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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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The Writing Life...
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After October 31, 2006,
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Peter Watkins: What goes around, comes around
A lot is being made of the new Soderbergh film Bubble because he casts no-name actors, just regular folks, to give his story a low key "real life" feel. "A new way of making movies," goes one blurb. Sorry. Peter Watkins in England was doing this over 30 years ago.

I had the good fortune of meeting him in the early 70s at Salisbury State College where he was touring and showing his film, Punishment Park. Watkins films in a documentary style, using "real people," which makes his films look like actual documentaries but in fact they are fictions. This method caused a very heated debate. Many students in the audience thought this film was "real" depicting the "real" fact that the U.S. government was rounding up Vietnam War protesters and taking them to Punishment Park, where they were chased across the desert with marines in pursuit, to be killed or reach and kiss the American flag before they get killed. In these Politically Correct times, I can't imagine the controversy a film like this would cause. At the time, this is the closest I've ever seen a film cause a riot in the audience.

Watkins, clever devil, kept quiet and never reminded the audience that his film was A STORY, not a documentary, and just watched the heated arguments with a sly grin on his face. Earlier his actual documentary "The War Games" for BBC would not get shown as commissioned because of its devastating look at the effects of nuclear war. Later his biopic with the same documentary methodology (the mockumentary comic style derives from this) about Edvard Munch would give him wider recognition.

So Soderbergh is reviving a film style here, not inventing it (there were probably filmmakers doing this before Watkins ... certainly Citizen Cane has moments like this).

See Uncomfortable Truths: The Cinema of Peter Watkins.

There is a strong case to be made that Peter Watkins is the most neglected major filmmaker at work today. Over the course of forty years the British-born director has managed, against trying and often adversarial circumstances, to produce a highly original and powerful body of work that engages the worlds of politics, art, history, and literature. That these films remain obscure is a function of such factors as suppression by producers or weak-kneed film distributors, surprisingly unsympathetic—at times hostile—critics, and the filmmaker’s own legendary iconoclasm. Watkins has spent the bulk of his professional career in self-imposed exile from his homeland, a result of the BBC’s banning his 1966 film The War Game and the critics’ drubbing of Privilege the next year. By 1980, with so many of his projects aborted, Watkins publicly announced his retirement from directing and began to devote himself to studying and speaking on the effects of the overly centralized role of the mass media. While he eventually returned to active filmmaking, he has continued to publish and lecture extensively on the pervasive use in both film and television news of what he calls the "Monoform": a visual language comprised of rapid, "seamless" edits and an incessant bombardment of movement and sound.

Also see Films by Peter Watkins for information on each of his films.

1/25/2006 04:47:00 AM | 2 comments

I'm always amused by these ideas of "revolutionary" cinema, when there's been very little change in the past 60 years, or even longer.

Early twentieth century Russian and German cinema preferred non-actors in their films, so much so that it was a principle for some of them. Look at the films of Jean Renoir in France, for instance, and in particular the amazing naturalistic cinema in post-war Italy, which the likes of Rossellini, De Sica, and Fellini created (much of them are still masterpieces today).

Later you had Goddard, Truffaut, etc. who employed non-actors. And let's not forget the incredible The Battle of Algiers (1965), which has been much replicated, but rarely surpassed.

Later in the USA there was the New Hollywood in the 1970s, which introduced fresh faces, and naturalistic filming. In particular I'm thinking of the remarkable John Cassavetes.

Thanks for the heads-up on Peter Watkins. I've heard of The War Game, but I'll keep an eye out for his work in the future.
You're right on!

Netflix has Punishment Park and Munch. I was surprised but delighted and have them coming for a new look ... haven't seen them since they first came out in the early 70s.
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