Punishment Park (1970)
* * * * *
R for language, violence
This is one of the most controversial films of all-time. Banned on American TV, shown for only 4 days in New York before being pulled, and to this day not touched by an American distributor in fear of federal action, this film not only divided its audiences, but critics as well.
The film was made in response to the events of the late ‘60's, and draw heavily on the experiences of Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale. It is sometime in the 1970's. In response to the Chinese invasion of Cambodia Richard Nixon has invoked an actual congressional bill passed in the 1950's to round up possible subversives and place them before secret tribunals without any defense, evidence, or in many cases with any ideas of their charges. Because of prison over-crowding Parks are made as alternatives where the prisoners who can outrun police and national guard for four days to get to an American flag in the middle of the California desert can be released. We see it through the eyes of a UK film crew documenting two such groups of prisoners.
The criticism can be expected. This is one of the most relentless and confrontational films ever made. There is no room not to have an opinion; to not feel one way or the other. The emotions are raw, the actors non-professional, their scripts improvised and unrehearsed, and the points and issues real. This is also one of the earliest mockumentaries I have found, and a revolutionary film technically. It is brutal, unforgiving, terrifying, and disturbing. I have never seen another film like it, in presentation, honesty, pure guts, or energy. This is not a film meant to stir up radicalism, but to engage in a difficult conversation on issues perhaps more relevant today than it was in 1970. It is a difficult film, but nonetheless essential viewing for any American citizen.