The film medium has always been an excellent tool to expose societal ills. Be it a short film, a fictional drama or a documentary, celluloid is a tried and true method of reaching the masses. It's usually a tricky proposition acquiring financing for movies with a specific agenda. Especially today, considering how long the corporate arm can reach. The threat of boycotts and bad publicity has made the moneymakers leery of attaching their name or brand to a potentially controversial project. In other words, they have no balls. Unless your Michael Moore, getting a message out can prove frustrating and fruitless. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, special interest watchdogs did not carry the influence they do today. They existed but their chants were drowned out by the cries for justice. A film like PUNISHMENT PARK would be arduous to produce during our current political climate. See it and you'll know what I mean.
Strange name for a park.
PUNISHMENT PARK - 1971
I'd like to offer praise to the
Sundance Channel and IFC. If you love lesser-known films like I do these two outlets are invaluable for discovering underground gems. I consider myself relatively knowledgeable but I never heard of PUNISHMENT PARK until I saw it on Sundance. Considering its controversial subject matter I'm not surprised it's been buried for so long. For whatever reason, overtly political movies seem to get pushed aside. Maybe audiences aren't interested in mixing politics with their entertainment. Or perhaps they're afraid to express their true opinion on a subject for fear of repercussions.
How do I get off this truck?
In a fractured United States of America government dissidents are dragged before a tribunal. The guilty are then given a choice: serve a mandatory sentence in Federal incarceration or participate in a cruel gauntlet called Punishment Park. Those who select the latter must endure a brutal fifty mile trek through the desert with law enforcement in fast pursuit. At the end of
this race awaits an American flag and the promise of freedom.
I doth protest.
Following the inmates and cops is a British documentary film crew who conduct interviews with both sides in an attempt to understand this bizarre penalty. A straightforward expose on American crime and punishment gradually turns ugly as the television crew (and us) learn that law enforcement has no intention of allowing the prisoners to reach their destination. In fact, they have no intention of letting the prisoners live.
This is a brutally honest film. There is no sugarcoating the issues or attempts to mask an agenda in subtext. It's in-your-face filmmaking at its best. Defying authority has been a common theme in films for years. The authority presented in PUNISHMENT PARK is vicious and unforgiving. Dissent is not an option under this Big Brother type ruling body. The fact that the plot centers around a game of survival makes the images that much more disturbing. The choice to utilize cinema verite is
ironic, considering verite means "truth." Truth is silenced. Truth is ignored. Truth is abolished. What remains are lies and corruption.
Surviving the game.
PUNISHMENT PARK was directed by British documentarian Peter Watkins. I doubt an American filmmaker could have gotten away with this. Made during the Vietnam era, the film's depiction of a dystopian society ruled by an unforgiving police state painfully resembles America during the late '60s and early '70s. Although, you could just as easily set this film in modern day America without losing an ounce of relevance.The characters are given no voice. Pacifism and radicalism are deemed culpable offenses. Also called into question is the responsibility of the media: can and should the press remain impartial after witnessing such atrocities? Is a camera ever really objective? Should the media be allowed a free pass when they commit an obvious wrong? PUNISHMENT PARK is a searing film that should not be ignored. If you can find it, see it.
email this column to a friend
Comment on this Column:
|Sorry, you must be a member to add comments to columns.|
Join or Login.
Subscribe to MatchFlick Movie Reviews through RSS
|Eye On The Overlooked|
Every other Sunday
A lot of great movies slip through the cracks. I'm here to catch them.
Scott is a freelance writer currently living in the Southeast. He is a film school grad with a love of theory and screenwriting. His tastes vary from obscure niche films to giant Hollywood blockbusters. In other words, he'll watch pretty much anything.|
If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Scott Tunstall by clicking here.|