Film Scouts Diaries

2015 Torino Film Festival Diaries
Part 5

by Henri Béhar

Back to the future # 2

Peter Watkins

{27}_The War Game_poster
Beside Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Strangelove), only one director is featured twice in the Things to Come section with two of his earliest works, The War Game and Privilege. His name: Peter Watkins.

If you ask "Who?", shame on you. You don't know what you have been missing - and still are.

Peter Watkins is an English film and television director. Making documentaries or combining drama with documentary techniques - sometimes focusing on historical (past and future) occurrences - he perfected his method in his first feature-length television film, The Battle of Culloden (1964), which treated an 18th century uprising as if it were the Vietnam War as covered by the media, interviews and all.

After the controversy about The War Game and the mixed reception to his first "commercial" film, Privilege - which nevertheless confirmed his life long interest in the (power, use and misuse of the) media - he left England and worked abroad: Punishment Park was shot in the United States (coinciding with the Kent State Massacre), The Gladiators
in Sweden, Edvard Munch in Norway, La Commune in France and Resan all over the world - as it is a fourteen-hour-long global look at the impact of military use of nuclear technology. (God know where the man is now and what he is doing)

Which brings us back to The War Game.

World War Three: A Soviet atom bomb strikes England, mayhem ensues: cities are destroyed, panic spreads, millions die, the survivors are submitted to forced relocation and food rationing.
Shot in the midst of the Cold War and in conjunction with an anti-nuclear national campaign, The War Game presents itself as a "documentary". It is not. Part interviews, part quotations, part acting, it is actually a political fiction mockumentary on what would happen if, which the British public is deliberately left ignorant of by the powers that be.

Set for airing on BBC Television, The War Game was deemed too intense and too violent to broadcast. Released commercially at the end of 1965, it won an Oscar in 1966. As a documentary.

Starring singer Paul Jones and model Jean Shrimpton, Peter Watkins's follow up 1967 film, Privilege is more mild-mannered - only apparently - but no less scary. To quote IMDB: "In the near future (the 1970s), England is governed by a dictatorship formed by a coalition of Laborites and Conservatives. Total conformism is the ultimate goal; the media and the star system are the means to accomplish it. A young pop singer, manipulated by an unscrupulous manager, the Church and politicians, becomes an idol of the masses and then a messianic leader." Indeed, how far are we from the Nazi salute in this "grotesque and prophetic satire?"

Food for thought on the train ride back to Paris less than two weeks after a string of terrorist attacks.

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