July 14-20, 2005
Punishment Park (import DVD) Peter Watkins has been absent from DVD shelves for so long that any release at all would come as a blessing, but the loving treatment given this incendiary, unforgettable film is cause for outright celebration. Released in 1971, Punishment Park is revolutionary in both form and content. In Watkins' dystopian but utterly credible representation of the United States, convicted enemies of the state are given a choice after their ad hoc trials: imprisonment or punishment park, the latter a desert obstacle course where dissidents act as the bait in an Army exercise, purportedly winning their freedom at the end. Pioneering the use of improvisation and nonprofessional actors that would come to define his oeuvre, Watkins cast to type, with an eye towards recent history; among the defendants in his kangaroo court are uncanny doppelgangers of Joan Baez, Bobby Seale and Chicago Seven Judge Julius Hoffman. Shooting in a documentary style, and casting himself as a BBC producer, Watkins deliberately challenges the line between reality and fiction, losing track himself on at least one occasion. According to commentary from Watkins expert Joseph Gomez, the anguished cry unleashed when soldiers open fire on fleeing prisoners is bona fide: For a second, Watkins believed they were using live rounds. Project X's DVD comes with a surfeit of riches: Gomez's commentary and a hefty excerpt from his book, a clip of Watkins reading his preface to the film, and Scott MacDonald's pivotal essay on contemporary audiences' response to the film, often characterized by confusion as to whether the titular institutions really exist. Even better is the inclusion of Watkins' super-rare "amateur film" The Forgotten Faces, an early example of his developing style. A major step on the road to correcting the ignorance of Watkins' monumental body of work, Punishment Park is the first in a planned series of Watkins discs; onc can only hope the rest are this good. One hiccup: A Canadian release, the film is not available from many U.S. distributors. Try a retailer north of the border, or the folks at www.diabolikdvd.com.
Misc. Picks City of Horns (aka Rick Henderson of Eltro and The Wayward Wind) provides live accompaniment for all five hours of Louis Feuillade's seminal serial Judex (Thu., 8 p.m., The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St.). It's a Wonderful Blimp: Frank Capra's Dirigible lights up this week's Secret Cinema screening (Thu., 9 p.m., 40th Street Field, 40th and Walnut sts.). The Lawn Chair Drive-In gets down with Breakin', featuring the inimitable Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers (Wed., dusk, Liberty Lands Park, Third and Poplar sts.).