Privilege (1967, Peter Watkins)

A very good movie, though it didn’t strike me as completely excellent – fascinating to see Watkins’ style applied to a fully fictional narrative. This movie’s complete obscurity and unavailability until two weeks ago on DVD really supports the director’s constant claims of marginalization. How can you continue your career when all your past work has been suppressed? It’s a glimpse at where PW’s career could have gone. Also interesting how all the reviews he quotes on the website attack the film’s shooting and editing style, calling it failed art, when I thought it was far more artfully put together than most movies of its time (although it’s not like I’ve seen BAFTA-winning A Man For All Seasons for comparison).

Paul Jones (former singer of top-ten UK band Manfred Mann) plays the top teen idol in Britain, Steve Shorter (sort of all four Beatles in one), who appeals to the youth with pain and rebellion, then is used by the government to promote peace and conformity. Sidetracks along the way for a love interest (who was supposed to be painting Steve’s portrait but that was dropped pretty quickly), TV commercials to push surplus apples, a Mr. Freedom reminiscent (not least of all for its effective cheapness, walls covered in tin-foil) “Steve-mart” superstore, and concert footage including the very nazi-rally-like concert finale (15 years before Pink Floyd’s The Wall). Sure Steve is a tool of the establishment, but he plays it too consciously, usually with an uncomfortable expression on his face (even in public).

Polish cinematographer Peter Suschitzky has had an awesome career, starting with The War Game, going through this and Gladiators, to Jacques Demy, to Ken Russell and Rocky Horror, to Empire Strikes Back and Krull, now shooting all David Cronenberg’s films since Dead Ringers (with time out for Mars Attacks). All great-looking films.

Watkins:

American novelist Norman Bognor and I adapted the script, which we retitled ‘Privilege’, to emphasize the significance of Steven Shorter as an allegory for the manner in which national states, working via religion, the mass media, sports, Popular Culture, etc., divert a potential political challenge by young people.

1970: the first ticker-tape parade in Britain’s history:
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Arty love interest Jean Shrimpton:
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Steve goes all Mike D. on this advertising billboard:
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Behind the scenes on the apple commercial:
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Set for the big rally:
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Steve drives the message home:
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Unlike the cop-out Boogie Nights reissue, this DVD includes the short bio-doc which was the inspiration for the film: Lonely Boy, about teen idol pop singer Paul Anka and his unreasonable screaming female fans. Lonely Boy was released in ’62, the same year he was second-billed (alphabetically, ha!) in The Longest Day with John Wayne, Robert Ryan and Sean Connery. Three years earlier Paul was in the MST3K classic Girls Town. The doc is good, made by two Oscar-nominated Canadians named Wolf and Roman, b/w in “verite” style, but there are voiceovers and lots of editing, so I’m not sure the label is appropriate. Anka is a cutie but his songs aren’t all that. He’s says to the camera that “it’s all about sex”, his manager admits to a nosejob, this was in ’62! Fun to watch them together, since Privilege steals a couple scenes wholesale from the doc.

Lonely Boy:
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