▶︎ Can’t Get You out of My Head (six episodes) is available on BBC iPlayer.
Sight & Sound has asked me to name some of the movies I think express the social and political mood of their time – above all, ones that captured that mood ahead of more traditional forms of reporting.
1. Starship Troopers
Paul Verhoeven, USA 1997
Strangely ahead of its time. The story of terrifying bugs from a remote desert on a faraway planet who mount a gigantic attack on the big cities. In response the humans send giant armies to kill the insects in the deserts of the remote planet. Not long after the film came the real attacks on the cities of America.
- Available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Google Play
“The world is what we make it”: Adam Curtis in our April 2021 issue
In our April issue, Curtis tells us how we made our world, the better to try again. Plus Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, two new spy-thriller documentaries, a history of the ‘cursed film’, looking back at Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express – and forward to the future of Studio Ghibli.Find out more and get a copy
2. Out of the Past
Jacques Tourneur, USA 1947
America had just fought the Good War. And a new society was going to be built in the West. But there was the lurking fear that maybe the ghosts from the past hadn’t gone away. Out of the Past captures that mood in a very powerful and oblique way. Films like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) addressed the same ideas but more obviously. Out of the Past does it with real imagination.
- Available on Blu-ray and DVD
3. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg, UK 2019
Joanna Hogg is like no other filmmaker in Britain. She chronicles the inner life of the social classes as they rise up and fall. In The Souvenir she captures that moment when one class and its confidence was collapsing – and the new individualism of the age was rising up. It’s a brilliant piece of reporting on what was really going on in the 1980s.
- Available to stream on BFI Player
4. Imaginationland (South Park Season 11, Episode 11)
Trey Parker & Matt Stone, USA 2007
This is a three-parter that expresses the thing that has been forgotten at a time when politics is dominated by utilitarian economics: that it is really imagination that changes the world. Kyle’s speech about how imaginary beings have changed the world more than real ones is fantastic.
- Available to stream on Amazon Prime
5. Battlestar Galactica
Glen A. Larson & Ronald D. Moore, USA 2004-09
This series, put simply, is a powerful masterclass in how to build a new society when the people you are governing still have the fears and suspicions from the past lodged in their minds. And the emotional complexities that result.
- On BBC iPlayer
6. Scream 2
Wes Craven, USA 1997
It’s a great film. But it also expresses that moment when we all got trapped in a self-conscious feedback loop of referencing past culture and reworking it in an even more self-conscious way. Sampling was doing the same at the same time in music. I think we are all still in that trap.
- Available to stream on Amazon Prime
7. Uncut Gems
Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie, USA 2019
I really like this movie not only because it is exciting, fantastically made and incredibly beautiful, but because it expresses that extreme pitch of high emotion that typifies our age. In a time when people’s feelings were given prominence – that has grown and grown into what social media companies call ‘high-arousal emotions’. Uncut Gems expresses the inner realism of our age.
- Available on Netflix
8. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Adam McKay, USA 2004
It’s a very, very funny film. But Anchorman also captures the weirdness of TV News. It is brilliant at portraying how strangely formal the whole TV News thing has become and how what it really is is the ritual of the modern age. Plus, it’s got a talking dog.
- Available to Stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube and GooglePlay
Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR 1979
Nothing beats Stalker for creating mood. And quite frankly there isn’t much else in the near-three hours than the mood. But what that mood captures is that feeling that maybe there is something else around us that we can’t see. That maybe we are in the Zone – and every now and then we glimpse something that the accepted way of thinking can’t understand.
- Available to stream on Curzon On-Demand
Brian Yuzna, USA 1989
It’s absolutely disgusting. I’ve never managed to watch the end properly. But what it does is capture that growing fascination and fear of the human body that grew up in the 1980s. It’s something that David Cronenberg did in a cooler way, but Society goes for it full pelt. Way ahead of its time.
- Available on Blu-ray from Arrow
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Stalking the Stalker: Geoff Dyer on Tarkovsky
By Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Home of the weak: Out of the Past and four ways of framing film noir
By Brad Stevens
The Souvenir first look: Joanna Hogg’s potent self-portrait as a young artist
By Simran Hans
Uncut Gems review: the Safdie brothers hit the sweet spot with this manic thrill-ride
By Trevor Johnston