Peter Watkins  

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Peter Watkins (born October 29, 1935) is an English filmmaker best known for the nuclear-war docudrama The War Game.


He was born in Norbiton, Surrey, lived in Sweden and Canada for many years, and now lives in Lithuania.

After studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Watkins began his television and film career as an assistant producer of short TV films and commercials, and in the early 1960s was an assistant editor and director of documentaries at the BBC. All of his films have either been documentary or drama presented with documentary techniques, sometimes portraying historical occurrences and sometimes possible near future events as if contemporary reporters and filmmakers were there to interview the participants. Watkins pioneered this technique in his first full-length television film, Culloden, which portrayed the Jacobite uprising of 1745 in a style similar to the Vietnam War reporting of the time.

The scope and formal innovation of Culloden drew immediate critical acclaim for the previously unknown director, and the BBC commissioned him for another ambitious production, the nuclear-war docudrama The War Game, for The Wednesday Play strand. Although Watkins' strong anti-war beliefs had already been apparent in Culloden, the BBC apparently expected The War Game to be dry and patriotic; when the finished film turned out to be not only graphically horrifying but an open rebuke to government policy, the BBC were pressured into banning it from broadcast by the government, although they did arrange a screening for journalists and television critics. Watkins has since had similar conflicts with state television networks in other countries. The production was subsequently released to cinemas and won the 1966 Academy Award for Documentary Feature, eventually being screened on the BBC in the 1980s.

His reputation as a political provocateur was amplified by Punishment Park, a story of violent political conflict in the United States that coincided with the Kent State Massacre. Opposition to war is a common theme of his work, but the films' political messages are often ambiguous, usually allowing the main characters to present violently opposing viewpoints which in many cases are improvised by the cast: in Punishment Park, the soldiers and dissidents were played by nonprofessional actors whose political opinions matched those of their characters so well that the director said he feared actual violence would break out on set. He took a similar approach in his Paris Commune reenactment La Commune, using newspaper advertisements to recruit conservative actors who would have a genuine antipathy to the Commune rebels. Watkins is also known for political statements about the film and television media, writing extensively about flaws in television news and the dominance of the Hollywood-derived narrative style that he refers to as "the monoform".

After the banning of The War Game and the poor reception of his first non-television feature, Privilege, Watkins left England and has made all of his subsequent films abroad: The Gladiators in Sweden, Punishment Park in the United States, Edvard Munch in Norway, Resan (a 14-hour film cycle about the threat of nuclear war) in ten different countries, and La Commune in France.

Freethinker: The Life and Work of Peter Watkins, is a forthcoming biography by Patrick Murphy, a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at York St John University and Dr John Cook. It is being compiled with Watkins' active help and participation.

Summary of Films

Punishment Park is based on the "siege mentality" of police force during the 1970s. Protesters are given a choice for sentencing, and Punishment Park is one of the choices. Punishment Park lets the Protesters try to endure a three day long contest in a barren desert without food, while being pursued by armed National Guardsmen.

The War Game is filmed in a documentary fashion and looks at the possible effects of nuclear war on England. The film is notable for its intense power and imagery. It was later nominated for an Academy Award, as well as awarded the 1967 Best Documentary Feature award in Great Britain.

The Gladiators (The Peace Game) views war as a futuristic sporting event where it seems as if games are being played for a television audience.

Privilege looks at a performing singer placed in a futuristic totalitarian state. The main character, Steven Shorter (Paul Jones), is an intense character who sympathizes with the youth of the nation. He becomes very popular, yet realizes that his life is also controlled by the government. Patti Smith went on to record a "Steven Shorter" song on her album Easter.

Edvard Munch looks directly at Munch's life, with special detail to his early years.

The 70's People

Selected filmography

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Peter Watkins" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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