Now online: Adam Curtis's Margaret Thatcher memorial

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The ominous title screen
  • The ominous title screen
A few weeks ago British filmmaker Adam Curtis responded to the death of Margaret Thatcher by uploading The Attic, his 1995 TV movie about her, to his BBC-sponsored blog. "I'm putting it up as a bit of a corrective to the terrifying wonk-fest that took over after Mrs. Thatcher died," Curtis wrote in a new postscript. "A conveyor belt of Think Tank pundits and allied operatives poured into the TV studios and together they built a fortress around Mrs. Thatcher's memory that was rooted in theories about economics."

Like all of Curtis's work, it would be imprecise to call The Attic a documentary—or even a political film. The characteristically dense collage draws from vintage newsreels and fiction films as well as contemporary interviews and TV footage. Curtis's realm isn't political reality but rather the signs among us (to borrow a chapter title from Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma, which Curtis's movies often resemble). And so The Attic isn't a critique of Thatcher, per se, but a consideration of the myth she created around herself.

In Curtis's view, Thatcher developed a myth of British might from great moments in 19th-century imperialism and Winston Churchill's patriotic history of England. Her undoing, Curtis concludes, was that these ideals had little connection to the England Thatcher actually governed. This is reductive as history, but then, most of Curtis's work is. The Attic is interested in Thatcher as a vehicle for the director's perennial theme, the danger of expecting reality to conform to a preconceived ideal. (In one of the film's funniest motifs, Curtis appropriates scenes from Jack Clayton's The Innocents to convey that Thatcher was literally haunted by Churchil's legacy.) Curtis doesn't seem to be a fan of Thatcher, but he doesn't regard her problem as exclusive to the right. His body of work—one of the most breathtaking in contemporary British cinema—has shown this hubris to be nearly universal. His other major subjects include radical Islam, the Soviet Union, the public relations industry, and the Internet.

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