The War Game + Culloden

The War Game – 7:30pm
1965′s BBC film The War Game depicts, in stark and stunning B&W, and in just under an hour, the weeks surrounding a fictional world war that prompts a Soviet nuclear attack against Britain. It is terrifying, it is sobering, and it is truly outstanding documentary filmmaking — except it’s not a documentary. With The War Game’s groundbreaking style, Peter Watkins sharply refined his technique of presenting theoretical situations in newsmagazine fashion, as he utilizes the straightforward authority of a TV news crew to depict the instant blinding of those who witness the nuclear attack, as well as subsequent firestorms, riots, and the eventual gasp of apocalypse that results from the physical, psychological, and societal effects of nuclear fallout. His jarring the audience into understanding the ramifications of nuclear war through startlingly banal detail quickly resulted in the BBC banning the film from further UK broadcast — and earned him a surprise 1966 Best Documentary Feature Oscar. Viewing The War Game from our modern perspective, with the extent of nuclear proliferation since 1965, makes the film even more cathartic than it could have ever been to BBC viewers during the Cold War.
Dir. Peter Watkins, 1965, 35mm, 48 min. (Archival 35mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive)

Culloden – 8:30pm-ish
Peter Watkins’ reputation as a political provocateur caught fire with his first feature-length film, an unsettling pseudo-documentary in the style of modern television journalism that portrays a devastating 18th-century Jacobite uprising, with images deliberately evoking on-the-scene tableaux of early Vietnam War footage. With a microscopic budget and an army of non-actors, Watkins captured remarkable “footage” of the Battle of Culloden, regarded as the confrontation that dismantled the clan system of the Scottish Highlands. Watkins’ innovative splicing of historical drama and television news tropes garnered accolades from audiences worldwide, and became a distinctive technique he revisited and refined in later films. As with The War Game, the remarkable performances he coaxed out of his amateur cast — many of whom were direct descendents of those who had been killed in the real-life Battle of Culloden — sparked unfounded rumors of actual cruelty. The perfect introduction to Watkins’ trademark anachronistic contrasts, Culloden is jam-packed full of urgent, necessary intimacy.
Dir. Peter Watkins, 1964, digital presentation, 69 min.

Watch Cinefamily’s original trailer for “The War Game + Culloden”!