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Punishment Park (1971)

Cast: Paul Alelyanes, Paul Alelyanes, Carmen Argenziano, more...
Director: Peter Watkins, Peter Watkins
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Studio: New Yorker Video
Genre: Drama, Prison
Running Time: 88 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French
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While Peter Watkins' films of the 1960s reflected the political turmoil and tumult of that decade, 1971's Punishment Park offered a disturbing look at the backlash against leftist activism which emerged in the wake of such events as the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the shootings at Kent State University. Set at some unspecified point in the near future, Punishment Park was inspired by a provision of the 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act, which gives the President of the United States the right to suspend the traditional judicial system in favor of tribunals to deal with people believed to be "a risk to internal security" in the event of what the Chief Executive deems a national emergency. As the McCarran Act also enabled political prisoners to be held in concentration camps rather than conventional penal facilities, Punishment Park follows a group of left-wing dissidents (Black Power activists, antiwar protesters, and a politically oriented folksinger, among others) as they're given a perfunctory hearing by a panel of military officers and ordinary citizens. They are then offered a choice: they can either serve long stays in prison (seven years is the shortest sentence mentioned), or spend 72 hours in Punishment Park, a section of the Southern California desert. The prisoners are to travel 53 miles on foot in three days, with only minimal provisions of water or food under 110-degree heat, while they are followed by National Guard troops who are permitted to shoot if provoked. If they can complete the hike in the allotted time, they'll be allowed to go free, though it soon becomes obvious that despite the fact the odds have been stacked against them, the prisoners are being dealt an unfair hand along the trail. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

A sincere but self-indulgent disappointment by SBarnett May 8, 2006 - 3:22 PM PDT
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
Two years after "Punishment Park" was made, students and other protesters in Chile were simply dragged from their houses, tortured, and shot. You can't get this fact out of your head while watching "Punishment Park." Why should the future US government depicted in the film go to the trouble of staging televised tribunals (which, given the repeated besting of the accusers by the accused, would not have helped the government's cause), and then releasing the "convicted" revolutionaries into the desert on a forced race against time where they can serve as training targets for the police and national guard? The answer has to be so that the filmmakers can make the film they want, full of dialogue and argument and reasoning and posturing, an endless rehashing of talking points and pseudophilosophical speculation in a context contrived so far beyond a realistic presentation of repression as to be totally absurd. Many other fundamental questions are ignored or left unanswered. Why would the revolutionaries choose to go to Punishment Park instead of prison? Obviously they've heard of it--why not go to prison where they could survive and organize? Why does the government let a film crew go along to document the results? Although the performances of the many nonactors are touching and convincing, it's not enough. What we're left with is a sincere and innocently self-indulgent film that illustrates why the revolution advocated by the real-life radicals segued into college seminars, the Reagan years, the crack epidemic, gourmet restaurants, venture capitalism, and revolution by dot-com. Watch the "Battle of Algiers" instead.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.24)
29 Votes
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