Adam Curtis- The Living Dead

Ta-da! The long sought after 1995 three parter has been notable by its absence from the web, but now thanks to what went on here (thank you JW) I am proud to present for your viewing pleasure-

Adam Curtis’ The Living Dead– Three Films About The Power Of The Past

Adam Curtis- The Living Dead 1/3: On the Desperate Edge of Now

Wikipedia– 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 title comes from a veteran’s description of what the uncertainty of survival while combat is like.

Adam Curtis- The Living Dead 2/3: You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough

Wikipedia– 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. Some film from this episode, an interview with one of Cameron’s victims, was later re-used by Curtis in his The Century of the Self. The title of this episode comes from a paranoid schizophrenic seen in archive film in the programme, who believed her neighbours were using her as a source of amusement by denying her any privacy, like a pet goldfish.

Adam Curtis- The Living Dead 3/3: The Attic

Wikipedia– 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. Scenes from The Innocents (film) the adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are intercut with Thatcher’s reign.

Enjoy, download, share, torrent before some killjoy comes along.

Posted in Media. Tags: , . 32 Comments »

32 Responses to “Adam Curtis- The Living Dead”

  1. Duder Says:

    I always enjoy Adam Curtis, but some political economy added to the mix of his docs would be nice. Here is some Michael Parenti to enrich the experience, his lecture “Functions of Fascism”. 4 parts

  2. John Whiting Says:

    It gives me great pleasure to have sent these wonderful programs on their rounds; in these days when history is being destroyed before our very eyes, there is no joy like its momentary preservation.

    I’ve also been doing a bit of sonic archaeology on my own. Throughout the 1960s I worked intermittently for KPFA, Berkeley’s non-commercial listener-supported FM station, including four years full time as its Production Director. Worked? It was more like being thrust into a round-the-clock play pen bursting with obstreperous child prodigies. But out of this chaos came many programs to rival the BBC’s — and for a single-digit percentage of the cost.

    Whole volumes have been written about Pacifica Radio’s internecine warfare, but very little about what was actually going out over the air while the blood was flowing. My new website does not aim to redraw the battle lines, but consists primarily of programs from the 60s of which I still had playable copies, together with long, informative, inspiring and frequently amusing conversations I recorded in 1994 with over two dozen of the network’s original founders, programmers and supporters. (At least five of them have since passed on to the Great Studio in the Sky). In all, it contains about 75 hours of .mp3 files, freely available for downloading. In the brief couple of months it’s been up, it has had well over 500 hits and has already climbed to the top in a number of Google searches– a search for brings it up in 2nd place out of about 177,000.

    If you’re a seeker after soundbites, you had best not even go there. When KPFA’s staff went on the air in 1949, the first thing they did was to rip the clocks off the walls (literally!). It was Rabelais’ Abbey of Theleme come to life, and the station’s formidably erudite founder Lew Hill would instantly have acknowledged this living metaphor. These are distant echoes from a “laid back” era — as John Cage said of Tibetan chant, if you find it boring perhaps you haven’t been listening long enough. You are hereby invited to turn off your Blackberry, click on my name in this posting and pass through these Stygian portals into living history!

  3. John Whiting Says:

    . . . a search for “KPFA history” . . .

  4. ralfast Says:

    I would disagree with Curtis in one sense. The victors have always written the histories. As for Germany, well I think it really starts just after the end of WW1 with the creation of the Myth of the Stab in the Back. Still very good shows.

    Thanks Rick.

  5. Philip Pilkington Says:


    I think his point is that history itself is covered over. History is not simply written in favour of the victor, the very means of victory is pushed out of the frame, the “other” is violent, the “self” good. “History is rewritten with smiles” to quote someone or other (was it Barthes?)….

    This hasn’t always happened. The French Revolutionaries hardly denied the terror. Hell, the French still celebrate Bastille day, which was a social unleashing of destructive energy if there ever was one – the even let de Sade out for God’s sake!

    Anyway, in order for this program to really do the rounds I reckon we should put it on one of those “junior leftist” websites, I think one of them is called “” or something like that. Unfortunately, I am, when it comes to these things, absolutely clueless… So any takers… yes, you in the back…

  6. Alastair Says:

    Excellent work. Many thanks to Mr Whiting and to RickB.

    Is there any chance of a decent quality torrent of this?

  7. ralfast Says:

    You should read Caesar account of the his campaign in Gaul. Would put Gobbles to shame.

  8. charliemarks Says:

    I am not as happy as a pig in the brown stuff.

  9. charliemarks Says:

    Sorry, that’s “I am NOW as happy as a pig in the brown stuff.”

  10. RickB Says:

    El Duderino- The Parenti! I will have a watch, I’ve read some of his, not seen him ‘live’ so thanks for the links.

    John- Well thanks again for your preservation of ‘The Dead’! Holy cow! That’s superb, maybe with all your rich experience we could set up an interview, I’m going to have a good mooch around your site and how brilliant you have put all this up, I really love that aspect of the web, a huge open library.

    Rafael- no probs.

    Rafael & Philip- I think what’s very useful about these is he punctures the pompous notion that ‘national heritage’ isn’t prey to the same manipulation as any contemporary political issue. And by its use we are not really recapturing any glories but being influenced by elites with their own agendas. Also just the horror motifs are enormous fun and do ask how the past perhaps devours the possibilities of our future. Brainzzz!

    Alastair- I can’t torrent very well (not always on, slow connection) but yes I do hope someone downloads the files and puts them out over torrent. There is always the risk some pain will flag them even though they are not commercially available and no one is showing them and no one is making money out of posting them. I hope fair use holds up. I am happy to send a dvd with the files on to anyone who will torrent it.

    Rafael- I’m always amazed his genocide of the Gauls is low down the list of what he’s known for, people seem to admire the bastard.

    charliemarks- I’m glad you’ve clarified your pig happiness rating, Gravy?

  11. Philip Pilkington Says:


    Absolutely, I especially liked the interview with the recovering schizophrenic at the end of the second episode. It was like some sort of twisted take on that old Marx quote about “men making their own history, but under the cloak of the past”… it really worked.

    The only problem I had with it was that it seemed to sort of justify the mad doctor’s – lets face it, the man was mad – barbarous use of ECT on the poor woman, a sort of ends justifies the means situation which still seems to be used to justify the use of ECT today. Something which I’d be extremely skeptical of. I mean they used to throw people with serious mental illness in freezing cold showers and it worked in the short term….. seems to me just a lazy way to avoid proper care. No wonder you often find ECT suites on underfunded public hospital floors…

  12. ralfast Says:

    What really amases me, every time I read it, is that he always had an excuse: The Tribes did this or violated that or attack someone else. Never does he mention that he went to Gaul to conquer it and through Gaul the Roman Empire to become its first Dictator for Life, or as we know them today Caesars/Emperors.

    That is why I say: Empire knows no Rubicon.

  13. RickB Says:

    I know what you mean Philip, it is left worryingly ambiguous and thus it does pose a disturbing question (although it would have been dishonest not to show she was in some way happy with her new life) about an unpleasant past’s hold on your present and the means to escape that. I think it showed Cameron became a very corrupted figure whose ends justified appalling abuses (and he lied about the CIA’s role, it was also interesting to hear of the psychologists who wanted to remain unconnected to the CIA publicly while working for it, which has happened again with torture) that to make a human tabula rasa is not possible without unethical treatment, or perhaps at all, after all she had to relearn so much, but he did let the question hang that if history continues to have such deleterious uses and effects can we break with it at any price?
    Although in her case she had little consent and so it is also a question of who is deciding what is a bad memory/past/behaviour and thus to remove it?
    It did also show that his interest in psychiatry, psychoanalysis and psychology was clearly growing from making this series and would lead to his Self/Nightmare/Trap trilogy. It did make me think that one of his central concerns is people, powerful people, imposing their version of the human condition on everyone else and the contradictions and failures of that history. He make mention of behavioral psychology and I would love for him to take this on directly because I think it’s a hugely profitable pursuit for the practitioners nowadays but one that denies the patient their humanity.

    The best description of ECT I heard was it is like banging the side of a tv set, a rather blunt instrument and no one really knows what will happen. Yes in any health context mental health is the poor relation as it still has the cloud of morality over it and fear, for an awful lot of people -and docs are no different- they think if you are ill you just aren’t trying hard enough, so it’s a moral failing and so treatments that have a corporal punishment element seem appropriate to the ignorant. And yeah, cheap.

  14. RickB Says:

    Rafael- Oh yeah there’s always a bullshit justification for the imperialist, yes that’s a good definition empire will not be contained or contradicted, the law is its instrument not its guide.

  15. ralfast Says:

    What I meant was that what goes around comes around. Those that believe that doing X, Y or Z is fine as long as its “Over There” don’t realize that a goverment that can torture, kill or destroy “Over There” can certainly do it “Over Here”.

    Caesar plundered and butchered his way through Gaul and then came back with the same army, crossed the Rubicon and ended crowing himself dictator for life.

    But you are right, the law in the hand of the imperialist becomes the blunt instrument of conquest and not a guide for a working society.

  16. Philip Pilkington Says:


    If we’re to go into the ethics of psychotherapy then I think it must be said that I don’t really think that anything like ECT actually works… I mean it certainly seems to work in the short term, but it doesn’t seem to really help people get back on their feet socially. That involves an awful lot of work both on the behalf of the patient and on the behalf of the therapist.

    However, even in psychotherapy, well at least the more sophisticated articulations of it, there seems to be a consensus that the past (i.e. the individual past) should be re-integrated in the case of less severe cases – what psychiatrists refer to as “neurosis” – and disintegration in the case of extremely severe cases – what psychiatrists refer to as “psychosis”.

    The big question is: if we’re to apply this metaphor to 20th century history then what exactly do the psychiatrists of public opinion diagnose?

  17. Philip Pilkington Says:

    Sorry, I think I’m being a little obscurantist there… contemporary Lacanian psychoanalysis is willing to recognise this need to re-incorporate the past, most other form of psychotherapy seem to ignore it. They seem to attempt to either wipe it out, or build purely on the future (is there really any difference?).

    Strangely its also, as Curtis shows, an interesting historiographical question… coincidence? Probably not…

  18. Philip Pilkington Says:

    Oh yeah, and one more thing. I don’t think that Cameron was simply a “corrupted figure”. To keep someone sedated for most of the day and to apply electric shocks for the rest of it is psychopathic. No matter how much you invoke the spirit of science, that is barbaric and I’d find it hard to believe that anyone that conducted those sorts of “experiments” with a clear conscience was not a psychopath in the strong sense of the word…

  19. Zionism Schmionism « Ten Percent Says:

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  20. RickB Says:

    Rafael- Ah yes, I understand, yep what is done ‘over there’ is going to come home.

    Philip- I think my instinct on ECT is suspicion even if some people say it has been helpful and as you said it does leave lots of other work to be done.
    I think the PR people (Freud assoc. natch!) are after selective memory manipulation, they are not in doubt as to its uses to form new attitudes in ‘consumers’.

    You should start your own blog (I’d be happy to link to it)! Lacan! Oh those were the days, yep it does have a much more sophisticated approach to the person and memory, ‘enjoy your symptoms’ as one Lacanian mischievously said to me.

    As for Cameron, that would be intriguing if he was a psychopath, (although for some arrogant well funded people that is not necessary, human vivisection seems to come easy) maybe some more digging on him is warranted, could make for a good post.
    I did mean a very profound kind of corruption not just taking shady money, but completely breaking all his profession ethics and treating humans like livestock, a criminal several times over (while not the same scale or objective it reminded me of the horrific Unit 731, something about the disregard for others humanity). What’s remarkable is he is still a relatively unknown figure, in popular culture him or -more usually- characters based on him do crop up but the historical abuses by him and the CIA (and other medicos) remain marginalised and even despite proof they are apportioned a whiff of tin foilism. As the CIA guy in ep 2 said the people who worked for them wanted it to remain secret although they were very ok with working for them. It doesn’t say much for their ethics which seem trumped by ambition and political biases.

  21. Alastair Says:

    Hello again

    Are the files on the DVD better quality than the Google video ones? I would be interested in making a torrent of them if they are. What format are they in and what filesize is each episode?


  22. RickB Says:

    Yes they are the mp4 files that were made from the dvd for uploading, mp4 sizes are approx. 470 MB per episode, (great on an ipod too, though could be smaller for ipod specific files) the dvd comes in at- 3.75 GB.
    email is top left HAL.

  23. Bill Says:

    If anyone here lives in Australia they can take out ‘The way of all flesh’, another Adam Curtis documentary, at Sydney City Library. Then they can put it on the net too. Here’s the link:!214685@!3100001@!3100002&term=Cancer%20–%20Treatment%20–%20United%20States.&aspect=basic_search&menu=search&source=!horizon#focus

  24. Bill Says:

    mm.. something went wrong with that link. Just click the first result of this google search

  25. RickB Says:

    Brilliant Bill! I will post an appeal to our Aussie friends.
    Fixed link- click here.

  26. Hey Australia! « Ten Percent Says:

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  27. Johnny Coates Says:

    Maybe I’ll try to watch these stuff…

  28. Adam Curtis- The Way Of All Flesh « Ten Percent Says:

    […] John Whiting (and check his KPFA site) who got this topic going when he provided The Living Dead. […]

  29. stew Says:

    Thanks for sticking these documentaries up. I’m a first time visitor here, brought by a google search for them. It looks like you’ve got a good blog, so I’ll be back to read it.

    I’ve only watched the first documentary so far, but it was very good as usual for Curtis. To counter the Nuremberg vision of Nazism, I was expecting him to hit the viewer with Arendt’s “banality of evil” from the Eichmann trial, but instead he took the late sixties German counter culture movement and their turn to supremacistic violence. Its a shame because I think Arendt’s work deserves a wider audience.

  30. RickB Says:

    Hey Stew! Glad to be of use, you’re welcome anytime. The others are excellent too, wait ’til you find out how much the CIA lost on a cat with brain implants when its first mission went horribly wrong! And the Canadian woman with a wiped history is fascinating and she does provide a link to his further work.

    Absolutely on Arendt, although lack of exposure does in itself tell a story about people preferring easy answers which in turn allow for repeats of horrors as the real issues are never addressed. Also of course nations and their militaries do require such introspection to be avoided in order to engage in business as usual. So both human psychology and the needs of capital mitigate against the prevention of further genocides (sadly, grimly).

  31. stew Says:

    Hello again.

    Yes, the cat was hilarious! However, my favourite clip came in the third one. It’s the bit where Thatcher is shown extolling the craftsmanship of a glazed porcelain statue of the Falklands Task Force raising the flag a la Iwo Jima. It looks like a nicknack from Blackpool pier!

    Getting back to Arendt, but I think many people see George W Bush as too much of a buffoon for anything to stick to him. From the minor issues like the wiretapping and Katrina all the way up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  32. RickB Says:

    Yes, that’s a really great sequence too and does make you wonder does she actually appreciate these are people not just ‘things’.

    I know what you mean the comedy potential does defuse his malice in popular culture, but I’m quite happy to see him as a buffoon and an evil piece of shit, if he was competent to sit in the Oval office he’s mentally competent to be responsible for his actions and stand trial. Which undoubtedly he would smirk all the way through, oddly some find him charming, seems the charm of the privileged bully who never had to take no for an answer.

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