Thursday, March 29, 2007

Culloden (1964)

Peter Watkins in historical recreation mode, this time recreating a rather shameful botch of a battle between British armed forces and a poorly-organized cadre of Scottish rebels. No filmmaker, alive or dead, has mined the faux-documentary field with as much formal accuracy or effect as Watkins (I say this being only three films into his oeuvre, too), but I think Culloden pushes that a bit too hard. The on-site announcer, excitedly jabbering about the superiority of the British and how great it'll be when the king's men take out these rabble-rousers as though he were giving play-by-play for a basketball game, especially strikes me as overstatement of Watkins's case, an unnecessary prodding to outrage in a situation where historical fact was outrageous enough. Despite this and a tendency towards repetition (as if we're not getting the message), Watkins's film is still a strong and angering piece of work. Using an egregious example from the past, he sketches out how those in power rarely have the best in mind for their subjects and how economic inequality can lead to class warfare and abuses of power. (The feudal system of Scotland's clans is explicitly outlined, leaving no doubt that these men are here because they are, in essence, property.) As the film weaves on, past the battle into the true atrocities, the documentary approach gives the proceedings a sense of credibility that would be absent from a straight narrative recreation: We may not have been there to witness these things, but it certainly feels as though we are. Firebrand Watkins was a unique creation in the era's cinema, but he clearly knew what he was doing. Would that today's political grandstanders had the force of his arguments.

Grade: B


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