Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake

Adam Curtis’ Bitter lake is a unique documentary which explores the history of the relations between Afghanistan and the USA through archived footage. Curtis has carefully edited the footage to take the viewer through a linear poetic/linear documentary. The narrative follows conventional expository techniques for example ‘Historical documentaries in this mode deliver an unproblematic and ‘objective’ account and interpretation of past event’, whilst the execution of the documentary- poetic which ‘moves away from continuity editing and instead organized images of the material world by means of associations and patterns, both in terms of time and space.’ Curtis’ storyline has especially appealed to me as it exposed the relations between the west and the orient, arguably through the opposing perspective to western media. Curtis uses his footage in a way which rejects the conventional western broadcasts of the orient through using archived ‘local’ footage of Afghani citizens who suffered during the war. His intentions of highlighting the USA and Britain as the real ‘enemy’, who essentially established the foundations of the war is also strengthen by including footage of hooligan western soldiers who aimlessly murder innocent people. The main underlying theme could be viewed as exposing the Orientalist perspective, defying the strength of western media and it’s influence in polluting western people’s views towards the east.

This theme is something I aspire to project through my documentary, as I intend to present the perspective of first generation of Iranian’s who left Iran in reaction to the Islamic Revolution. The people I will be interviewing were all anti-Shah during the revolution, mainly for the reasons that they felt the shah was allowing the west to control Iran. It will be interesting to watch/listen to how these people interpreted the revolution and understood it as opposed to how western media reported it during the time. Other than the theoretical aspect of Bitter Lake, I found the way in which is was displayed extremely interesting. Using archived footage to cover over 100 years of history was a visually fascinating and informative as it had the ability to make the audience feel as if they travelled back in time, experiencing all these events-therefore creating a closer connection with the narrative. As I have previously mentioned, surprise is vital in story writing in order to obtain the audiences attention. Curtis perfects this as he specifically locates shocking scenes in unexpected places, as although his narration is linear, the footage jump cuts between the two different perspectives quite often- from western to eastern culture/location. From this technical aspect, I have been inspired to incorporate this into some of my scenes of the interviews with the subjects. I contemplated using found footage of the protests of revolutions of 1979 to begin the documentary with, to set the scene. However this would completely object my initial idea of making it look naturalistic ‘window into a world’ idea, therefore I have rethought how I can include some found footage without it looking overly stylised.

I want the audience to view a glimpse of how extreme the protests were and gain an understanding of what the documentary subjects have experienced and lived through. Furthermore to achieve this, I have constructed a certain scene which consists of the family sitting around the sofa whilst footage of the revolution plays on the television. This conforms to my intention of prompting discussion regarding certain subjects, whilst making it look un-staged as it if the situation has naturally occurred.  I hope this will influence the subjects to discuss their recollections of this moment in time, thus informing the audience of their varying experiences. This scene could be seen as the start of their journey since leaving, which I aim to capture through this documentary.


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