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Essential Viewing: The Power of Nightmares

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik December 12, 2005 at 10:25AM

Essential Viewing: The Power of Nightmares
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While "Brokeback Mountain" and "Narnia" were the popular favorites to see in New York this weekend, the rare theatrical showing of Adam Curtis's 3-hour documentary "The Power of Nightmares" is arguably the most important movie of the year. And the current open-ended run at the Cinema Village is the last chance American audiences will get a chance to see the doc in a proper format. (If you have good eyes, you can watch the entire film as a small Quicktime movie on your computer screen via this link at archive.org -- but somehow I doubt it's conducive to watching the 180-minute provocative collage.)

Notwithstanding the clearance issues the movie would face in the U.S., writer-director Curtis is forbidding any additional screenings of the film. "I am turning down any other showings," he told the Cinema Village's Ed Arentz, citing the film's out-of-dateness after the London bombings. He also asked the exhibitor to post this message before every screening:

"This series of films was produced in late 2004 prior to the London bombings in July this year. These tragic events do not alter the argument of the series - that although we in the west face a serious terrorist threat, the apocalyptic vision of Al Qaida portrayed by politicians and the media over the past 4 years is both a distortion and an exaggeration."

Indeed, the movie's message is absolutely relevant, even after the London bombings. Curtis always acknowledges the existence of terrorist groups, citing the Madrid mass transit bombings as clear evidence of a recent deadly attack. What he takes issue with is the picture painted by US and UK officials that "Al Qaeda" is a vast, worldwide, highly structured terrorist organization, lead by the evil mastermind Osama Bin Laden, capable of destroying the west. (He also wages a devastating assault on the "dirty bomb" scare, quoting several experts who say it's entirely ineffectual. You can read a transcript of the film and read the evidence yourself here.) Even more hilarious is Curtis' allegations that many terrorist "plots" -- completely fabricated to instigate paranoia and hyped up by Ashcroft to do just that -- were based on scenes that Islamic fundamentalists saw in 1998's "Godzilla."

Tracing the neoconservative movement back to the Cold War period, Curtis makes a compelling argument: Osama and Al Qaeda are just fantasies defined and inflamed by neoconservatives to preserve their power and rule by fear. I know it sounds like lefty conspiracy hype, but when Curtis examines the historical trajectory of the neocons -- and the way they distorted and manipulated the threat of the U.S.S.R. in the 1980s and Bill Clinton in the 1990s -- the argument appears perfectly logical.

Call it persuasive propaganda or a brilliant political-historical analysis of the politics of fear, but "The Power of Nightmares" should be essential viewing for everyone in America and the UK.

This article is related to: Political Docs, War

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