Thursday, December 24, 2009

Punishment Park (movie review)

Punishment Park is a 1971 fictional drama.

A civilian tribunal treats US citizens as enemy combatants and either locks them away or gives them a choice to be hunted down, providing practice for police and guard units. The prisoners are trying to reach an American flag in some dry desert landscape in order win their freedom, but the rules of the game make this a hopeless proposition.

According to the director's comments, this film was too disturbing to gain much traction, certainly on TV and even in most film schools, despite his groundbreaking techniques. His cast is mostly unrehearsed, improvises, role plays.

Peter Watkins knows the documentary genre cold, is a master of fast cuts, juxtapositions, the use of a hand held camera. The film makers play the role of a British TV crew, invited to witness America's domestic policies. The result is effective.

This film was made in the wake of Kent State during a time of intense opposition to government policies, long before Guantanamo and indefinite detentions without charges, under provisions of the Patriot Act, of both US citizens and foreign nationals.

The message for Americans today is they need to stay open to the teachings of the 1960s and 1970s. The boomers lived through their own hell and want us to learn from their experience. I speak as a boomer myself, concerned with the future of my university (Planet Earth).