The Trap  The Trap  The Trap  The Trap

The Trap (Fallan)

  •  - Sweden
  •  - SVT
  •  - 1975
  •  - 65 mins - video


In 1974, Sveriges Radio in Stockholm invited members of the Swedish public to submit teleplay scripts dealing with the “future”. One of the scripts selected was by Bo Melander, a noted journalist working for The Gothenburg Times. I accepted to direct the play when it was chosen for production, and in January 1975 Bo and I worked on developing the script, deciding to concentrate on the nuclear reactor issue which was becoming a major political concern in Sweden in 1974. ‘The Trap’ is set in the underground living quarters of a scientist working at an international nuclear waste station near the west coast of Sweden. It is the end of 1999, and the TV in the oppressive living room inhabited by John (the scientist), his wife Margereta, and their son Peter, is proclaiming optimistic statements about the promise of the New Millennium. John’s brother Bertil, accompanied by young Bo, the son of a third brother - imprisoned by the Swedish authorities for “antisocial” activities - arrives at the waste site to celebrate the new century; they are first seen via monitor screens - making their slow progress through the security checks. Their visit with John and his family is tense and soon breaks down. Bertil holds a political position completely opposed to that of his establishment brother, denounces the consumerist society which has led to the need for all the nuclear waste embedded in the nearby rocks, and argues bitterly with John, telling him that he and his colleagues are like caged rats, trapped within the confines of a system they defend blindly. Too angry to stay on, Bertil takes Bo and attempts to leave, but is arrested at a security checkpoint. Margareta watches the security guards grab a protesting Bo, and asks her husband, “What kind of life is this we’re living?”. Meanwhile, on the Swedish television channel, a Minister of State expresses his belief that, “The century to come will be a century for humanity, filled with humanity.”


‘The Trap’ was taped entirely in a studio, using four heavy TV cameras on mobile, though not very maneuverable, mounts. The usual procedure in those days was for every cameraman to be given minutely detailed instructions, via headset, re when to move, and whom to frame. The challenge for me was how to make this cumbersome system suggest the hand-held, on-the-spot “newsreel” quality of my earlier films. I decided - completely against the ‘norm’ at that time - to give the cameramen the responsibility of selecting their images; Monika Barthelson, the image mixer, presided in my place in the cutting room to select the cutting order (this programme was edited while it was being recorded).

Joseph Gomez describes what happened, in his book entitled ‘Peter Watkins’ (Twayne Publishers 1979):

‘Watkins “...felt it very rewarding to trust the crew to respond to the occasion: I felt I had handed over part of the normal control that many directors insist on jealously guarding as their inherent prerogative. I felt I was making allowance for other members of the crew to make dynamic decisions of their own - that they did not need minute-by-minute written notes on when to cut, or to whom to cut. In fact, of course, most of us do not need notes or directions at all, in order to make these decisions. Not if we trust each other, not if we all feel that somehow we are working together on a venture that has a common tension and importance ... somehow, in this experience many of us passed over a threshold of "control"- that we will never again see video production as a technical process of imposing control - but rather that of recording a spontaneous experience in which we can all participate.”

By the last day of the shooting most of the crew realized that they were involved in a unique television experience and began to respond enthusiastically to Watkins' demands. Paco Hårleman, who devised innovative methods to achieve indirect lighting effects, welcomed the challenge. For him, "a technician is like a piano to be played upon by the director." While most directors never make demands which test the "instrument" and reveal its range, Hårleman claims that Watkins not only accomplished this feat but, in a mere four days, established a creative, communal atmosphere which was unlike anything that he had previously experienced in his ten-year career as a lighting technician. Egon Blank, the teleplay's technical director, echoed Hårleman's claim that the sense of community and artistic cooperation achieved during the production were unique in SR's [Sveriges Radio’s] history. While members of the crew were assuming their creative responsibilities during the filming, Watkins remained on the studio floor with the "actors." Various changes with the narrative and the ending of the script were made on the third day of the shooting. Also at that time, Melander [who at the last moment stepped into the role of Bertil] proposed that Watkins become the off-screen voice of the BBC interviewer in order to control the tempo, rhythm, and tone of the situation and to stimulate responses and reactions from the cast members. According to Watkins, "the tension of the mixture of tautness and sheer unpredictability was very explosive, and I believe that it released emotions and responses in all of us which might not have occurred under the more usual conditions of control that are imposed in a studio."

The key members of this crew also included producer Stig Palm, technical director Egon Blank, costumer Gunnel Nilsson, sound recordist Rolf Berling, and cameramen Allen Mauritzon, Raymond Wemmenlöv, Bengt Ove Gustavsson, Torsten Törnqvist, and Lars Bermann. John was played by Karl Lennart Sandqvist, Margareta by Anita Kronevi, Bo by Jonas Berg, Peter by Thomas Carlsson, and Bertil by Bo Melander.

Reaction and Aftermath

Joseph Gomez continues :

“ ... Although The Trap won the 1977 Prix Futura in Bronze, its significance, both in terms of subject matter and the unique method in which it was made, has not been properly acknowledged. Some of the executives at SR disliked the teleplay because of Watkins’ use of amateurs, but Stockholm newspapers were generally favorable to all aspects of the production. Perhaps because it dealt directly with the effects of nuclear power on the quality of life in the future, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter took the highly unusual step of running an editorial urging its readers to watch the teleplay. While The Trap has been telecast three times in Sweden, Norwegian and Danish television have refused to show it. [... head of the Television Drama Department] of Norsk Rikskringkasting [at that time], claims that it “was not a very successful production”, and [the head] of Danmarks Radio's television drama department, has been even more emphatic in his dislike. In a June 1977 radio discussion about Watkins' work, [the Danish Drama Head] said that The Trap "was one of the worst productions Peter has made, if not the worst," and in a recent letter to Watkins, he reiterated his view that the work was not "of a high standard." If these executives are attempting to measure The Trap by the achievements of Edvard Munch, they are being most unfair. In some ways, The Trap is a minor Watkins work, but it is clearly of a "standard" considerably higher than nearly all of the productions telecast on Scandinavian channels. [Both Drama Department Heads] have failed to recognize the breakthrough that Watkins' teleplay has achieved. His innovations in breaking down the rigid, impersonal trademarks of Scandinavian television production seem to have been misconstrued by these executives as rank amateurism.”

© Peter Watkins 2024