"There is a strong case to be made that Peter Watkins is the most neglected major filmmaker at work today," says the Harvard Film Archive. "Over the course of 40 years the British-born director has managed, against trying and often adversarial circumstances, to produce a highly original and powerful body of work that engages the worlds of politics, art, history, and literature. That these films remain obscure is a function of such factors as suppression by producers or weak-kneed film distributors, surprisingly unsympathetic--at times hostile--critics, and the filmmaker's own legendary iconoclasm."

You've never heard of Peter Watkins? That's not surprising. As you can probably tell from the previous quote, his movies are not easy to find. Despite his legendary pedigree, I've not seen any of his films myself. La Commune (Paris 1871) is his latest, and it's nearly six hours long, which makes it a difficult film to program. Credit must be given to Consolidated Works for taking a chance on bringing this apparently amazing film to town. Split into two parts over Friday and Saturday, February 25-26, you can pay $7 if you only want to gamble on the first half, but $10 will get you into both.

The story behind La Commune (Paris 1871) is a little-known revolt by the French lower class, during which they took over the center of Paris in an attempt to set up a socialist commune. Infighting and dissension tore the group apart from the inside, while the royal army bombarded them from the outside. They held out for several months before the inevitable bloody massacre. Watkins uses recreations and a fake documentary approach that utilizes the conceit of a live Commune TV to document the action. Not only are the characters interviewed, but Watkins allows the actors playing the characters to talk about the issues that led to this eventually disastrous revolution, and how the repression of those ideals affects our lives today. In the hands of anyone with less than Watkins' 40 years of experience, this might be a scary proposition, but according to those who have seen it, the experiment pays off.

There are some who may want to use the current shakeup at Consolidated Works as an excuse not to go. I can't give you that permission. Despite adventurous programming, the film series at ConWorks have been underattended, and you shouldn't punish the artists for a misguided board. Plus, the admission allows you to walk through the gallery before the show, and you can say hey to Johnny behind the bar.

Now that your Friday and Saturday are booked, let me tell you what you should do on Sunday. At 11:00 a.m. at the Neptune, the fine folks at the Seattle International Film Festival are hosting a benefit screening of The Californians. Director Jonathan Parker, known for his Herman Melville adaptation Bartleby, starring Crispin Glover, is now taking on Henry James. Parker and his cowriter/producer Catherine di Napoli will be in attendance.

Finally, on Wednesday, March 2, you've got to check out 1960s Electric Arts Footage at the Seattle Art Museum. Media arts historian and curator Robin Oppenheimer, former executive director of 911 Media Arts Center, has brought together a screening of material not generally available to the public and not coming to DVD anytime soon, if ever. The presentation includes rare documents of early experiments with film and video from the '60s, from the likes of Robert Breen, Jud Yalkut, Stan Vanderbeek, and others.

andy@thestranger.com

Support The Stranger

Sponsored
Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.