Bitter Lake, Adam Curtis’ new film, made its debut on Sunday 25tJanuary. The documentary was not broadcast on a terrestrial channel. Instead, it made its debut on iPlayer, thereby making this service a channel in its own right rather than a catch up destination.
In many ways, IPlayer is a natural home for Curtis’s unique brand of shape shifting, genre denying documentaries.
Nobody else creates television quite like Adam Curtis. He locks himself away for months at a time with piles of tapes and weaves together unsettling narratives.
From The Century of the Self (2002) to All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011), watching a Curtis film is like seeing a damaged dream.
Bitter Lake is made of archive footage from Afghanistan. Putting it on iPlayer allows Curtis the freedom to let his unsettling narrative play out for as long as he feels the story requires rather than how long the channel dictates. It is not easy to watch. There is no straightforward structure. It is not a fight between good and evil, rather an unsettling combination of fact and mood.
Because Bitter Lake is in iPlayer, sequences no longer need to be rigorously edited so they follow the style and format of a current affairs programme. Instead they can hold shots for a long time, allowing the observer to slowly become absorbed.It delves beneath the surface. It is not an easy watch but it is hypnotic and strangely beautiful in parts.
Now Adam Curtis has led the way, it will be interesting to see how other filmmakers use this new channel.