Film & History Interview Peter Watkins: Therapeutic 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 2, May 1977
- pp. 24-29
- Additional Information
FILM & HISTORY INTERVIEW PETER WATKINS: THERAPEUTIC CINEMA AND THE REPRESSIVE MIND BY JAMES M. WELSH AND STEVEN PHILIP KRAMER This concludes the intenfew with Peter walkins which began in the February issue. WELSH: It may well be that we are not ready for such a film as Punishment Park. What was your feeling about it, though, when you made it? I'm sure you made the film with the idea that as many people as possible would see it. WATKINS: Well, yes, but 1 never consciously think in those terms. I know there are a lot of filmmakers that do, and when you work for television, for example, you are constantly tutored to think of your audience. But I don't. I think only of myself, because I'm the only one I know about. I can't make a film for you because 1 don't know you. It would be presumptuous of me. I can't do it. I think only in my own terms Obviously, Punishment Park has a lot of other people's feeling it as well; but in the end I can only hope that there will be other people who will see and feel what 1 am doing. I recognize that a lot won't. But I believe it is in fact a false premise to ever think that you can appeal to thousands of people. It's difficult enough to even relate to your own family very often. WELSH: It seems to me—and forgive me for presuming-that you regard filmmaking as a kind of moral imperative, that there is a distinct human, moral purpose behind what you are trying to say. WATKINS: Well. 1 wouldn't use the word "moral." I would certainly say there is a human purpose. WELSH: Why not moral? Aren't there moral suggestions about the kinds of attitudes that can lead toward cruelty and brutality amongst human beings? WATKINS: Do most of us share those attitudes? Tm not sure. I don'tlike the word "moral" because it presupposes a certain Calvinistic preaching. It's a highly colored or colorable word. WELSH: Yet there is a distinctly didactic thrust in the films that you've made that I've seen WATKINS: Yes, there is a difference in those films to Laurel and Hardy, for example, although the Laurel and Hardy cinema is not an inhuman cinema by any means. But it's simply a thrust that is dealing with people. My films are about human beings because 1 think human beings are eminently worthwhile making films about. I do not belong to the majority school in cinema, I suppose, which is totally operating on this level of what I regard as a sort of false euphoric bliss about the human condition, a bliss about the future, a bliss that's like an Eastern Airlines smile button. This symbol, for me, sums up a lot about Western culture. And of course the critics pounce on that. In many ways media has engendered this ambiance that we live in now-that is, "Smile, buddy, smile. Grit your teeth and smile, but don't you go deep, because if you go deep you're then operating in neurotic areas of despair and pessimism. You're knocking our culture; you're knocking our society." So we have then half eliminated the whole field in our society of deep-seated criticism, of feeling, of searching, of evaluation. I think it eminently more serious than any of us are giving credit for at the moment. Many of us know it, but we're resisting that knowledge. That's all part of the tension, too. and that was all coming out last night. I'm pretty sure of that. WELSH: I think people were attacking your film for deceptive reasons beyond which their actual objections were veiled. They were asserting, for example, that it's wrong to do such a film in a 24 documentary style: but 1 don't think they really objected that much to the documentary approach WATKINS: No, I think it was what the film was dealing with, and the fact that it was dealing with it. One of the...