The Gladiators (Watkins, 1969)

Impressive for its scope and range of critiques concerning highly important global issues, specifically the globalization of entertainment, military agenda’s seen through the lens of popular culture, and the impotency of reactionary forces against right wing hierarchies. In the future, the fictional “Peace Games” pits different countries against each other in a sort of Olympics/Roman Gladiators, a substitute for modern warfare and an attempt to attain international synergy through popular live television (kind of like Surivor, but with guns). Great idea, but Watkins’ film is incredibly disjointed, a jumble of fascinating situations cut together without any clear cut backbone or structure. Allies square off against the Communists, but very little human contact occurs, instead an unseen machine coordinates attacks between the rival forces. Feels like a lack of budget hindered Watkins from going all out, but he does foresee countless modern day complexities between war and entertainment which feel even more important today. Peter Watkins is a visionary, and The Gladiators shows his brilliant use of montage (toward the end he uses still photographs reminiscent of La Jetee). But Watkins’ pseudo-documentary style has been more effective elsewhere, namely his devastating The War Game.

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