The «talking head» mode of documentary filmmaking has been out of fashion for years, perhaps even decades, but it can still work — provided the heads in question are able to discourse in a sufficiently engaging and illuminating manner. Two such examples are the main reason to see Diana Neille and Richard Poplak’s Influence, which tries, across 105 minutes, to chronicle how, since the 1970s, democracies around the world have been manipulated — or even controlled and subverted — by techniques previously associated with the advertising world.
The chief manipulator here is Tim Bell, key member of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad-agency which was to have such an impact on British politics via their role in the Conservatives’ epochal electoral triumph of 1979. Neille and Poplak introduce Bell as «Mrs. Thatcher’s favourite ad-man,» a «legendary spin-doctor» whose segue into behind-the-scenes political campaigning yielded lucrative international contracts, usually — though not exclusively — for those of a Thatcher-like ideological persuasion. «I don’t understand why… people are left-wing,» he sighs at one point, genuinely perplexed by the fact that others lacking his significant advantages in life may see things in a different manner.
Such comments are left unchallenged by his unseen, seldom-heard interviewers. Although deploying doom-laden …
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