Punishment Park (1971)



“Punishment Park” is a pseudo-documentary purporting to be a film crews\’s news coverage of the team of soldiers escorting a group of hippies, draft dodgers, and anti-establishment types across the desert in a type of capture the flag game. The soldiers vow not to interfere with the rebels\’ progress and merely shepherd them along to their destination. At that point, having obtained their goal, they will be released. The film crew\’s coverage is meant to insure that the military\’s intentions are honorable. As the representatives of the 60\’s counter-culture get nearer to passing this arbitrary test, the soldiers become increasingly hostile, attempting to force the hippies out of their pacifist behavior. A lot of this film appears improvised and in several scene real tempers seem to flare as some of the “acting” got overaggressive. This is a interesting exercise in situational ethics. The cinema-veritie style, hand-held camera, and ambiguous demands of the director – would the actors be able to maintain their roles given the hazing they were taking – pushed some to the brink. The cast\’s emotions are clearly on the surface. Unfortunately this film has gone completely underground and is next to impossible to find. It would offer a captivating document of the distrust that existed between soldiers willfully serving in the military and those persons who opposed the war peacefully.

Written by
Dick Rockwell <[email protected]>

Genre: Drama,Thriller,War

Punishment Park (1971)
Release Date: 1980 (West Germany)
Country: USA
Director: Peter Watkins
  • Patrick Boland
  • Kent Foreman
  • Carmen Argenziano
  • Luke Johnson
  • Katherine Quittner
  • Scott Turner
  • Stan Armsted
  • Mary Ellen Kleinhall
  • Mark Keats
  • Gladys Golden
  • Sanford Golden
  • George Gregory
  • Norman Sinclair
  • Sigmund Rich
  • Paul Rosenstein

33 Responses to Punishment Park (1971)

  1. lolmao500
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    Am I the only one who wanted to kill those motherfarkers in the commitee?

    Seriously. Those bastards traitors!

    And what is sad is that those people exists more and more. When I see cops in america tasering 80 years old grand mother to death or a 10 years old… i know that something is VERY WRONG ABOUT AMERICA.

    Why the police have to get themselves into a team? They think as themselves as police VS the people. The police is being farked by the government like the people… what’s their farking problem?

  2. chaosbaron
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    This kind of film seems so desperate to establish a point that it is defeating the purpose it claims to serve. This is like propaganda of any other kind. Of course I only got about what I would assume three quarters of the way into the movie before it screwed up and would not continue but I got the basis. As a film it was alright but that is not what I am talking about. Either tyrant or revolutionary, you are taking a side, a side which you more or less want to force on the others around you. Thus all are the same, trying to impose their way of life on others. I do not prefer a film which tries to make the case and state that one is clearly right, I prefer one that lets the viewer decide.

  3. crevy
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    I don’t understand how the movie got such high ratings. It is not realistic at all. I simply don’t "buy" the story that US soldiers/police/whatever are 1) psychopaths 2) mass murderers and 3) slaughter defenseless people in front of cameras. It is also extremly unrealistic that they would allow media to document a kangaroo court.

    Nothing in the movie made any sense. It was also very black and white. The establishment being 100% evil and the activists being portrayed as saintlike.

  4. babettegillette
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    And when they run out of enemies from the other end of the politcal spectrum, they turn on each other. As Mr. spock remarked countless times, homo spaiens are a fascinating, self-destructive species.

  5. corgi37
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    …i finally managed to see this film on the net tonight. I am still stunned. What an amazing film. And what incredible relevance it still has today.

    The performances were so real. The little nuances brilliant. I loved the occupations of the panel. That really hit home to me. God, i need a cigarette! What astonishing art this is.

    This is guerilla film making at its zenith. Forget the era it was referring to, this applies now. This is essential viewing. What a mind blowing experience. Hollywood could do worse than re-make this instead of cheezy horror movies.

    Then again, maybe not. They’ll screw it up.

  6. bobvious
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    Anyone notice the similarities?



    The cowering abused flanked by someone with a long stick or gun.

  7. rocketyank
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    I think it might be.

  8. cryptic_non_sequitur
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    i just watched ‘Punishment Park’, and except for a few details, this kind of thing may be happening today. instead of a war on subversives, we have a war on terrorism. habeas corpus has been suspended in arbitrary cases, and tribunals have the authority to detain, punish and eliminate people for nothing more than suspicion of being unhappy with the way the country is being lead, and the direction it is taking — and being ‘unamerican’ enough to use their constitutional right to say something about it!

    this film was prophetic. things haven’t changed for the better, that’s for sure! i wish we had all seen it 4 years ago … maybe we would still be relatively safe from illegal wiretaps and rendition …

    if you don’t hear from me again, you will know who is responsible …


    I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.

  9. StickWarrior
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    That woman at the "trial"…great acting, I wanted to punch her. I know people exactly like that, it felt so real.

    All the radicals at the trial were also acted wonderfuly. There’s was so much passion there. (Amazing how they can talk that fast without messing up too much.) Once again, it felt very real and so moving.

    Awesome movie.

    Ab absurdo


  10. CaliManDan35
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    Towards the end of the film, when (I think) the army shoots some of the detainees, you hear the camera guy saying "cut the camera! cut the camera!" this struck me as odd because throughtout the whole movie, you only hear one cameraman talking. Which led me to believe that there was only one cameraman documenting this. So who would this one cameraman be saying "cut the camera" to? Himself???

    Also, I’m curious to know what happened to that one officer towards the end. When the camera man is behind the one officer by himself with the sniper rifle and the 5 detainees come up and the officer shoots in the air and says "your participation is over" All the people start walking towards him with their hands in the air, he keeps telling them to sit down but they can’t hear. So he opens fire and shoots one of them, at this time the black man charges the officer who is still trying to reload his gun or unjam it…the black guy grabs him and the others start wrestling with him too…then it seems like the camera cuts to a different scene. So whatever happened to this officer?

  11. edsugrue
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    I know, of course, the point of this film is political. But just to have ONE thread on this board talk about the endurance element of the film… check this out:


    "We’ve got a bump coming up." — Jason Bourne, just before driving down a stairway

  12. Mean_Joe_Weeks
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    I’ve just seen the film, and while I have to admit it’s a spectacularly made and profoundly gripping film to watch, I also kind of wonder if it makes the situation its depicting worse instead of better. The film obviously favors the leftists, setting up a fairly black-and-white evil group of demagouges and brutes to persecute them. It’s impossible to root against the leftists while all the power is leveled against them by people who have their demise as a foregone conclusion.

    Now, to some extent this is a sort of paranoid fantasy of the left. Obviously, there were never any such things as punishment parks, no one was sentenced to ten years prison for writing "Seditious songs," there were no military tribunals to arbitrarily decide punishment (well, ok, there were — but not on this sort of scale). Still, the film’s depiction of police brutality and the hateful zeal of the commission are plenty realistic – think of the murder of Fred Hampton or the gleeful promise of George Wallace to imprison and punish "traitors" to the country. So This is not just some excersize in leftist self-gratification; it represents at least an aspect of the real situation on the ground (some of the people playing leftists had already been arrested for their views prior to filming). And indeed, while there was never anything like a Punishment Park, I’m quite certain that certain aspects of the population would have loved to bring this idea into reality.

    Still, even if the film is honest about the polarization of the nation and the right’s domination of power, I’m not sure it’s especially helpful to depict this in the trial scenes the way the film does — it ultimately just boils down to people shouting slogans at each other. Realistic, certainly, but I get the feeling director Watkins is actually trying to use the leftists to make real points… which doesn’t really happen. Rather, I think watching these "debates" is more likely to make both sides further entrenched in their own dogma and paranoia. But then again, maybe that’s the lesson we should be taking away from the film. It makes it difficult to gauge if the film is helping to present a reality and asking us to debate or if it is only interested in showing how mean "the man" can be. If the latter, I’m not sure its of much value considering who the audience is likely to be. I don’t want to minimize the harsh measures taken against percieved radicals during this time, but I also tend to think people watching this movie would have learned nothing new.

    What does everyone else think? A harshly realistic view of a troubled time or a cheap-shot pat on the back to paranoid leftists? Or a little of both?

  13. ZiggyFloydZeppelin
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    I don’t know if this is a silly question but was there anything called Punishment Park or anything similar to it in the u.s.?

  14. Wawdurmehllinne
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    First of all: She was ssssssooooooooooo HOT!!!

    Second of all: Did you notice in the end how the judge called her "Mary Ellen Mitchner?" Little booboo there.

    Third of all: Who’s got her contact information? I don’t care how old she is now; I want to stalk here. -ha-

    "TO US and our good fortune! Be happy! Be healthy! LONG LIFE!"

  15. Captain_Couth
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    In Canada! Search Amazon Canada, Peter Watkins has put out an awesome special edition DVD of this film. Highly recommended an it puts some cash in Mr. Watkins’ pocket.

  16. andrewwjohnson
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    …I noticed in the courtroon scenes there were sounds of gunfire, apparently out in the street, explosions and, at one point, an air raid siren. Were the film makers trying to creat the impression a second civil war had broken out or was it supposed to be symbolic of the Vietnam War.

    People are just getting dumber, but more opinionated-Ernestine (Silks) in "The Human Stain"

  17. kenburke0627
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    Despite its attempt to portray police as the bad guys, there are some good scenes demonstrating the use of various firearms (the snub nose revolver, the standard police revolver, and the police shotgun).

    I lived through the sixties, and found the whole thing amusing.

  18. ChiBear75
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    I wanted to know if anyone might know which one of the national guardsman at the end of the film is the teary eyed young man who was saying repeatedly that "it was an accident" that he killed two of the prisoners. I know that the film is mostly made up of amateurs who never worked on another film again but he made a memorable impression with his performance that I just had to ask to see if I could have a name to put with his face. I think I already did so with the sheriff/captain only to find out that he’s been dead now for 10 years. He was one of only 9 of the whole cast who actually did a good bit of acting or had a bit of a career in showbiz of some type since the film. Another 9 only did another film/tv show or two after that and that’s out of the 61 cast members. I have to admit that I only watched it to refresh my memory of what somebody looked like with hair on his now hairless head. LOL ;-D

  19. Xcalate_1776
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    I cant give it more than a 5

    When there’s no more room in hell, The dead will walk the earth…

  20. bobvious
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    I’d like anyone to list movie — that isn’t a snuff film or some other sick or devient subject matter – which is actually currently BANNED in the U.S. Just one.

    Self censorship by TV networks is not a ban. It’s a programming choice based on advertising revenue and the fear of backlash. Nobody can expect the lowest-common-denominator networks, who have given us Alf and Manimal, to be somehow immune to the fears of losing money. They aren’t in it to make political waves.

    Even though the US is currently going through a ludicrous and embarrassing period where a nipple seen on the Super Bowl broadcast has led to Senate hearings and a paranoid knee-jerk censorship (mostly on talk radio), the country doesn’t generally "ban" political material. Openness is one of the things even Noam Chomsky would mention as a positive development of political activism in the last 40 years.

    Movies deemed pornographic (in whatever current definition that term is being interpreted) have been banned in the past, and certain books have been blocked from publication – such as Naked Lunch, but the legal system in the US eventually upheld the publishers and authors right to publish the work. But based on what amazing filth is available to streaming right into your computer from legitimate sources on the web, the US isn’t banning too much of anything.

    The Robert Mapelthorpe photo exhibits could and can be seen publicly. The outcry there was that the exhibits had come about using taxpayer money. Displaying some of the pornographic images on behalf of joe-tax-payer was more than some people could stomach. As a liberal arts major with some perspective I now believe the exhibit, a political statement by the art elite in the US, worked against publicly funded art and in the end was a bad move – politcally speaking.

    To me a more frightening element in terms of censorship and the media is who news is slanted one way or another by news organizations. I’m naturally a middle-road person and I see the slants in both directions all the time. The news orgs are one step away from being part of the same commercial entities that turn activists names over to the Chinese government — media is becoming one big company – or two or three big companies – operationg across multiple outlets. It won’t be long before Google or Yahoo is part of NBC or CBS, a part of Time Warner or Disney, Sony or whatever. All one big machine with a short list of agendas: self-preservation and profit.

    Again, though, I wholeheartedly would like someone to list any banned movies in the US.

  21. mypostdump
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    Well, a strange choice for a public show. But I saw it listed in today’s Mercury News for upcoming outdoor movie events in the vicinity.



    They’re showing War Games too.

  22. Coolestmovies
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    Not sure if it was posted legally, but it may very well have been. Other groundbreaking films by Peter Watkins—PRIVELEGE and THE WAR GAME are also there for the viewing, plus interviews with Watkins himself (all presumably taken from the DVDs people keep mentioning here). PUNISHMENT PARK is presented in 10 parts. Thirty six years and still potent. Very much worth seeing.



  23. BrideOfTheAtom
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    I just found Punishment Park available on DVD through CD WOW for only €9,99. For you not familiar with this online retailer, it sells DVD’s and other media for low prices and delivers free worldwide. And very reliable and quick.


    No I’m not getting paid for this announcement.


  24. ultrajagger1
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    I didn’t quite comprehend this part, in which the narrator said that..

    "Since filming, one member of this cast, appearing as Charles Robbins, has been indicted on charge of conspiracy to bomb. For a second charge of assault on a police officer this cast member has been sentenced to 3 years ion a federal prison."

    Whilst i presumed this was simply an entrenched part of the documentary that this had occurred to the character Charles Robbins, the language ("cast member") and nature of the sentence implied that it may have been the actor himself (Stan Armsted, I believe) who was sentenced.

    Can someone clarify?

  25. jwer79
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    The movie that should be on every channel from now on… Once a while, anyway…

    For those who want to grow their heart, their mind and their will.

    See this film and you’ll have the rare opportunity to choose your own morality.

    A unique kind of cinema, more than that, a real human experience through art or art through a real human experience. Grow up and harmonize yourself with this movie! If you can feel it! If you can see it!!

  26. rawram
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    I found this in the Documentary section at my video store.

    It took me…maybe 5 minutes to figure out it isn’t a documentary.

    I’d include this in a time-capsule for some of the sentiments and arguments happeing in America at the time the film mas made.

    It still has relevance in 2006. But it’s a bit heavy-handed and has a made-for-tv feel that doesn’t hold up all these years later.

    And a stupid thing kept jumping to mind as I watched these actors in the desert:

    where is the sweat?

  27. adamwarlock
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    The clothes yes but not the attitudes. The cops and the tribunal members sounded like the right wingers of today. Guess some things never change.

  28. IdontwatchtheOscars
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    This film is an independent film yet is remains off the top intependent film list despite a 8.1 rating. Can anyone tell me why this is?

  29. lastyear11
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    This is a movie I had always wanted to see but until now was not able.What a disappointment.Badly acted and badly shot.There is no one to side with here.The people being sent into the park are all obnoxious and arrogant aholes.I didnt feel any sympathy for them at all.ts hard to believe this was directed by the same guy who did Edvard Munch.

  30. Anonymous
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    This message has been deleted by the poster

  31. collegeguyd-1
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    Does anyone know if Punishment Park is an example of Third Cinema.


  32. carpet_seller
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    Isn’t the first line of the plot outline on IMdb a spoiler? From what I remember the film does not tell you from the outset it is a work of fiction.

  33. Oliver-50
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    The DVD will be released on November 22, 2005!

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