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  Privilege Follow The Leader
Year: 1967
Director: Peter Watkins
Stars: Paul Jones, Jean Shrimpton, Mark London, William Job, Max Bacon, Jeremy Child, James Cossins, Frederick Danner, Victor Henry, Arthur Pentelow, Steve Kirby, Malcolm Rogers, Doreen Mantle, Michael Graham, Michael Barrington, Edwin Finn, John Gill
Genre: Musical, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Britain in the near future, and the biggest star around is Steven Shorter (Paul Jones) a rock star who appeals to the rebellious side of youth. His act is based on his experiences when he was arrested and take the form of Shorter handcuffed and placed in a cage, where he is circled by men dressed as prison officers wielding batons. When he is let out, singing his number, he turns violent and attacks the officers who then retaliate as the crowd goes wild. But just how representative of rebellion is he? After all, he is backed by a coterie of advisors and managers who orchestrate his every move, and they have a new idea for their charge: rebellion is out and conformity is well and truly in.

Now almost forgotten, producer-director Peter Watkins' Privilege stirred up quite a measure of controversy in its day mainly due to its depiction of religion, or rather, religion's representatives. It employs the conventions of a documentary, if you will a rockumentary, and was in fact a fine example of the mockumentary although you shouldn't expect This Is Spinal Tap levels of hilarity. That's not to say there isn't humour in it, but at times the film appears to be something the Monty Python team might have dreamed up about five years later with its polite, matter of fact voiceover and non stop ribbing of the establishment. All it needs is a little more surrealism.

Watkins had already put noses out of joint with his television production about unwinnable nuclear conflict, The War Game, so his political savvy had evidently not left him when he began work on this. It was drawn from a story by Till Death Us Do Part creator Johnny Speight and scripted by Norman Bogner, yet at heart is simply another rock and roll story with its protagonist burned out, crumpled up and thrown away by this business we call show. As portrayed by Jones, he's a real miseryguts who numbingly goes through the motions expected of him until he meets another miseryguts in the shape of artist Vanessa (popular and appropriately trendsetting model of her day Jean Shrimpton) who has been employed to paint his picture but raises his consciousness instead.

The point is that Shorter, and by extension pop culture, is used by the authorities to keep the masses acquiescent and unquestioning. In this time, both major political parties have joined together after deciding they have too much in common, including their religion. Shorter is used as a figurehead to sell Christianity to the hoi polloi, exactly as he has sold them dog food and apples, and the story leads up to a mass rally of thousands with the star performing an inspirational song; not for nothing does it all resemble a fascist occasion. Indeed, Shorter's backing band show up for his big Christian number sporting black shirts, Union Flag armbands and demonstrating the Nazi salute in one example of how heavyhanded Watkins' send-ups could be here.

There was a mood of Privilege being a spoof created by someone with no sense of humour, and throughout in spite of the pastiche on display there was also that message making that told us this was too serious to be laughed at, at least not with much enthusiasm. By the time Shorter really starts to rebel, it is too late and any convictions he has are futile. Ex-Manfred Mann singer Jones is OK in the role, decent enough at looking deeply discomfited and uncomfortable when he's not singing to the worshipful throngs, but you get the impression what Watkins was actually after was a Mick Jagger, and the lead's devastating charisma you have to take as read. The whole cynical experience comes across as if this is your future and there's nothing you can do about it, which doesn't make for the most inspiring of films, but Watkins' technique is exemplary, some would say genuinely prophetic in its predictions of how politics and religion were reduced (assuredly not elevated) to showbusiness. Music by Mike Leander, including Jones's hit single I've Been a Bad Bad Boy, a suitably penitent tune for a self-flagellating (literally) celebrity.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Peter Watkins  (1935 - )

Critical, socially-conscious British filmmaker whose short films like Diary of an Unknown Soldier led to work at the BBC, making Culloden and The War Game, the latter proving so controversial that it was banned. He turned to cinema features with Privilege and Punishment Park, then went to Scandinavia to create incredibly long dramatic documentaries such as Edvard Munch.

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