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Punishment Park (1971)

Carmen Argenziano , Stan Armsted , Peter Watkins  |  R |  DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Carmen Argenziano, Stan Armsted, Patrick Boland, Ross Briegleb, Sandy Cox
  • Directors: Peter Watkins
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Project X
  • DVD Release Date: November 22, 2005
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007UQ2BY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,767 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Punishment Park" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Specially-filmed 28 minute introduction by Director Peter Watkins.
  • Feature length audio commentary by Dr.Joseph A. Gomez author of the only book on Peter Watkins
  • "The Forgotten Faces" (1961) an 18 minute amateur film by Peter Watkins.
  • 24 page booklet with a chapter on Punishment Park from Joseph Gomez's 1979 book on Peter Watkins.
  • Text essay by media critic Scott McDonald on audience responses to "Punishment Park"
  • Peter Watkins filmography
  • Original 1971 press kit.

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

"One of the finest films about dissent in America." —Rolling Stone

"Intense, outrageous and still relevant… a cult hit waiting to happen." —The Boston Phoenix

"Paralyzing. A devastating indictment and a chilling prognosis." —The San Francisco Chronicle

1970. The war in Vietnam is escalating. There is massive public protest in the United States and elsewhere. President Nixon declares a state of national emergency and the Federal authorities are given the power to detain persons judged to be "a risk to national security."

In a desert zone in southwest California, a civilian tribunal passes sentence on groups of dissidents and gives them the option of participating in law enforcement training exercises in the Bear Mountain National Punishment Park. In an atmosphere of aggression and intimidation and in soaring temperatures, the prisoners have to fight for their lives as they are hunted down by the forces of law and order.

Call it a pseudo-documentary, an outrageous piece of propaganda, perhaps even a paranoid fantasy, but one description that definitely does not apply to Punishment Park is "light entertainment." Brit director Peter Watkins offers a chilling scenario, set in the early '70s, in which, according to an edict called the McCarran Act (which did exist, albeit in different form), the U.S. government has the right to detain (without bail, evidence, or anything resembling a fair trial) anyone who "probably will engage in certain future acts of sabotage." The detainees, most of them '60s radicals, are offered a choice between long prison sentences or three days in "Punishment Park," a scorching stretch of the Southern California desert; should they choose the latter, they will be released upon reaching an American flag planted many miles away, all the while avoiding capture (or, more likely, death) at the hands of a bunch of gung-ho cops, National Guardsmen, and other law enforcement types. The film alternates between the "tribunals" where the radicals' fates are decided (and where the shrill hectoring and sloganeering--on both sides--come fast and furious) and the grim scenes in the desert. And although Watkins clearly takes the side of the prisoners (as does the fictional film crew on hand to document the proceedings), no one emerges entirely unscathed: the politicians, "average" Americans, and others holding forth at the tribunals are all right-wing blockheads ("more spank and less Spock" would have taught those whippersnappers a lesson, says one), the cops and guardsmen are all trigger-happy jerks, and the young radicals are mostly callow, rhetoric-spouting stereotypes. Violent, provocative, and convincingly shot in cinema verite style, Punishment Park will leave many viewers muttering that it can't happen here. Opponents of the Patriot Act and its perceived attack on civil liberties, however, will likely take another view. --Sam Graham

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Something That Won't Be Made Today--And Should Be November 14, 2005
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I first saw this film in 1976, my freshman year of college, played and replayed for free in the student union building of the University of New Mexico. Two points about that: one: this was not the usual "entertainment" one would expect to find played for students killing time between classes, and two: this film would not be played at all in any university or college open space today. There is no contemporary counterpart for Peter Watkins that I can think of today--he makes someone like Michael Moore look like a sixth grader with his first camcorder. Watkins is best known for his 1965 film The War Game, a rumination on what would happen if nuclear war struck the UK, shot in his trademark "you-are-there" psuedo documentary style. The film was immediatelty banned by the BBC who had originally commisioned it, for being too realistic and disturbing. (Duh--what were they expecting, The Day After?) Watkins other great film, not available in the US, and as far as I know, never shown in American since it first appeared on PBS, then NET, in 1964, is Culloden, about the battle between the British and Scottish rebels under Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden Moor in the mid-eighteenth century. I saw it when it was tv in 64 and images from it still remain with me, 40 years later. Punishment Park proposes a US, circa 1971, where those actively against the Vietnam war, instead of being imprisoned, are set loose in some southwestern desert, pursued by police and National Guard; if they manage to reach the destination set for them by their jailers, they are set free. If not...Implausible? Over the top? Paranoid? Perhaps. But I wonder what Watkins would say about The Patriot Act. About our treatment of Iraqi prisoners. The film shocked me thirty years ago, and I think it will shock me when I see it again. Watkins, as unknown as he is, still is one of the important filmmakers to come out of Britian in the 60s. Perhaps this will signal the availablity of his other rarely seen films.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless film about dissent January 3, 2006
It took me a few minutes into the film to realize it was shot in the early seventies and, in fact, was about the era of Nixon rather than the era of Bush. The similarities are creepy to say the least.

The film is about the state of national emergency proclaimed by the president of the United States, which gives permission to detain those who may be a threat to national security, who are then detained, often preemptively, judged by the tribunal that disregards constitutional rights of these "criminals," and given a choice between hard time in prison for years or hard time in punishment park for three days. Guess which one is worse? Still, everyone picks punishment park where they are forced to run through the desert in intolerable heat (or cold, at night), without water, toward a destination designated by the American flag. The purpose of the punishment park is to - well, punish - and train the law enforcement officers to deal with dissidents en masse.

The whole thing is so realistically done, including the lack of script for the tribunal scenes, where the actors on both sides of the fence spoke their own invented lines based on their own life experiences, that I had to take another few minutes to remind myself that we don't have punishment parks in America. According to the director's commentary, Danish media was convinced otherwise and protested punishment parks based on this movie, then was forced to retract their protest realizing belatedly the movie was fictional.

It's a visceral picture. There is more than one reason why it had been practically banned (or simply denied distribution) for decades: not only is it pointing fingers at just about every establishment, but it is also difficult d/t the violence and lack of humanity displayed on the screen.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Punishment Park" a fim by Peter Watkins October 27, 2005
It's unlikey that any film released in 2005 will rival "Punishment Park" for its combination of political urgency, blazing moral ardor and formal quile. Peter Watkins is the most marginalized film director of the 20th century. The release of this film is a watershed moment in the history of his career. For the first time America will have the opportunity to see this visionary, earth scorching missive and one of his very best films. If "Fahrenheit 9/11" was released in 1971 it would have been called "Punishment Park"
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality August 10, 2006
Regretably, reality is worst than this. Simply watch "The Road To Guantanamo" (Michael Winterbottom, in a similar style) for an example. Peter Watkins does what CNN, Sky and BBC cannot: express the contemporary experience with the use of a fiction (instead, those channels fail to show reality with the use of clips from the real).
Watkins' introduction to the film is excellent and work as one (so watch it before the film). Is also nice to finally put a face to Watkins' name.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Camp X-Ray 1971... this time with American citiziens March 26, 2007
Punishment Park (1971) by Peter Watkins is one of the hardest hitting political movies you can see which is to be expected given its low-budget antiestablishment bases which was condemned by the media who did not want any form of "anti-American" propaganda. Punishment Park is the story of two film crews who follow the army and the police in a desert zone, 60 miles long, called Punishment Park. The film is told in non-linear format between a court hearing type political debate were after the defendants are charged set loose and then chased down in the park trying to run to their freedom before being captured, i.e. filled full of hot lead.

The film is set during the actual Vietnam War but in alternative history with a SF feel. Nixon who has bombed the Far East has seen fit to bring in executive powers and privileges. Any form of antiwar movement or objection to the draft is met with a choice between either a long jail term or punishment park.

While low-budget constraints manifest themselves (only 8 people worked on the film) in terms of some production values the documentary feel is there and at times you do question if what you are seeing is real or not. The idea itself is very much a type of "Stanford Prison Experiment" and the cast are all unknowns. In fact most of these people are actually playing themselves and were in real-life dissenters. Some of the cops had worked as cops. There was no script. The result, however constrained by budget, is what makes it is so unbelievably hard hitting. Of course Hollywood refused to have anything to do with it so naturally we want everything to do with it.

Instant cult classic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly Powerful Docudrama
Made in 1970 by the exceptional British film maker Peter Watkins, this is a film with a punch that has lost none of its impact after more than forty years. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Tommy Dooley
5.0 out of 5 stars Damn fine
One of the more prescient films made - along with other films of Watkins. He spelled out the future of 'reality' TV
Published 8 months ago by Woody Dalrymple
1.0 out of 5 stars Punishment Park
What is the point of creating a pseudo-documentary about a non-existant place, tribunal and punishment? Read more
Published on March 6, 2012 by MDJ
30 years after it was made and derided, marginalized, and tossed on the ashheap of sixties political culture, paved over by the rumbling crush of today's corpo-socialist fascism,... Read more
Published on February 8, 2012 by Cap N Diode
5.0 out of 5 stars when two tribes go to war
sometimes people just need to die in order for the world to be a better place, not because one side is better than the other at articulating its principles and convictions, but... Read more
Published on September 6, 2011 by muddy glass
3.0 out of 5 stars Oddly Exploitative Document
At times it seems as though Watkins is interested in promoting discussion between those who are complicit with the US system/way of life & those who want to overthrow that... Read more
Published on July 1, 2011 by Doug Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Paranoia Park
Great fake documentary done straight with an amateur cast--so I guess it's actually a "true" fake documentary!--about America's march toward martial law. Read more
Published on March 21, 2010 by Frank Gorshin
5.0 out of 5 stars A priceless artifact from the 70's
Kent State, Stanley Milgram's Obedience To Authority, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Billy Jack, The Most Dangerous Game, Soul On Ice -- it's all here and unique. Read more
Published on January 24, 2010 by Sleep2much
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, political filmmaking from one of Britain's greatest...
I saw Peter Watkin's CULLODEN and THE WAR GAME a few months before this and was very impressed. The technique is essentially the same, or at least very similar, in this film... Read more
Published on October 12, 2009 by Muzzlehatch
1.0 out of 5 stars Propaganda Pap.
Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971)

Much of the message board debate on IMDB centers on the movie's vast left-wing slant (making the right wing out to be 100% evil and... Read more
Published on August 27, 2009 by Robert Beveridge
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