Two self-directed films this week, and that is usually a bad sign. Every television auteur, even the best, needs someone at his shoulder saying, ‘Nah, mate, won’t work.’ The lack of an independent voice can be disastrous and lead to Billy Bunter levels of self-indulgence.
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (BBC2, Monday) was the latest Adam Curtis film, named after a poem by Richard Brautigan. This imagines — ironically, I suppose — a situation in which humans return to a state of nature, with all our needs cared for by computers.
It was a typical Curtis film, resembling one of those dreams you sort of remember because you’ve just woken up. One image follows another without there necessarily being any connection. Strips of film, some in black and white, some speeded up, some in slow motion, are lingered over or disappear in an instant. The background music is heavy and emotional, yet often has no connection with what’s on the screen. Any logical storyline has to be inferred by the viewer because the film has hurried on too fast, shouting ‘catch you later!’ over its shoulder.
We started with an old interview with Ayn Rand, the Russian-American philosopher who was never taken seriously by other philosophers but was extraordinarily successful in the States during the 1950s, particularly through her novel Atlas Shrugged, ancient paperbacks of which now moulder in thousands of motels and trailer homes.
Rand invented ‘objectivism’, which taught that rational self-interest was the only way society could succeed. She rejected religion, altruism and collectivism. She might be largely forgotten now (and ended her days alone, tending her stamp collection) but according to Curtis she inspired the inventors of Silicon Valley. Quite why is never explained, since apart from the big names — Jobs, Gates, etc.