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Adam Curtis v Massive Attack: MIF 2013 Reviews

Jonathan Schofield smells teen spirit in a derelict station

Written by . Published on July 5th 2013.

Adam Curtis v Massive Attack: MIF 2013 Reviews

MANCHESTER International Festival is like an eccentric old uncle. You're not quite sure what he's talking about sometimes but you're glad he's around. 

Adam Curtis is like an older man slapping you about the face with a kipper for reasons you can't quite work out. You want to tell him to calm down, go for a walk. 

I'm pleased I went to Adam Curtis v Massive Attack, it was a spectacle, you'd have to be in a coma not to be impressed by the magnitude of the thing.

But there were big problems. If this really was Adam Curtis v Massive Attack then the former won 8-1. More of the music would have been good.

As it was, those precious moments when former Cocteau Twin and one of my favourite performers ever, Elizabeth Fraser, sang were times to cherish. Her voice, pure and ethereal, lifted the soul and filled the gorgeous dereliction of Mayfield Station with moments of lyrical beauty.

But mostly the music was a soundtrack for Adam Curtis's long visual lecture on how the world is going to hell in a handcart and we're all tools and fools of the state while religion, democracy, communism and the whole dodgy matrix of life and death and the future is a furnace of failed dreams and mangled aspirations.

Which was odd, because on the taxi back to Albert Square I stared out of the window at the Village and Chinatown and lots of people seemed to be having a really good time. This morning my lads seemed quite chipper too, dear Mr Curtis. Cheer up eh?

Everything is derelict and bad

Everything is derelict and bad: Mayfield Station as a metaphor

Back in Mayfield Station the night before, Adam Curtis's vision, initially engaging, because of the scale of the visuals and a bass that made me aware of the position of each of my internal organs, became more and more numbing.

After an hour I realised this was the world's largest immersive adolescent nightmare conceived by a 58-year-old man who should know better.

It's the conceit of every age, especially among teenagers, to think they live in the worst of all times. Then we grow up, maybe understand politics and history some more, and learn this isn't the case.

The show reminded me of my Marxist history teacher at 'A' level who taught such a biased and twisted view of history that the whole class turned away in the end from her pile-driven message and started to think her utterly absurd. 

So as Curtis's patrician voice (I assume it was his) delivered his lecture about his twin obsessions with America and Russia, and my organs bounced in the bass, I lost interest in his trite message and lost myself in the sensory experience of the event instead.

This is the trick with Adam Curtis v Massive Attack. The show is worth seeing if you fall back into it like a bath, let it wash over you, try not to get angry or argumentative with the ridiculous interpretation of history. 

But I was disappointed.

When I saw It Felt Like A Kiss in 2009 I came out of that immersive theatre experience from Adam Curtis and Punchdrunk Theatre, awestruck. I was palpably excited about where a dramatic experience could take people. I soundlessly mouthed the word 'wow' for a week like a goldfish in a bowl at feeding time.

The message in It Felt Like A Kiss, about the stagnation of the American Dream, seemed to have been delivered with beauty, power and shock. 

This show does not do that. 

It's impressive but hardly moving. Instead it's like an older man slapping you about the face with a kipper for reasons you can't quite work out. You want to tell him to calm down, go for a walk. 

And it's so fatally humourless. 

I think it was the poet Robert Graves who once said, 'The problem with the Bible is there's not a single joke in it.'

Same with this show. 

But then again maybe the world is that grim and serious and we are all on that rocky road to ruin.

Maybe it's all as empty and dead as the former Mayfield Station in which Adam Curtis v Massive Attack takes place. 

This was the old uncle of Manchester International Festival without a smile. I'm still hugely pleased he's around but with the next show it'd be nice to have him give me a grin or two. He can certainly rattle a few cages though. 

Adam Curtis v Massive Attack is part of Manchester International Festival. More details here.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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29 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DrakeJuly 5th 2013.

Gave away my tickets when Curtis started flinging around the word 'gilm'. Lot of unhappy people after the first night it seems.

SAMI BJuly 6th 2013.

I saw the show last night and feel ,frankly, ripped off.....£6 would have been a fair price, rather than the actual£36

AnonymousJuly 6th 2013.

Where am I? What's going on?

Poster BoyJuly 7th 2013.

Spot on JS. It felt like a Politics and Social Sciences degree dissertation put to video in a cut up Pilger meets Burroughs meets Network 7 stylee (for those that can remember). A left agenda for left leaning receptors. The only surprise being the absence of Vietnam, Zionism, Thatcher, Murdoch, Google or Simon Cowell... As far Massive Attack, they seem to have discovered their inner grunge. It felt more like a rock soundtrack at times. The production would have been better served by a more refined 'lightness of touch' from both the film maker and musicians.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 29th 2013.

it was posh Festival what did you expect, and Arena show?

Judith WatsonJuly 7th 2013.

I just found it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Agree about the price.

Tom HJuly 8th 2013.

Thanks Jonathan, this expresses very well how I felt about the show. I'm a big and vocal fan of Adam Curtis and likewise had high expectations after It Felt Like A Kiss. Sadly this to me just felt like an Adam Curtis doc by numbers, but somewhat dumbed down and much less coherent than his previous work. The attempt to do something new by combining the doc with live music was brave but I think it didn't quite work somehow.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Tom HJuly 8th 2013.

And yes, £38 was way too steep for what is practically speaking a film screening sound tracked by a live band. It Felt Like A Kiss was a tenner less and that involved set-dressing an entire office block and dozens of performers.

Manc GuyJuly 8th 2013.

OH MY!!! WHAT A BUNCH OF WHINERS!!! If anyone else out there thinks the same then clearly you didn't read up about it beforehand. It was NEVER going to be a Massive Attack concert. A live Massive Attack performance, combined with an original documentary by the brilliant Adam Curtis, and guest vocals by Elizabeth Fraser, ex Cocteau Twins singer, in an old Edwardian train station...and all on your doorstep? The price of that ticket's worth every penny. I'm sure you lot would rather be charged £38 for a bag of chips in Spinningfields. You'd probably think that was a bargain too! Nice to see ManCon knocking out the spoilers again. Macbeth review anyone?

7 Responses: Reply To This...
K BranaghJuly 8th 2013.

Manc Guy are you being serious about spoilers over the Macbeth review, the location was everywhere? The official pre-publicity mentioned the 'deconsecrated church'. You speak such drivel on here. Mancon set up a vote and let's see if readers want to vote him off the site.

Manc GuyJuly 8th 2013.

I knew where the venue would be months ago just by doing an online search. The thing is, and just like The XX venue, the MIF haven't stated where the venue is to keep it a 'mystery' for most of the audience. In fact, the audience have only been emailed instructions of a meeting point. So if the MIF are trying to keep it as a surprise for the audience members, why would ManCon think it's ok to announce the location? I bet ManCon would have dropped the huge Game of Thrones penultimate episode spoiler if The Metro newspaper hadn't beaten them to it. If there's any voting to be done on here, it should be to vote all 'ANON's' off this site. Look at you!...hiding behind a name. Now...run along to Spinningfields and tuck into a nice lunch that costs the price of feeding a whole African village for a month.

Tracy GrahamJuly 8th 2013.

Had breakfast in Carluccio's on Sunday morning in Spinningfields. It was glorious. Spinningfield's a fabulous addition to Manchester

GimboidJuly 8th 2013.

Er... so does it say 'Manc Guy' on your birth certificate then?? With a pseudonym you're as anonymous as anyone else!

Manc GuyJuly 8th 2013.

Errr...as you're not familiar with ManCon, default ID's are called 'ANONYMOUS', so you don't know which 'ANONYMOUS' it is. As for using real names?...that's down to choice.

GimboidJuly 8th 2013.

I'm more than familiar with ManCon thanks. What difference does it make whether you're called Anon or Manc Guy nobody knows who actually are, so you're still "hiding behind a name"! Logic failure old son.

Manc GuyJuly 9th 2013.

I was only referring to 'ANONYMOUS' ManCon ID's, not real names. Logic failure indeed!!!

Xanthoula MaitouJuly 8th 2013.

Does it really matter if one knows where the venue is? For macbebth or any of the shows? Does it take any of the enjoyment away? I found mass attack vs Curtis a little dated (has not the cold war finished yet?) and rather preachy but I still liked the whole experience of it and I do not regret going to see it despite the £36 price tag. And what is wrong with spinningfields anyway? Nice outside space to have a drink in the city? Why not?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Manc GuyJuly 9th 2013.

It matters because MIF have always wanted that way and ManCon should respect that. A recent post on the MIF website page shows that it still stands "If you've got tickets to see The xx at Manchester International Festival then please don't read this. If you don't, please do."

JamesJuly 9th 2013.

Millionaire pop stars ramming their left wing politics down our throats, urmm great. 1st night was so disappointing for so many. Great band and such a great venue but turned into one long boring rant. The band apparently even instructed the organisers to close the bar as soon as the performance began because they didnt want any interruption to their predictable sermon. Give the kids what they want next time......they really dont need to be lectured to for so long....no wonder hundreds left before the end.

James SmithJuly 9th 2013.

What are people actually expecting? It is an Adam Curtis documentary not Iron Man 3. I seem to recall that a lot of people complained that It Felt Like A Kiss was too long and the documentary was pointless/boring etc at the time. It is “fatally humourless” what a bizarre comment, I don’t recall Schindler’s List being exactly laugh a minute. Maybe a few superimposed red noses during the Chernobyl scenes, or clown music during the Ceausescu execution would have lifted your mood Jonathan? It is what it always was going to be, a challenging and at times hard work analysis of recent history. Just take away from it what you what, you don’t have to agree with it – but I don’t think it is right to criticise it just because you don’t.

AnonymousJuly 10th 2013.

Anyone who thinks £36 is costly should check out gig prices at the MEN Arena where the average price is higher, in some cases by several multiples bruno mars, wet wet wet, maroon 5. all more expensive

ALYBOBSJuly 13th 2013.

I was really looking forward to this event, getting into Mayfield especially, and even though it was never going to be a gig, I expected some of the massive attack emotive music, which for me was sadly lacking. Some of the narrative was hard to hear (sound system) and even with all those screens we were surrounded by much taller people and couldn't catch all the words. Left early very dissapointed. This could have been so much better with less random dialogue and more musical content.

ALYBOBSJuly 13th 2013.

oh and to anon, you cannot compare facilities between mayfield and the MEN re prices, did you attempt the toilets for example?

paulsouthernJuly 13th 2013.

I only want to see Mayfield station. Which you can Sunday14th from 1-6pm and catch some great art too www.mif.co.uk/…/tino-sehgal-this-variation…

AnonymousJuly 15th 2013.

Tin-foil hatted conspiracy theories for the intelligentsia. If only David Icke knew how to present this well.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Manc GuyJuly 15th 2013.

So what part of Curtis's documentary wasn't true?

AnonymousJuly 21st 2013.

condescending and patronising are two words to sum it up mac guy - talking bollocks yet again

1 Response: Reply To This...
Manc GuyJuly 24th 2013.


Manc GuyAugust 13th 2013.

Good news for Mayfield Depot; www.insidermedia.com/…/96100-…

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