The Descent of Dissent: “Punishment Park” (1971)


punishmentpark1              “Punishment Park”  (1971)

    Acts of provocation are certainly the prerogative of the artist- it is one of the essential nutrients fueling that elusive but ever evolving abstractive absolute known as Art  -and most certainly are convenient tools for the socially conscious filmmaker. Even run-of-the-mill commercial directors make use of the provocative manipulation of hearts (emotion) and minds (psychology); it’s their stock in trade. However, punishmentparkOSin the instance of deliberate political provocation, the filmmaker might be expected to responsibly employ a reasonable level of  informed clarity if their film is intended to result in a stimulative experience beyond that of base propaganda.

    Such is a great part of the controversy clouding an objective assessment of Peter Watkins’ “Punishment Park”, a film that takes great pains to present a particularly negative view of America as a government controlled state succumbed to fascism. The fact that Watkins is a British filmmaker, has also been the source of intense consternation in what has been labelled an unwelcome (and, by that same measure, unknowing) criticism from across the pond. Skeptics of his method and message cry “foul”, which might be a sympathetic (if not arguable) stance were films made by foreigners speaking in glowing terms of the Fifty States met with an equal sense of an illegitimate violation of sovereign tranquility, and with an equally vehement energy. This, of course, is not the case.

    In the matter of “Punishment Park”, an incendiary work to be sure, to preserve the integrity of the critical eye one must muster the capacity for a rational discussion as to its form, technique and substance in separate but equal measure from the more rash, emotionally volatile implications of the film’s theme (which, in themselves can be dissected, but not in a vacuum of nationalist self-pity) just like any other film. It is, after all, just a movie. 

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in art house cinema, Documentaries, movie reviews, Movies, politics, Reviews, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Descent of Dissent: “Punishment Park” (1971)

  1. beetleypete says:

    I have not seen this film, and not even heard of it. I think it must have slipped past me as I was doing something else at the time. Given your detailed appraisal, I doubt I will search it out, even for the oddity value.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Probably a movie that might have more resonance now than it had back when it was made.

    • Actually, I doubt that, as I would suspect such an inflammatory exercise of simplemindedness in the polar extremes of political zealotry was never intended as an agar for rational discourse.

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