August 14, 2005

PUNISHMENT PARK
Peter Watkins, 1971

8.5
both an allegorical and a realistic depiction of the troubled social revolution that occured in the United States in the 1960's, Peter Watkins' film is brimming with rage, and a feeling of social injustice - but the work doesn't assault the viewer like it so easily could have because it's handled with so much grace and alertness that it actually takes a step back to get a better look at it, to understand the context (back in those days, judging from the controversial reception the film got, the audience was just waking up to the social injustices being brought upon its people; the similarities to our times are definitely striking). it's obviously the work of an intelligent, well thought-out filmmaker. to control the growing anti-war and civil rights movements, the President of the United States orders (among other things) the creation of a tribunal in the californian desert. once the dissidents are found guilty they are given the option to either serve your sentence or go to Punishment Park, a no man's land, where they will have to run 50 miles to reach the United States flag, hereby declaring your loyalty to the country and winning back their freedom. it's the socialist Running Man. what i loved about this film is Peter Watkins' astute direction of his actors. most of the actors here were amateurs. but you wouldn't know that watching them listen, think, and flow with each other. it's quite something. it was easy to get sucked in the film that way. but the only thing i couldn't stand were the exhausted runners. i just couldn't understand how Peter Watkins, the man who was getting such incredibly human performances out of these non-actors, could let these guys shit all over the film with their fake panting. it's not arrogant, but it's definitely jarring. but, these moments are not enough to sink the film. the experiment is too ingenious, profound, and revolutionary for you to care about those weak spots. Watkins keeps the film moving along with intercutting between the runners and, to my eye, the most interesting bunch, the dissidents about to be judge in the tribunal. this is where Watkins and his actors shine with brilliant rhetoric. the film is by no means vindictive. it is incendiary. and is still, probably unsurprisingly, very, very modern in its themes. there is nothing propagandistic about the film. Watkins simply sits back lets the characters interact and catches it on film. simple as that. his determined, defiant, and disaffected character lies in his script. it is an artfully done piece of filmmaking. i can't imagine how it must've felt to live in those troubled times, but, being a definite creature of its time, this film shows us how contorted, convoluted, and simply a colossal, and impossible, mindfuck it must have been for all involved. Peter Watkins was able to boil down his vision to its essence. this is simply a fearless and beautiful film.

Posted by Sam | 5:38 PM |