Peter Watkins (dir), 'Punishment Park'

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
Review by Martyn Lowe

The first time I saw this film must have been shortly after it was released some 35 years ago. I felt that what was being described within this pseudo-documentary could happen to both me and my mates - really scary!

I remember it as a film which had a greater shock value to me than the more famous Watkins film The War Game, and even after all of these years I still feel that it is a stronger and much more shocking movie. The film is set in the America of the not-too-distant future in which martial law has been imposed. Dissidents are tried for just being radicals. They are tried in groups, and inevitably found guilty. They then have a choice of either decades in prison, or a three-day visit to a “punishment park”, where they must earn their freedom by facing a horrendous ordeal.

By way of some historical background in order to understand the film, one must understand that it was made shortly after the dramatic trial of the “Chicago Seven” protesters, as well as the tragic shooting of student protesters at Kent State University. These incidents are representative of America's conflicted response to the Vietnam War.

For further background on just what was going on at the time, I would also recommend reading the Norman Mailer books The Armies of the Nights and Miami and the Siege of Chicago.

The extras on this film contain a 30-minute introduction to the film by Peter Watkins, plus a 32-page booklet, which includes the original press kit.

Topics: Culture
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