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1 Feb, 2015 03:58

​BBC documentary 'Bitter Lake' is 'too dangerous' for TV

​BBC documentary 'Bitter Lake' is 'too dangerous' for TV

Adam Curtis’ latest documentary, ‘Bitter Lake,' examines the 'special relationship’ between the US and Saudi Arabia which has grown to dominate the Middle East.

Gliding effortlessly alongside that is the rise of radical Islam, Afghanistan, and the petrodollar energy markets that now overshadow international relations.

Against a sumptuous backdrop of dream-like archive footage and haunting music, we revisit the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, where prices quadrupled. We don't find ‘bolshy Arabs’ throwing their weight around as the myth still runs in the West. Instead, OPEC's price rise is to punish the US for its massive military shipments to Israel during that year’s Yom Kippur War, as Arab countries tried to take back territory which had been occupied by Israel in 1967.

Afghanistan & Saudi Arabia at the crossroads

Bitter Lake’s release comes just three days after the death of Saudi King Abdulla on Thursday, January 22. The official announcement came so late on Thursday that Friday bulletins on BBC Radio 4 and BBC 5 Live mistakenly announced the hapless monarch as dying that day. Most English language mainstream media, including Wikipedia, still incorrectly state that King Abdulla died on Friday.

Why does this matter? Well, it shows just how fragile the Saudi monarchy is. These mistakes tell a story about the battles for succession that can take place in ponderous tyrannies. All the succession ceremonies were carried out in secret and the new King Salman was crowned, all signed sealed and delivered, well before the death was announced to the public.

Modern Saudi Arabia is a British colonialist creation forged at the Treaty of Darin in 1915. Indeed, much of the Middle East was secretly carved up around the same time by Laurence of Arabia and London's Foreign Office and the French government in the hush-hush 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Founder of Saudi Arabia Ibn #Saud converses with U.S. President Franklin D. #Roosevelt (right)on board the USS Quincy pic.twitter.com/F0OGw1uZbj

— Ahmed Siyar (@ahmedsiyar) January 30, 2015

The 'Bitter Lake' of the title is the venue of an 'oil for protection' meeting between US President Franklin Roosevelt and King Saud in 1945. As the only nuclear armed power in the world at the time, almost entirely undamaged from the Second World War that had raged around them, the United States of February 1945 was in a good position to offer global protection. Though neither may have understood it at the time, their agreement contained a fundamental contradiction – that Saud's Islam and Roosevelt's capitalism were, and are, on a moral and spiritual collision course.

Fast forward to Afghanistan today. Though a sheaf of dubious 'security' and 'construction' contractors are always left behind these days, the last British and American troops left Afghanistan's key Helmand province only three months ago in October 2014. So, after tens of thousands of deaths, what exactly has NATO achieved?

With NATO's, to borrow Dan Glazebrook's phrase, 'Divide and Ruin' foreign policy turning everything it touches in Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria to blood and gore, we now have – at least partly – NATO armed and funded ISIS appearing on the scene in Afghanistan too. It seems about time we all took stock of the religious and military powder keg that NATO and Israel have created.

As not seen on BBC television

Though commentators have made much of Curtis only releasing the film online, on the BBC iPlayer, they fail to explain that's because the BBC’s television channels did not commission it – and online did. That decision is the commissioning editor's. In the cult of television, could it simply be that the vicious truth is okay for kids – what, with all those wacky YouTube videos – but too much for the masses?

After losing direction somewhat with his 2011 film 'All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,' Curtis has slipped effortlessly back to the peak of the craft with Bitter Lake; his tender touch showing once again that filmmakers CAN love their audience, that British film and television CAN be the best in the world. The way this film stands out gently begs the question, through every one of the 140 minutes, why has the rest gone to hell in a handbasket?

Slaughter of one of the 8 sheep #Saudi brought aboard USS Murphy tp celebrate Roosevelt-Abdul Aziz deal. #oilpic.twitter.com/qGhd3gP1uq

— Cuneyt Kazokoglu (@ckazok) November 11, 2013

What happened to great feature filmmakers like Peter Greenaway, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Terry Gilliam? The simple answer is, like the disabled, sick, and elderly, the money-men are chocking them off. The delicate eco-system which distilled out and nurtured the nation’s most gifted filmmakers through the likes of John Grierson, through Powell and Pressburger to Attenborough, has been boxed in, concreted over, and overrun by thugs and pliable wannabes.

With a brilliant script and a begging bowl, talent now can be struggling for years, only to get a little development money if lucky. It just isn’t worth the candle. This most challenging and youngest of crafts – invented only around the turn of the 20th century, in the space of 20 years – and a perverted 'war on terror' has been brought to its knees.

A light in the darkness

Every one of Adam Curtis’ previous epic BBC documentaries has done precisely what journalism and television should always do – takes us on a journey in the safe hands of someone who's on our side. Rather than use his access to the corridors of power for his own gain, Curtis takes us behind the curtain to see the shadow play behind some of the most subtle and profound changes of the last century.

Interlacing all his work are forceful, defiant notions. For example, that voting might be something people only do now with a kind of ‘blind faith’ that perhaps things might not change so much for the worse if they do it. In bypassing the politics of left and right, we might even come away with the notion that the democracy the rest of the media holds such stock by is, perish the thought, just a sham.

In 1999, Curtis' ‘The Mayfair Set’ shone a light into the tiny group of Conservative party businessmen and politicians – such as Trade and Industry Secretary Sir Keith Joseph – who drove the hostile takeover and asset stripping culture of the 1980s. Fiercely touted as 'good business sense' at the time, they stripped Britain of its industrial, foreign exchange earnings – often for their own private gain – right under the noses of the nation destroying both Britain's trade and her industry!

"Hugging the Saudi floggers" http://t.co/5ENDfauvTz •Barack & Michelle Obama in Riyadh• pic.twitter.com/gnjMvQ3UhR

— Gaby (@GabyGG12) January 27, 2015

'The Century of the Self' in 2002 looked at the Freud family's curious influence on psychoanalysis, a sort of replacement for religious faith, and the effect of Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, who invented propaganda. Then, after its wartime use by Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels, Bernays re-branded his invention as the cosy public relations we know so well today. In Curtis' subtext is the horrifying thought that perhaps the relentless economic drivers behind today's tax-deductible PR have left traditional journalism and journalists dead on the vine.

The Power of Nightmares (2004) was, along with Dylan Avery’s ‘Loose Change’ (2005), one of a handful of post 9/11 documentaries which, like Allan Francovich’s 1992 films about Lockerbie and NATO's pernicious Operation Gladio, boldly turned the official narrative on its head. 'Nightmares' investigates the use of fear to manipulate mass populations in the post 9/11 world and the effect of policies which are based on nightmare visions of the world peddled by power elite whose vision they want to project is moving ever further from reality.

In it he gives us important insight into the back story of the West’s influence in Egypt and the post-war rise of the Muslim Brotherhood while looking also at the live TV terror spectacular’s ability to terrorize and soften up the minds of millions of viewers, at the ability of a handful of powerful people in elite institutions – such as finance and media – to engineer human consciousness on a global scale.

Fighting the thought police

Today’s broadcasting executives are being drafted in straight from the Temple of Mammon; from the Conservative party, big business, or – as Barclay’s Marcus Agius and new HSBC chair Rona Fairhead – at the BBC, banking. Not only do these institutions of debt suck the soul out of our arts and culture, but both have, over the last few years, been behind history’s most obscene examples of fraud and money laundering.

Perhaps the unpunished crimes hanging around these executives’ necks helps explain the odd characters they choose to deploy as commissioning editors and in higher and middle management? People like Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, who spiked the biggest story of 2012 because he didn’t want to spoil a ‘Jimmy Savile Christmas Special.' That, and the executives’ decision not to discipline him but to put him in charge of the BBC archives, speaks volumes about the sarin gas inspired characters running our nation’s nervous system.

Reuters / Jonathan Alcorn

The world our children are inheriting is profoundly different to the one we grew up in. So much of what we see and hear is an account framed not by independent producers and journalists, but by paid spin doctors and vested interests. A heroic handful of documentary makers have brought the craft through Naomi Klein's 'Shock Doctrine' deceptions of the 9/11 attacks and into the 21st century, so not all is lies and confusion in the last days of Rome.

Adam Curtis has once again smashed acres of soulless schedules, decades of half-truths, and billions of pounds worth of lies to pieces with this splendid documentary. Let’s pray it’s not his last.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.