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46th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Friday, April 18, 2003
Adam Curtis U.K., 2003

In both politics and business, the triumph of the self is considered the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. But has it really? The acclaimed four-part BBC series The Century of the Self tells the controversial story of the growth of mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States, provocatively using as its guides the Freud family, especially Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew, who invented public relations in the United States; and present-day PR guru and Freud's great-grandson Matthew Freud, who became part of the marketing culture that took over politics in Britain when New Labour swept to power in the 1990s. "Such is the scope and ambition of this exemplary documentary, Rupert Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher, Dick Morris...were all enlisted to illustrate how we have been (willingly) turned from active citizens into passive consumers, and the great lie perpetuated by big business and conservative politicians—that by buying stuff, we assert our individuality. An extraordinary, fascinating series."

Parts 3 and 4 are presented April 25.

—Gareth McLean, The Guardian

• Written by Curtis. Photographed by David Barker, William Sowerby. (120 mins)