Mark Cira’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is, beyond a doubt, the greatest political documentary of our age and Curtis' magnum opus. It attracts his previous interests of individualism, colonialism, technocracy, psychological warfare, and the religiosity of political movements and completely rebukes the critiques laid against him as a shallow or scatterbrained thinker.
In 2016, David Jenkins at Little White Lies wrote a piece about Curtis, claiming he was guilty of "obfuscation" and, yet, "unwilling to engage in ambiguity." The oxymoronic sentiment, funnily, reinforces what Curtis has been saying since his first work: that people are deeply confused and need some intelligible clarity for their future, otherwise we're all doomed to the fate of our own ignorance.
Jenkins continued, asserting Curtis had no "dual perspective" and a penchant for "generalizations." This documentary offers no generalizations of the sort, but rather pinpoints with laser focus exactly what "powers" and what "people" are at play in his kaleidoscopic vision of the modern world. It goes beyond dual perspective, providing insight like a pendulum that swings so far to each side that the momentum shifts are rarely seen in documentary work. Curtis changes gears like a race car driver fanning across four lanes at 100mph. He shifts from continent, to ideology, to decade as if you are thumbing through a microfilm reader at your local library.
But, perhaps, the most inane critique was that Curtis "didn't have a political ideology" and, therefore, "lacks from a human aspect." As if to think that your political ideology should instruct the human experience. The irony is lost on Jenkins as this is precisely what Curtis challenges the viewer to run away from. As far as they can. At the core of political ideology, there is the irrational mind that is often less dictated by egalitarianism and moreso temperament. This has been proven in psychological literature, time and time again. People tend to vote, think and act with their emotions, 9 times out of 10. And in that, Can't Get You Out of My Head could be Curtis' most anarchistic work ever because Curtis examines the emotional history of these movements and weakens the strength of their very cores.
In fact, Curtis opens this 6-episode documentary with the words from Anarcho-Anthropologist David Graeber, one of the leading figures in the Occupy movement. Like Curtis, Graeber was an outcast, kicked out of Yale for his "radicalism" and essentially relegated to boutique publishing houses like Melville House, the only institutions ballsy enough to release his work Debt, which posited that for the history of humanity, we have been subjugated through debts, with no sight of relief, for which major banks maintain a level of insolvency amongst their populations to justify state-sponsored violence and vice versa. It was essentially the history of money, dating back to the Aztecs and Mongolians. It's sprawling and the work of a rigorous academic.
Like Graeber, Curtis is his own exile from academia (he left mid-PhD). When he ventured into journalism, he found himself not fitting in there either, pushing back against the primitive and myopic broadcast form, nor did he align with the arthouse chic of Amazon Studios social justice docs. Can't Get You Out of My Head is the funeral toll to Jenkins and other softball critiques of the shallow swimming nature of Curtis' work. Oh, you think I'm being broad? Inhuman? Ok, here's 475 minutes of the history of modern political systems and what underpins the human condition within the major powers (United States, Russia, China, and the UK).
In this documentary, Curtis examines the undergirding principles behind our political systems; our comfortable familiarity with the past, our obsession with ourselves, our resentment for others, and our incessant need to run away from it all only to return back to it...eventually. From the pushback of industrialization in the UK and Germany as missions towards the pastorial mythology that was perpetuated by Nazi Germany and nationalists within the Soviet Union to the resentment of the West by Limonov to resurge the Bolshevik party. We are a predictable species with no outlook for the future, and therefore, continue running into the past like a baby trying to buy admission back into the womb. It warm. It protect.
In Curtis’ examination of humans relationship with our pasts, he nearly abandons the linear form and adopts his more classic rhizomatic approach, one that doesn’t feel limited by time and wants to break the convention at every turn.
To do this, Curtis uses music to a startlingly effective degree. At once, to give the audience time to absorb his seemingly chaotic deluge of information, but moreso to pronounce the humanity present in all of his documentary work. Dropping tracks from Bright Eyes to Cigarettes After Sex to Johnny Boy. There is no living filmmaker marrying the academic rigour and the musical sensibilities like Curtis. It inspires, it's un-ironic and it just works. He creates moods, atmospheres steeped in affect theory. It isn't just information relayed like the moving banner on the bottom of a CNN broadcast. It moves you, while giving you pregnant moments of contemplation. Jenkins confuses these beats of luridness to "monged-out music" as a means to "detach.". It's the complete opposite. Curtis has the confidence and sensitivity to use images and music to move the viewer, without guidance, without any instruction, as if to say "Look, even if you don't agree with what I'm presenting here, can we still share an emotion within these overtures?"
It's the most punk offering from any film or documentary right now. Curtis doesn't fall for the trap of creating more polarizing art for the sake of bankability. God, we have enough stuff out there that caters and panders to liberals, fascists, and all the crap in-between. It's like, here's a map of the world. Let's take a look at where humanity is and how we can avoid some pitfalls. But, hey, here are some beacons of how we succeeded too. You have to be soulless to see the slow zoom in on Afeni Shakur's face and not be moved. It's rare to be this emotionally invested in a film, let alone a documentary.
To learn, to feel, to question, to go down the rabbit-hole and leave the political relegations of "left" and "right" for 6+ hours is so fucking rare these days. Curtis is a punk, through and through. Whether you're a self-proclaimed "Randian individualist", a god-hating "communist," a "democratic socialist" or a "conspiracy theorist," you are forced to confront these ideologies head-on. It's almost religious in its practice because for a minute you have to ask, Wait, what do I believe in? or better yet, Why do I believe in it? Or worse Do I believe in anything? Maybe you hate your family, maybe you hate yourself, maybe you just want to return to the old country and remember the good ol' days. Doesn't matter. You're an emotional beast and they play on those emotions at every opportunity.
Within the cold, technocracy that is reigning over us, we have to be aware that these machines don't function on the same emotional thresholds we do. They incite without fear, they subject you to nostalgia without understanding the emotions that undergird said nostalgia. Curtis makes a great argument about our sensibilities for the past as being conducive to fascism. It's like, Do we need another throwback, re-make or fuckin Edward Scissorhands car commercial to prove this? These are the tools of oppression. They want you to remain in a stasis so that you can't produce a fruitful path forward. If we are all frozen in the nostalgia, we never age and we never have to die.
Well, I'd rather die believing in a future than freeze in an immortal womb cultivated around the past. Or would I? I don't know. Watch the documentary and let me know. I used to think the past was better than the future. Now I think the future is the past. Timeless work here. Timeless, timeless, timeless. Goddamn, I love this film. It just intersects everything I love.