I was strolling down the Mall with Mike Froggatt, on our way home after seeing a couple of Peter Watkins films at the ICA. Specifically, 'Punishment Park' and 'Evening Land' (or 'Aftenlandet' if you're Danish or pedantic). 'Evening Land', in case you haven't seen it, which you haven't, is a pseudo-documentary (like most of Watkins's work) about a fictional strike in a near-future Danish shipyard which escalates into a full-blown revolution ('Breaking Free' style - although i guess this is a standard trope in Marxist fantasy). It's a fairly plodding film, and doesn't really do much to seduce the watcher. Neither the fact that the actors are all amateurs, the disjointedness of the plot, nor the absurdity of the large-scale riot scenes help that much.
What was the point of it, i wondered. Was it trying to persuade us that such a pathway to revolution was possible, and desirable? Was it a character study on ordinary people in extraordinary times? Was it just meant to entertain us?
Mike has a DPhil in Communist science fiction films, so, naturally, he had an answer to this. The film, he suggested, had nothing to do with us. The purpose of the film was to radicalise the cast. Apparently, this happened in the Soviet Union, where idealistic directors were sent to make films as a form of propagandising to the insufficiently zealous acting class. This was simply a western case, and the film itself is simply a by-product of this process. Or rather, it's a record - the film, which appears to be a documentary, but is universally read as a pseudo-documentary, is in fact an actual documentary, but what it documents is not a strike, but rather the making of a film about a strike - a film which does not exist (even though this film would be physically identical to the film which does exist). 'Evening Land' is an extension of the metacinematic approach of Morgan Fisher to the political as well as cinematic process embodied in the making of itself.
I disagreed. I didn't think Watkins was really trying to radicalise his cast. Rather, i thought that he thought that would be an interesting thing to do, and made a pseudo-documentary illustrating that process. The actors in the film were, essentially, playing naive actors being radicalised by a manipulative director. Unsustainably meta as this may sound, it is in fact the only explanation consistent with the desperate unconvincingness of the film-within-a-film-within-a-film; the story Watkins (or rather, the meta-Watkins) is telling his actors couldn't radicalise a putsch in a beer-hall. Rather, that unconvincingness is a knowing wink from the real Watkins to us, telling us that the story of meta-Watkins and his actors is just that, and inviting us to grin at the hopeless attempts of the filmmaker to instil revolutionary vigour in his unwitting cadre.
Mike wasn't convinced; i think he started to expound a more sophisticated theory, but to be honest, i don't remember much after that. We either got drunk or started talking about comics instead. Maybe both.