The Politics of Form

Peter Watkins in a 1981 interview with Scott MacDonald (A Critical Cinema vol. 2), discussing the television miniseries Roots (if the quote seems jerky and repetitive, it’s because I mashed together snippets from several pages):

It’s pukemaking. I really can’t look at a narrative film anymore — not one with these traditional rhythms going on. The manipulation is so patent. . . . I would go so far as to say that to put the black experience into a conventional narrative structure is racist. Because you are feeding into a language that neutralizes it. How many people say, “I can’t even remember the film I saw last night.” You put the slave experience through the same rhythms as Kojak and Love Story and . . . well, I think that’s a real problem now. . . . In Roots, you’re given a seemingly bleak or radical look at history, which in fact isn’t at all because you’re swimming along in this warm reassuring Jell-O: the narrative form in which it’s given to you. . . . The point that I keep trying to hammer home these days is not only that the ideas on TV are conservative, but that the form with which they’re presented (even if there were ideas with which you and I might politically agree) defuses them.