1. The Media Crisis by Peter Watkins

This section contains the text of my latest critical media statement (August 2003) - a total of 115 pages.

This statement has a prologue and suggestions on how to use the site, seven chapters, and a series of appendices, which give additional information and examples.

In addition, there is a 5-page analysis by Canadian filmmaker Geoff Bowie of the newsbroadcasting on CNN

Suggestions for usage

This statement is intended primarily as a resource, being a combination of critical ideas as well as practical concepts for challenging the existing rigid and hierarchical processes of the mass audiovisual media (MAVM).

There are approximately 115 (US foolscap) pages to this statement. As minimum reading, I would recommend the Personal Prologue (which follows) and the Introduction to the media crisis.

The chapter The American MAVM, Hollywood and the Monoform is very important because it contains key descriptions of the Monoform, the Universal Clock, and other standard media practices, which are subsequently referred to throughout the other chapters.

I would also recommend The public - alternative processes and practices , for at that point this statement turns from a critical perspective towards a series of alternative proposals. I hope that the Conclusion is also helpful, in drawing certain threads together.

The other chapters are: The European, Scandinavian, Canadian MAVM ; Media education, popular culture, and violence ; Filmmakers, festivals, and the repression , and The role of the Global Justice Movement

There are thirteen Appendices ,  which are also indicated where appropriate throughout the main body of the statement.

You have the option to continue reading through as much of the statement as you wish, or to select chapters or Appendices.

Finally, there is CNN - America's Pravda - an important 5-page analysis by Geoff Bowie of three CNN newsbroadcasts on Monday, October 7th, 2002.

Geoff Bowie is a Canadian filmmaker, and the director of THE UNIVERSAL CLOCK, a documentary film about the making of LA COMMUNE.

On several occasions in this statement, I briefly mention an element of the media crisis, saying that I have written about it elsewhere. This refers either to text which appears in PART 2 of this site or to another recent (as yet unpublished) article. If you are interested in any of the topics which are not developed at length here, please let me know.

Personal Prologue

Perhaps I can best begin by describing my own increasing awareness of the media crisis, and my initial attempts to challenge it.

Even when I began making films as an amateur, I remember thinking that much of the commercial cinema in the 1950s and early 1960s, and television in general, felt extremely stilted and conventional, holding the public locked into set and authoritarian agendas.

I can recall, in the later 1950s - when I was developing the 'newsreel style' in my early films - that one of my primary aims was to substitute the artificiality of Hollywood and its high-key lighting, with the faces and feelings of real people. One step in that direction was THE FORGOTTEN FACES (1960), in which I used 'ordinary people' to recreate the events of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, as though they were happening in front of newsreel cameras. In reality, we were filming in the back streets of Canterbury, Kent.

Another dimension to my work, introduced in the 'Hungarian' film and developed in the 1960s, was to offer a way of countering the effects of soap-opera historical reconstructions and TV newsbroadcasts, by sharing with the public an alternative exploration and presentation of history - especially their own history - be it past or present.

It seemed, even back then, that the MAVM had come to represent a kind of supra-system encircling the visible social process - and having an immense role in shaping (and distorting) it. The role of TV in imposing silence during this period regarding the developing nuclear arms race, is a salutary case in point. Thus another emerging goal in my work was to find forms which might help the public to break away from this repressive system, to distance themselves from the media-cultivated myths of 'objectivity', 'reality', and 'truth', and to seek alternative information and audiovisual processes for themselves.

These various premises - or at least their early stages - underlay the making of CULLODEN (UK, 1964), and THE WAR GAME (UK, 1965). In the first, I employed the style used in Vietnam War newsbroadcasts in order to bring a sense of familiarity to scenes from an 18th century battle, in the hope that this anachronism would also function to subvert the authority of the very genre I was using.

The second film was the first of my works to deliberately mix opposing cinematic forms (in this case, a series of static, high-key lit, recreated interviews with establishment figures, colliding with jerky scenes of a simulated nuclear attack). Which - if either - was 'reality' ? - the fake interviews in which people quoted actual statements made by existing public figures, or the newsreel-like scenes of a war which had never taken place?

PUNISHMENT PARK (USA, 1970) attempted to bring some of the methods used in CULLODEN into a contemporary setting - and added dimensions of allegory to the hoped-for 'distancing effect'. How could a film as 'real' as this 'documentary' looked, be 'real', if its environment (a 'punishment park' in America) did not exist?

EDVARD MUNCH (Norway, 1973) added strongly personal and subjective elements to the presentation, and to the editing methods of a biographical film.

It was not until the mid-1970s that I began to understand the problematic structure and role of the Monoform (which I also had used). Most of my subsequent work - THE JOURNEY (a global peace film, 1983-86), THE FREETHINKER (Sweden, 1992-94), LA COMMUNE (France, 1999) - has been a series of attempts to break away from that formula.

In summary, my work with (mainly) non-professional actors has always been driven by a desire to add a dimension and a process to television, which it still lacks today: that of the public directly, seriously, and in depth participating in the expressive use of the medium to examine history - past, present and future.

Inherent in this has been my constant attempt to broaden and make more complex the relationship between the audience and the MAVM (including in my own films), and to have the audience - the public - share in this work. I have tried to find processes which would enable me - and the audience - to somehow burst out of the constraints of the frame, or of the traditional hierarchical documentary format. This has entailed experimenting with various alienation or distancing methods, coupled with an intense and demanding process for the 'actor', wherein history - past and present - become intertwined.



                        © Peter Watkins 2006                    next