Film & History Interview: Peter Watkins: Theraputic Cinema And The Repressive Mind
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 7, Number 1, February 1977
- pp. 4-9
- Additional Information
which seemed effective on paper were patently inadequate, leaving students confused about the film's meaning and direction. One section was potentially explosive: Rogers appeared to be cruelly laughing at the subjects of his humor-Dust Bowl victims-rather than attempting to supply them with a ray of comic relief. The sound of the film was remixed with a new voice reading narration written to accommodate student criticisms. Meanwhile, during the winter and spring of 1976, Arthur Peterson of the San Francisco School System developed materials for a workbook to accompany Will Rogers' 1920s. The finished workbook contains information, which will prepare students for the film, will test their abilities on viewing and recall, and, finally, will send them to other verbal and visual sources. The most significant test of the film and workbook will take place in classrooms and libraries around the country. Our filmmaking efforts will be justified if Vv7JlI Rogers' 1920s rewards a number of viewings and if the workbook can spark fruitful research activities. Recent experimental screenings to teacher and student audiences have convinced us that this interpretive essay in celluloid has both entertained and informed. It is an historically valid portrait of the man and his times which, unlike commercial productions, has respected the visual and aural sources employed. For these reasons, we feel that Will Rogers' 1920s has accomplished the basic objectives, which we set for the project as historian-filmmakers. Unlike most historical essays, it will reach our students—and, perhaps, give them the sense of the vitality of historical studies. FILM & HISTORY INTERVIEW PETE R WATKINS: THERAPUTIC CINEMA AND THE REPRESSIVE MIND BY JAMES M, WELSH AND STEVEN PHILIP KRAMER James M. Welsh teachesfilm at Salisbury State College and co-editor of Literature / Film Quarterly. He is co-author ofHis Majesty the: American: The Cinema ofDouglas Fairbanks, Sr. (A.S. Barnes, 1877) and ofBen Johnson: A Ouadr¡centennial Biography (Scarecrow, 1914). Steven Philip Kramer leaches history at the University ofNew Mexico. He is author ofa monograph entitled DeGaulle 's France (General Learning Press, 1913) and his work has appeared in manyjournals. During the 1960's, a very film-conscious decade, a whole generation of talented and innovative new filmmakers came into prominence. Many of these artists were politically or socially motivated. They fought against the conventions and the expectations of the movie-going public. Some managed to redefine those expectations. A few who gained a degree of critical recognition, however, were finally ostracized by some of the critics who had once admired their work. Most of the others now seem to have accommodated themselves to the demands of the Industry. One of the most dedicated of this group of filmmakers is Peter Watkins, whose first professional film, Culloden (1964), took a decidedly unconventional approach in its treatment of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 and its bloody aftermath, the massacre of the Highland Clans, and demonstrated that genocide in the name of heroic butchery was not only a possibility but a reality in the Age of the Enlightenment. The film was a carefully researched documentary. The War Game ( 1965). made the following year for BBC (though never shown on British television), established Watkins as a major talent and earned him an Academy Award in 1966. Mr. Watkins has not fared well with the critics, though many have praised both Culloden and The War Game, both ofthem relatively "safe" films. The brutality ofCulloden. veiled in the mists of history, can be rationalized by the smug popular belief that mankind has somehow improved during the intervening years, though the film is still very powerful in its impact. The War Game, which is an intelligent speculation concerning the potential devastation of thermonuclear attack upon a "typical" community in Britain is in fact a warning to compassionate and concerned people who should be sensitive to such issues. Nonetheless, The War Game was criticized for its "lack of compassion" at the time of its making. More recently the senior critic of The New York Times has characterized Watkins as a "paranoid masochist." Such criticism is excessive and false. The director does not lack compassion simply because he has a particular talent for showing the extent to which human...