Star and Shadow Cinema Presents
Dir: Peter Watkins, 1964, UK, 69 minutes(plus short film) cert 12, BluRay
Sun 20 October 2019 // 19:30 / Cinema
In 1746, the battle of Culloden was Bonnie Prince Charlie's last stand against the English forces. Defeat led to the destruction of the Highland Clan system and the subsequent Highland Clearances. Watkins brilliantly reimagines the battle in the style of a contemporary TV documentary.
Having made a handful of short films, Culloden was Watkin’s first full-length feature. Made for the BBC when people like Ken Loach and Dennis Potter were also working there, the film depicts the 1746 battle using a contemporary documentary style. The battle marks a turning point in Scottish history, leading to the destruction of the clan system and the Highland Clearances. Interesting subject matter for a film maker, but Watkins’ treatment is groundbreaking for the time, using non-professional actors and hand-held camera. Many of the actors portraying the Highlanders wee direct descendants of the people killed at Culloden. Radical cinema indeed, perhaps not coincidentally made at a time when Vietnamese villages were being ’pacified’.
Peter Watkins - An English Radical film season we present 5 of Peter Watkins' films, mixing his better known works such as The War Game and Punishment Park, with the rarely seen The Gladiators. The selection of films gives a flavour of Watkins unique style, and provides a powerful critique of mainstream media, and the Hollywood derived narrative style which he refers to as the 'monoform'.
His body of work is one of the most formally inventive of any British filmmaker, displaying a relentless questioning intelligence, and his predominant use of documentary techniques gives an urgency and immediacy to the material. Many of his films were poorly received on release, yet in this era of fake news and celebrity culture seem totally relevant.
Peter Watkins was born in 1935 in Surrey, and started his film making career at the BBC in the early 1960s. His first film was Culloden, made in what would become his trademark documentary style. Meant to echo the style of reportage from Vietnam, historical events are portrayed in an urgent contemporary style. His next film, The War Game turned to near future events, documenting the effects of a nuclear strike on Kent. Banned by the government of the day, it was the end of Watkins career at the BBC. He then made Privilege, his first narrative feature for Universal. The film was poorly received on release, but has grown in reputation since. After Privilege, Watkins moved abroad and has never returned to the UK. Moving back to his documentary style he made Punishment Park in the USA, and the Gladiators in Sweden. More ambitious works followed, a near 3 hour biopic of Edvard Munch, Resan, a 14 and a half hour work made across the world, addressing nuclear madness,and The Commune, a 6 hour recreation of the Paris Commune.
Thanks to Peter Watkins and the BFI for their help in organising this season.