Review: ‘The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins’

An overly righteous companion piece to Peter Watkins' monumental "La Commune (Paris 1871)," "The Universal Clock" spends as much time criticizing global marketers' rigid approach to docus as it does showing the vigorous and uncompromising auteur in action.

An overly righteous companion piece to Peter Watkins’ monumental “La Commune (Paris 1871),” “The Universal Clock” spends as much time criticizing global marketers’ rigid approach to docus as it does showing the vigorous and uncompromising auteur in action. Nevertheless, outlets showcasing Watkins’ epic will want to snap this up, too, as pic provides valuable background and context to his pic.

As long as helmer Geoff Bowie observes Watkins coordinating the intricate blocking of his large cast on the Paris warehouse location and expounding on the “Monoform” theory of creative prefabrication, pic sings with revolutionary energy. Selected thesps speak at length on their exhaustive preparation for roles and the communal nature of the production. Bowie also interviews suits at Mip TV confab in Cannes, who expound on title practice of standardized programming blocks (47.5 minutes to the hour, 23.5 minutes to the half-hour). Watkins, whose 120-minute film blossomed into the nearly six-hour docudrama on the Paris uprising, is no fan of this trend. Tech credits are fine, although Bowie’s ill-conceived, first-person narration (co-written by Gerard Grugeau, read by R.H. Thomson) serves to confuse the viewer and detract from pic’s focus on the visionary Watkins.

The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins

Canada

Production

A National Film Board of Canada French Program production. (International sales: NFB, Montreal.) Produced by Yves Bisaillon. Directed, written by Geoff Bowie.

Crew

Camera (color, Digital Betacam), Georges Dufaux, Gilles Papajak, Louis Durocher; editor, Petra Valier; music, Philippe Lapointe. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 14, 2001. Running time: 77 MIN.

With

Peter Watkins, Sara Louis, Anna Pano, Marie-Josephe Barrere, Kamel Ikachamene, Renaud Bazin. (French and English dialogue.)
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