Punishment Park Review

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A film crew accompanies a group of hippy subversive types and their military escort across a desert in America.


Peter Watkins’ 1971 docudrama boasts an intriguing and provocative idea, but is eventually undermined by its earnest execution. The decision to have both a group of hippy subversives and the tribunal interrogating them played by non-professionals holding diametrically opposed views is inspired; their improvised debates frequently boil over into the kind of slanging matches typical of a nation riven with social, political, ethical and economic crises. But the pursuit across the Californian desert of other prisoners who have chosen to take their chances against armed troops becomes increasingly contrived — especially once the observing British and German TV crews get involved.

Still, while the dramatic tone has dated badly, the policy issues raised remain chillingly relevant.

Whilst this docudrama has dated badly and feels very contrived in places it is still an intriguing and provocative idea.