Once Is Enough

Sometimes once is enough. However great or ‘important’ certain films are, once you’ve watched them you know that you’ll likely never choose to view them again.

There are some films, like DW Griffith’s pioneering 1915 classic The Birth Of A Nation, that any aspiring cinefile needs to have on their ‘to watch’ list, but after viewing all three racist hours of it you’ll probably not want to give it a repeat viewing.

These are just some of the films I’ve really appreciated over the years but have no particular desire to watch again.

Let me know some of your one-timers:

The War Game (1965)

The War Game

Peter Watkins’ trailblazing docu-drama made for the BBC about the devastating effects of a nuclear war on Britain won Best Documentary at the 1966 Academy Awards, but was shelved by a spineless Beeb in light of serious misgivings by Harold Wilson’s Labour government for more than 20 years. An important social document of what would actually happen should a nuclear missile strike that put the ‘duck and cover’ nonsense the people were being told into stark perspective, it’s a terrifying and harrowing experience that I wouldn’t wish to repeat any time soon.

Irréversible (2002)


Just as Christopher Nolan’s Memento had done two years earlier, Gaspar Noé’s notorious Irréversible employs a non-linear structure by starting at the end and working backwards in time to finish at the start. Infamous for its deeply distressing and prolonged rape scene, Noé’s second film also features bursts of stomach-churning violence that led to it becoming a poster boy of the New French Extremity movement alongside the likes of Inside and Martyrs. Noé has always enjoyed pushing buttons (his most recent film Enter The Void is just plain bonkers) and he pushed plenty with this one-timer.

Requiem For A Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream

Based on Hubert Selby Jr’s novel of the same name, Darren Aronofsky followed up his acclaimed debut Pi with this numbing account of several characters’ spiralling descent into a vortex of delusional drug addiction. Although Jared Leto’s Harry and Jennifer Connelly’s Marion are put through hell, it’s Ellen Burstyn’s devastating journey into the abyss of amphetamine dependence that proves the film’s real sucker punch. Burstyn’s performance as the pitiful Sara is as traumatic as it is brilliant (Julia Roberts beat her to the Best Actress Oscar for Erin Brockovich; a good performance but not on the same planet as Burstyn), and the final 15 minutes of the film is some of the most gut-wrenching cinema you’ll ever watch.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)


Of all the films on this list, Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salò is the one that I know for absolutely certain I won’t be watching again. Based on the Marquis de Sade’s book The 120 Days Of Sodom, Salò follows four corrupt Italian fascists who, following the fall of Mussolini’s tyrannical regime in World War II, kidnap a group of young men and women and subject them to four months of mental, sexual and physical torture, degradation and sadism. Passolini is making political points about how absolute power corrupts absolutely (tellingly the four men represent the church, the political establishment, the aristocracy and the legal system), but the sheer relentless suffering meted out to the men and women is almost beyond belief (the film was banned in several countries). Most certainly not for the squeamish.

Antichrist (2009)


Lars von Trier has long enjoyed a controversial reputation for his films and Antichrist remains possibly his most notorious work to date. Ostensibly about a married couple (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreating to a cabin in the woods to grieve following the sudden death of their child, von Trier shows in extremely graphic detail Gainsbourg’s ‘She’ going completely off the rails and Defoe’s ‘He’ experiencing increasingly bizarre visions. Throw in a talking fox spouting how “chaos reigns” and you have the sort of lunacy which one viewing will suffice. The film’s final 20 minutes involving an act of self-mutilation and a further act of extreme violence is pretty hard to watch once let alone several times.

Great Films You Need To See – Punishment Park (1971)

This is my second contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally-recognised magazine and website that offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. This piece about Peter Watkins’ controversial docudrama Punishment Park was written as part of The Big Picture’s self-explanatory Lost Classics section, although I am including it within my list of Great Films You Need To See.

The Boston Phoenix may have predicted Peter Watkins’ potent philippic on the frightening consequences of unchecked power was a “cult hit waiting to happen”, but 40 years after its controversial release it’s still twiddling its thumbs waiting for the world to catch on.

Peter Watkins' Punishment Park - "it's striking just how resonant the issues of the film still remain"

Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park – “it’s striking just how resonant the issues of the film still remain”

Watkins’ pioneering brand of radical pseudo-documentary filmmaking was always going to leave him shouting at the world from the sidelines.

His 1965 BBC nuclear war docudrama The War Game was judged “too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting” by Auntie and shelved for 20 years. Set in a dystopic America that Watkins could see on the horizon, Punishment Park never recovered from the hostile critical reaction it mostly received and sank without trace.

The 'prisoners' find the going tough in Punishment Park

The ‘prisoners’ find the going tough in Punishment Park

Dismissed at the time as nothing more than hyperbolic paranoia on the part of the director (The New York Times described it as “the wish-fulfilling dream of a masochist”), seen today it’s striking just how resonant the issues of the film still remain.

With the Vietnam War escalating, Nixon invokes legislation authorising a police state wherein those deemed “a risk to internal security” can be arrested and tried by a civilian tribunal. Presumed guilty, the hippies, draft dodgers and seditious types arrested for “hindering the war effort” are offered long jail time or three gruelling days in Punishment Park (or the option of signing a Hitler oath-style pledge of loyalty).

They fought the law, the law won in Punishment Park

They fought the law, the law won in Punishment Park

Promised liberty if they evade the police and National Guard and make it across scorching hot desert to capture the US flag 53 miles away, the ‘subversives’ who choose this option little realise their blood-thirsty pursuers have no intention of letting them gain their freedom (or, in some cases, letting them live).

The screw is turned as the film, comprised of faux BBC news footage narrated by an increasingly splenetic Watkins, cuts between the one-sided kangaroo court (its chairman, a politician, gags a prisoner for getting on his nerves bringing to mind Bobby Seale), the terrified rebels in Punishment Park and law enforcement officers hungry for action. In a cruel irony one runner tells the camera crew “I don’t think they’re trying to kill us”, before Watkins cuts to a sheriff describing how best to shoot someone.

The spectre of Bobby Seale looms large in Punishment Park

The spectre of Bobby Seale looms large in Punishment Park

Interestingly, the non-professional actors were cast based on their own political beliefs and were told by Watkins to let rip against each other as if the situation were real. As a result the scenes within the tribunal tent crackle with tension as the prisoners and tribunal members have what might be called “a failure to communicate” and end up screaming at each other.

Echoes of Punishment Park (and Watkins’ previous diatribe The Gladiators) can be seen in such variable fare as The Running Man, Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.

Filmed in the aftermath of and coloured by the Kent State massacre when the US was ripping itself apart over Vietnam, Watkins’ hellish vision of an America consumed by war and whose citizens are judged by their loyalty to the state may have been branded paranoia, but 40 years on looks pretty prescient when taking into account the War on Terror, Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay and lends credence to that old proverb ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.