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JG Ballard & Punishment Park

Author: • Jul 31st, 2005 •

Category: Ballardosphere, dystopia, film, politics, short stories

From the Londonist, July 18, 2005:

“We only just got around to seeing Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park – we figured we’ve waited for 35 years… what’s another week or so matter. Now we’re kicking ourselves for not getting along to the ICA sooner so we could recommend this to you guys earlier. We caught the very last screening yesterday afternoon, but we still want to mention the film as it’s due for a DVD release in the Autumn.

It’s what Watkins describes as a psychodrama as the cast are mostly not actors and the script tended to be improvised and mirrored the beliefs of those voicing them. The exception to that were some of the right-wing authority figures who were played by ex-policeman and on the whole believed that the characters portrayed in the film were a danger to society.

Society was scared enough to not watch the film again for almost four decades.

The set up is reminiscent of a couple of JG Ballard short stories in which BBC crews follow both sides of an American anti communist war that has spilled over into Britain. Where Ballard envisaged an escalation of the Vietnam war forcing a civil war over here Watkins took what was happening in the States and turned everything up a notch or two. What he came up with was the idea of Punishment Parks – vast tracks of desert where the police and national guard could practice their law enforcement techniques on political dissidents as a way to alleviate prison overcrowding. The idea is that those convicted of crimes against their country are offered the choice between lengthy jail time and a few days in the Park. Naturally most people choose the Park.”

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