Peter Whitehead
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Benefit of the Doubt

A colour documentary film made with Peter Brook and The Royal Shakespeare Company during their preparation and performance of the anti-Vietnam protest play with the deliberately ambiguous title - "US". This play was one of the first acts of experimental theatre in England to employ some of the new techniques evolved by Arthaud, The Living Theatre and Grotowski. The film won various prizes at film festivals. Spoleto. Melbourne. Mannheim.

It opened in Paris on 3rd May 1968 at the Luxembourg Cinema - two days later the cinema was behind the barricades of the student rebellion, the cashier gassed with tear gas and the film taken off, the cinema closed - despite excellent reviews! ("Tonite Let's Make Love in London" had also just opened three weeks before in Washington and was taken off after two days because of riots in the city after the Martin Luther King assassination.)

The film comprised colour excerpts of the play on the stage, with black-and-white interviews with actors, director and writers, and film of events created outside the theatre at various stormy meetings with the public, eager to debate the controversial play. The film follows the actors and director protesting before the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Peter Sainsbury (producer of all the early Peter Greenaway films) wrote in 1968...

"The war in Vietnam has become an on-going metaphor of evil for the world. How onlookers like ourselves deal with information about carnage and violation, and the idea of our own complicity in it, was the subject of an experimental theatre review staged by Peter Brook, written by Adrian Mitchell and acted by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967, entitled "US".

It was a natural subject for Peter Whitehead, a master of the philosophical documentary, with an innate talent for penetrating the significance of an action within its context; in this case a dramatically outstanding theatre event in the context of the dilemma of British artists and intellectuals in the face of their generationOs most profound experience of obscenity. These talents, together with his ability to make performers reflect rather than project (as evidenced in his other films, Charlie is My Darling, about the Rolling Stones - Tonite LetOs All Make Love in London and The Fall) are what chiefly enhance Benefit of the Doubt.

Whitehead resists the temptation to merely film the drama from the theatre stalls and rely on the prestige of the Company to sell his film. He attempts, rather, to expand the action by means of cinema. The camera participates in the action, involving the subjectivity of the audience in a way that mere spectacle rae rarely does - Hardly anyone is allowed to remain behind the scenes, and no-one gets away with anything."

In Paris the leading Cinema magazine asked of the film - "Est-ce une nouvelle forme de cinema? - Autre forme de "Living Theatre" ... etc"

With Peter Brook, Glenda Jackson, Michael Kustow, Michael Williams and the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company.