Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Fall, The (1969)

Courtesy of Contemporary Films

Main image of Fall, The (1969)
35mm, 120 min, colour
A film byPeter Whitehead
Production CompanyLorrimer Films

Cast: Peter Whitehead, Alberta Tiburzi, Angelo Mannsraven; Original Music: The Nice, P.P. Arnold, Peter Whitehead

Show full cast and credits

A filmmaker charts events from Autumn 1967 to Summer 1968, exploring how the optimism and activism of the US counterculture turned to violence and disarray.

Show full synopsis

Funded as a sequel to the successful Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967), Peter Whitehead's most personal cinematic statement in fact took a radically different approach to its predecessor. The Fall charts the collapse of the 1960s counterculture and protest movement in New York, in a disjointed style (reflecting its subtitle, 'Film as a Series of Historical Moments Seeking a Synthesis').

The situation that confronted Whitehead as he began filming marked a cultural shift from 'flower power' to radical politics: riots, racial tension, assassinations (specifically those of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy) and the problem of how to respond to such events as filtered through the mass media. The making of the film was a particularly intense period of Whitehead's life and in its aftermath he apparently suffered a nervous breakdown, leading to his abandoning cinema at the peak of his talents.

Taking the idea of protest as a breakdown in communication, Whitehead used his subject to deconstruct the process of making a documentary film, putting himself and others involved in the production into the film as fictional characters caught up in the tumult of the events of 1968.

The actual events captured by Whitehead and his assistant cameraman Anthony Stern during the period from the 'Fall' (autumn) of 1967 to May 1968 provide the setting for Whitehead's fictional scenario, involving an English filmmaker just arrived in New York. Witnessing the decline of the protest movement, he resolves to become politically active and plans to carry out an assassination. He takes part in a demonstration, visits the October 1967 peace march on the Pentagon and, towards the film's climax, films a faction of student radicals as they occupy Columbia University's science department to protest its involvement in the Vietnam War. Whitehead was a participant in the events as they unfolded, culminating in the NYPD hacking down the barricades and rounding up the protestors.

At the story's conclusion, the filmmaker - Whitehead's on-screen persona - has been consumed by the preceding events, and as he completes the film within the film, images of Robert Kennedy's assassination torture his memories while his own image hovers before him on a television screen.

The Fall was largely misunderstood in its own time and suffered a hostile critical response when it was first screened, yet its critique of the mass media's dilution of protest and countercultural subversion remains highly relevant today.

Stuart Heaney

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Fear of images (1:32)
2. The girl on the New York subway (3:03)
3. The image of assassination (2:22)
4. On the roof of Columbia University (1:16)
5. NYPD penetrate the barricades (3:03)
Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967)
Whitehead, Peter (1937- )