Friday, February 24, 2006

Must-see video: Punishment Park

Peter Watkins's Punishment Park was made and released in 1970. Watkins had set out to make a film about the Chicago Seven but instead wound up making a fictional film about a civilian tribunal hearing the cases and passing sentences on anti-war protesters. In lieu of long prison sentences, those found guilty are given the option of three days in Punishment Park where they must travel across the desert to a designated spot without being captured. Watkins used a mix of professional and non-professional actors and much of the dialogue was improvised. Though the film's premise was extreme the rage expressed, both by the student protesters and the conservative tribunal participants, reflected the passions people were really feeling at the time. The reaction to the film was instant and hostile. It was shown in a single theater in New York for four days in 1970 and then withdrawn. It has rarely been screened since and has never aired on television. Fortunately it is now on video and we have a copy. DVD 1714.

Other Peter Watkins videos available in Media Services: Edvard Munch (1976) VHS 5970; The War Game (1965) VHS 3583; and Culloden (1964) VHS on order.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Second attempt at a comment:

I thought the tribunal sequences especially effective. Watkins presents characters with radically different world-views and portrays their inability to understand or even communicate with each other: citizens who identify with government attempts to enforce the established order vs. the rage of "counterculture" types. Slogans fly. Things have indeed fallen apart. This scene has been replayed throughout history. The actors (or non-actors), their intensity, and the director's documentary style (although there were too many shots of the tools of order) combine to make these scenes absolutely chilling.

I took a seminar with Peter Watkins at the University of Kansas in the Spring of 1975. I don't recall that anyone even mentioned Punishment Park! He was busy finishing his masterpiece, Edvard Munch.