(1964, United Kingdom, 69 min., 16mm) Peter Watkins
THE WAR GAME
(1965, United Kingdom, 48min., 16mm) Peter Watkins
Innovative director Peter Watkins has given us a pair of devastatingly powerful medium-length films that deal with controversial subjects. First up is CULLODEN. Drawing on the portrayals of organized violence and media myth of his earlier shorts, Watkins honed his distinctive techniques. He brought the reality of the English – Scottish conflict of 1781 to a modern 1964 audience by using hand-held camerawork and interviews to record actor reactions. Despite its low budget, Culloden achieved convincing battle scenes by appealing to the imagination of the viewer, cutting quickly between confused events and holding on tight close-ups while sound contributed to the off-screen terror. The effect was occasionally heightened by devices like jolting the camera as if the cameraman was responding in shock, and freeze-frames of violence which capture the style of photo-reportage. With these techniques, Watkins challenged documentary conventions.
Culloden was also politically radical on levels beyond its historical setting. It questioned the brutal means by which the British establishment preserved itself and, as an allegorical piece on war and state genocide, had a timeless relevance. Watkins successfully challenged a mass TV audience in Britain with the shock of CULLODEN. Its success was enough to enable him to make THE WAR GAME, the project he had first suggested on nuclear deterrent – with stunningly dramatic results.
Intended for broadcast in 1965, writer/director Peter Watkins’ nuclear war drama was withheld by the BBC – possibly as a result of political pressure – and remained unshown for nearly twenty years. Continuing the experiments in blending fiction and documentary techniques, Watkins presented data drawn from his detailed research – encompassing interviews, Civil Defence documents, scientific studies and accounts of the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts and the fire-bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and other cities during World War II – in the form of charts, quotes and vox-pop style face-to-face interviews with ordinary people. These he embedded into his own imagined scenario of the impact of an atomic blast near a large town in England following the escalation of East-West nuclear tensions.
The result was a controversial and harrowing film which, after the BBC had reluctantly allowed a cinema release, garnered huge critical praise internationally, winning a number of prizes, including an Academy Award. The film had a significant influence on the growing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Of all the films programmed this season, THE WAR GAME and CULLODEN are the two you will remember for the longest time once they burn the retina of your mind’s eye. Adding to the feel of raw authenticity is the projection of original archival 16mm film.
Admission is 8$ or 6$ for students and seniors. Cash only. Box Office opens at 6pm. Intermission features coffee, tea and desserts. We can meet up post-screening at Hurley's Irish Pub on Crescent, just steps away from the venue.