Privilege (Peter Watkins / United Kingdom, 1967):

A raging and thoroughgoing satire of pop messiah-dom and media puppetry, a ruthless dilation of John Lennonís droll little joke about Jesus. England in the near future is a coalition rule in need of major opium des volkes, "a useful diversion." Enter music megastar Steven Shorter (Manfred Mannís Paul Jones), caged and battered on stage before shrieking fans, ensuring that riots take place in the concert hall rather than in the streets. Hands outstretched in heartthrob supplication or mock-ecstasy when not filled with merchandise, the singer is a professional moaner, mesmerist, messenger, contorted fetish-object, "in every sense of the word a gilt-edged investment." He is also, as the documentarianís camera tries to follow him through a maelstrom of managers, sponsors and hangers-on, really a limp, withdrawn body doing the governmentís reactionary bidding, a muddy painting with blank eyes. When the product reaches its "saturation point," a new direction is sought -- a psychedelic cover of "Onward Christian Soldiers" by monkish mop-tops isnít enough, the melding of the political and the evangelical demands Stevenís shift from bad-boy masochist to Godís repenting lamb. The outraged thrust rests on Peter Watkinsís straight transposition of faux-BBC reportage from battlefields and radioactive cities to recording studios and joyless ceremonies, culminating in the Riefenstahlian pomp of the "Christian Crusade Week" rally, with its nationalist goose-steppers, neon crosses, and pulpit-pounding by FŁhrer-like bishops. (Ken Russell provides a concurrent inferno in Billion Dollar Brain.) Fascism, "is it a hit or is it a miss?" The starting point is not Richard Lesterís Fab Four but Antonioniís Yardbirds (Blow-Up); Take the Money and Run promptly takes up the apparatus, Stardust and All You Need Is Cash carry on the analysis, This Is Spinal Tap and Bob Roberts follow in due time. With Jean Shrimpton, Mark London, William Job, Jeremy Child, Max Bacon, and Michael Barrington.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home