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directed by Peter Whitehead
UK 1965

 

Legendary filmmaker Peter Whitehead was at the heart of Swinging London, chronicling the youth explosion, the burgeoning popular music scene and the counterculture of the 1960s. In March the NFT hosted a comprehensive retrospective of his work. Now the BFI releases two of his films for the first time; Wholly Communion (1965) and Benefit of the Doubt (1967), coupled with a new interview with Peter and additional rare footage. With over three hours of material, Peter Whitehead and the Sixties is a fascinating document of the radical, experimental, literary and theatrical scenes of 60s London.

On 11 June 1965, the Royal Albert Hall played host to a slew of American and European beat poets for an extraordinary impromptu event - the International Poetry Incarnation - that arguably marked the birth of London's gestating counterculture. Cast in the role of historian, as a man-on-the-scene, and massively elevating his limited resources, Whitehead constructed the extraordinary Wholly Communion from the unfolding circus. As Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Harry Fainlight, Alexander Trocchi and others took to the stage, Whitehead confidently wandered with his borrowed camera, creating a participatory and anarchic film that is as much a landmark as the event itself, and launched his career.

Following this success, Whitehead was invited to film a controversial new play, US, by radical theatre director Peter Brook. Building on the provocative question of Britain's relationship to America during the Vietnam War, Whitehead pushed the issue of complicity further, challenging the relationship between the actors - including a young Glenda Jackson - and their performances. Steadfast and provocative in its consideration of international relations and war, Benefit of the Doubt has troubling relevance to the current political climate.

Excerpt from BFI located HERE

Wholly Communion:
Whitehead's 33-minute Wholly Communion...made an immediate splash in part because the then 28-year-old filmmaker captured an epochal moment. June 11, 1965: An unexpectedly large (and mod) audience packed Royal Albert Hall to see Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso declaim with a gaggle of somewhat overawed but no less crazed British confreres. Hardly an evening of deathless verse, the event was a historic manifestation of transatlantic beat solidarity—"pot, impromptu solo acid dances . . . incredible barbaric color . . . face and body painting . . . flowers and flowers and flowers," per one participant.

Excerpt of review from J. Hoberman located HERE

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DVD Review: BFI (Peter Whitehead and the Sixties) - Region 2 - PAL

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 32:57
Video

Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.29 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic -

Edition Details:
• Interview with Peter Whitehead (44:26)
• Jeanetta Cochrane (5:50)
• Venessa Redgrave at the Royal Albert Hall 1966 (3:42)
• George Devine Memorial Play Performances

DVD Release Date: October 29th, 2007
Keep Case

Chapters 11

 

Comments

Pairing his "Wholly Communion" and "Benefit of the Doubt" under the title "Peter Whitehead and the Sixties", the BFI has seen fit to resurrect the career of this largely obscure, but still influential filmmaker. Whitehead, whose filmography is limited to a mere 8 films spread out over the 1960s and 70s, is today perhaps best know for the documentary short "Pink Floyd '66-'67". However, his career was largely spent chronicalling the counterculture of this era and not just its music. Here we get two such instances. In the first film, Whitehead presents the iconic "International Poetry Incarnation" held at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965. Aside from classic performances from the likes of Alan Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and a host of other poets, Whitehead's camera also captures the unique and undoubtedly chemically enhanced reactions of those in attendance. The elements combine for one entertaining experience. The latter film, however, I'm less enthusiastic about. Featuring a then unknown Glenda Jackson (who would later that year rise to fame in Ken Russell's adaptation of DH Lawrence's "Women in Love") and a host of other players, the film documents a wild and anarchic anti-Vietnam War play. I can't call the snippets of the play that we're shown good or even particularly interesting, but as a document of the 60's anti-war movement its invaluable. Perhaps more interesting, at least for some, will be the behind the scenes footage and interviews with the actors that are peppered throughout the film.

Both films have a fair amount of damage on the prints in the form of scratches and dirt, but are acceptable as it is. Both images are acceptable, and the pictures are indicative of what the rest of the films are like. There were no instances of artifacts and the grain (finer on the 35 mm "Benefit of the Doubt" than the 16 mm "Wholly Communion") looks acceptable. The sound is competent if unremarkable on both films as well. The first uses Dolby Digital 2.0, and the second Dolby Digital 1.0, and neither had any discernible background noise.

The disc comes with some rather lengthy extras. First up, there's a lengthy interview with Whitehead conducted by the BFI in which he discusses his work. Next, there's a very odd short film by him, "Jeanette Cochrane". I'm at a loss to describe the film, but I rather liked it. Next up is some footage of Vanessa Redgrave performing and playing guitar, which was shot by Whitehead. Finally, there are a series of stills shot at the International Poetry Incarnation.

While the films in this set are a rather mixed bag, there's enough in the set to recommend it.

 - Brian Montgomery

 



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(aka "Us" )

 

directed by Peter Whitehead
UK 1967

 

..."The Benefit of the Doubt"...is a serious sort of running commentary on a current highly controversial play, called "US," which has been put on in London by the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of Peter Brook.

Scenes of the play — a fierce and flaming satire on the war in Vietnam, done in a Brechtian fashion—are vividly intercut with intensely passionate talks with the actors, members of the production staff and especially Mr. Brook, out of which comes a stirring comprehension of the thought and emotion that went into the doing of this play.

By this technique of back-and-forth cutting, Mr. Whitehead gets the viewer much involved not only with the evident statement of the stageplay (which is clearly one of outrage at what is going on), but also with the community of theatrical people who are profoundly and intelligently concerned.

Excerpt of review from Bosley Crowther located HERE

Theatrical Release: September 26th, 1967

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DVD Review: BFI (Peter Whitehead and the Sixties) - Region 2 - PAL

Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:06:18
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.30 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Subtitles English, None

 


Screen Captures

 

 


 

 


 

 


 


DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

 

 




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