and reflects a touching faith in romantic and idealistic attitudes to law and politics, rather than the reality of how things work. The narrator even refers at one point to our "democratic heritage". Don't the makers of this film understand that this country is not, and never has been, democratic in anything but the most limited sense of the term? Oppression and authoritarianism, the curtailment of ordinary freedoms, aren't some kind of aberration brought about by corrupt politicians - it's actually meant to happen this way. The politicians are doing what they are paid to do.
In the real world outside the idealistic bubble that Taking Liberties occupies, politics is about power and if people's freedoms are being curtailed, it's not because Tony Blair is a bossy britches, it's because this serves the purposes of powerful and influential people in society. It would happen under any government, of any political persuasion: Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and Labour - and has and does happen under other governments. It's what governments are for. Indeed, another point the filmmakers here miss is that there has been a trend towards the aggressive legislative restriction of freedoms in Britain since at least the 1980s, not just since the Blair government. We have a passing reference early on to the Poll Tax, but nothing that puts these events in their proper social and historical context.
Governments behave this way because it serves the agendas of the people that governments really serve. Plaintive appeals to historical freedoms and 'right' and 'wrong' hold little sway. Quaint traditions like Magna Carta remain important, but they mostly represent well-meant ideals and are mentioned now and then to give the dog a bone to chew on. Freedom is existential and has to be re-fought for and re-won by each generation. It doesn't exist in dry and dusty documents - which is not to dismiss our heritage, only to give it its proper importance.
Aside from these flaws, Taking Liberties is still a powerful and evocative film and hits home with the right messages.
Lengthy documentary in three parts: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie (1975), The Coup d'Ãtat (1976), and Popular Power (1979) - about the 1973 right-wing counter-revolution against the elected government of Salvador Allende. Part 1 is posted here.
Yes, John Lennon really said this - I'm not sure in exactly what year, though.
In September 2001, the American government came under attack from Islamic terrorists. The following month, in October 2001, it was announced that Enron, an American energy corporation, would collapse amidst huge financial irregularities. What really set the scene of the Enron scandal was a larger moral and ethical corporate breakdown in the business community during the late 90s - the Dot.com bubble - a speculative bubble concerning the value of e-commerce stock. This culminated in a stock market crash between 2000 and 2002.
In hindsight, we can see that the early Noughties, particularly the years 2000 to 2003, were a defining era for politics and economics in the Anglopshere. One of the results of that tumultuous era was a spate of radically-infused documentaries, like The Corporation, an independent Canadian production that puts corporate capitalism itself under the microscope. This is sort of a thinking man's version of Michael Moore's later, more populist film Capitalism: A Love Story. (Incidentally, one of the interviewees in this film is Michael Moore).
The Corporation is more than just an analysis of the problems caused by companies, it is a full-scale analysis of the corporate structure itself, its history, politics and economics, and the underlying legal philosophy of corporations. Even the mass psychology of corporate capitalism comes under the microscope. While the focus of the filmmakers is narrowly on corporatisation rather than the wider philosophical issues of capitalism, this film nevertheless does an excellent job of exposing the inherent social pathology of the corporate model.
The presentation is fairly balanced: defenders and apologists for the 'corporation' concept and corporate capitalism are allowed their say. The film canvasses corporate experts who provide their insight on the critical subject matter: especially psychological insights in marketing and how the corporate structure assists this, and on corporate economics (there is a good explanation of 'externalities' here) and corporate politics. Nevertheless the agenda of this film is crystal clear: corporate capitalism is wrong and economically harmful.
The Fog of War is a notch above the Noughties radical and populist documentaries. The films looks at modern warfare through a series of 'lessons' drawn by former U.S. Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara.
The below interview of McNamara from the mid-90s is in much the same vein.
A documentary about an Iranian leper colony. Quite disturbing and impactful.
I like material - be it in book or video form or otherwise - that addresses taboo or unexamined topics. This is a classic in the genre: the Jewish role in Atlantic slavery. Fascinating topic. Below is a related video on the Jewish response.
The Thin Blue Line is a documentary investigation of the conviction of Randall Dale Adams for murder. Adams had been sentenced to death for the murder of Texas police officer Robert W. Wood, but the conviction was later overturned.
Children's story meant as an allegory of war.
After watching They Live, you'll probably be asking yourself: 'Who is it about?' The director, John Carpenter, clearly has some kind of agenda, and I can't believe he just meant this to be a science-fiction story about an elite caste of extra-terrestrial aliens.
In one of the early scenes, a preacher has a great line that sums up the real message of the film:
"They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of snakes is under the lips. Their mouths are full of bitterness and curses, and in their paths nothing but ruin and misery and the fear of God is not before their eyes. They have taken the hearts and minds of our leaders. They have recruited the rich and the powerful, and they have blinded us to the truth. The human spirit is corrupted. Why do we worship greed? Because, outside the living of our sight, feeding off of us, perched on top of us from birth to death, are our owners."
Who are these 'owners'?
They Live has so many profound messages to offer, in the subtleties of each scene. I had not associated the lead actor, Roddy Piper, with acting (he was a professional wrestler), but here he delivers a superb character performance.
Most people will know Aldous Huxley for his novel, Brave New World, but he had wider interests than just fiction-writing and in this talk he sets out his prediction that the world would eventually be controlled by a kind of global scientific dictatorship based on psychological submission. A little alarmist, but much of what he predicted back in the early 60s rings true.
A 2003 documentarty based on a book of the same name, Touching the Void is the story of a climber abandoned for dead who made his way back down a mountain alone.
War is a Racket, a 1935 speech and booklet by U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, no less, caused a sensation in its time. Butler, a two-time recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, speaks eloquently about how war is pursued for commercial interests - something that people too often forget or overlook. War is a business, a racket.
From a book of the same name, War Made Easy explains how during the 20th. century the mass media became a tool of war-mongering politicians and governments.
Great documentary, a real eye-opener about the hidden potential of the electric car and the mystery of why we rely on fuel-based motoring. For me, one revelation in this documentary is that the electric car has been around since the dawn of the motor car. Many of the earliest cars were electric. This documentary explains what went wrong.