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Punishment Park


... In March 1974, at an American state college, some of the faculty became very angry following a showing of Punishment Park to students. One teacher began calling out: "The film is a distortion... you are adolescent, Mr. Watkins! Where have you been all the time? You feel such anguish. We feel so sorry for you - don't you know that man has always behaved like this, ever since he crawled out of the cave and began using a club?" This teacher, a professor of Romantic Literature, became more and more angry as he shouted: "And what will happen? You and I will be shouting at each other, on our different sides of the room, becoming more and more violent..." Another teacher admitted that a "fantasy" of his was that Richard Nixon might seize arbitrary control of the country with the armed forces, before his senate trial. But, the teacher cried out: "I would never inflict that fantasy on others! I don't think you should deal with the future like this, you shouldn't talk about the future... you shouldn't inflict others with your feelings about the future..." A little later, this teacher left the room.

With all due respect to these people, I think they were missing several rather important points. First of all, although the idea of 'punishment parks' is certainly a metaphor of social and political conditions in the United States, at the same time, very much of the rest of what the film is showing - and the basis for the film - was actually happening: from the assaults by a racist police force, to the massive aggression against the people of South East Asia. And it was very disturbing at the time to see Americans, especially those within the media and the education system, go into a state of complete denial about what was happening in their country.

But far more important than this, is the fact that I was not dealing uniquely with the situation in the United States when I made Punishment Park, but with the psychic condition of our contemporary society. The problem of polarization and confrontation, as well as of the repression of alternative visions of society, are not confined to the United States in the 1970s; these remain an acute problem today, all over the world. As I wrote in 1972: "Punishment Park takes place tomorrow, yesterday, or five years from now." ... Peter Watkins

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