Monday, August 14, 2006

Privilege (1967) by Peter Watkins

  • Privilege in its entirety @ YouTube
  • Privilege trailer @

    Several cultural critics have pointed out the connections between rock music (+ pop music in general) and fascism. Rock has always prided itself as a music of freedom and personal expression, but when one starts to think about it, there are not really so many differences between gigantic stadium rock concerts and Nazi events like Nuremberg Rally; with their massive stage settings, the hypnotic, stomping rhythms; power trips for the masses making the rapturous fans raise their fists in the air... Fascism makes use of the underlying frustrations (social, economical, political, sexual), inhibited aggressions and latent violence mass society tends to create in its members -- the same fuel which can also be found behind rock's emotional energy. Drawing such comparisons even closer to the point, one such charismatic rock star as the late Freddie Mercury of Queen was called by his detractors "the Adolf Hitler of rock'n'roll". One can only ponder all the potential there to mass control and manipulation.

    Peter Watkins' 1967 film Privilege, starring Paul Jones (of the band Manfred Mann) and Jean Shrimpton (a "supermodel" of her own era), is a dystopian tale about a near-future pop star whose success is exploited for their own means by the powers that be. A totalitarian government and church well understand the importance of Steven Shorter (Jones), an extremely popular singer, to their own efforts of mass control, pacifying the youth dissent and religious domination.

    "Aren't you using this young man to further your own agenda?" a clergyman in the film is asked. He replies: "Well, in the middle ages the church used the inquisition to further our own agenda, and we think this is a lot less painful!"

    Rock's undercurrent of violence is also exploited by the film's fascistic government: in one concert sequence, the crowd watches Shorter sing a plaintive plea for love and understanding while locked in a cage surrounded by police officers armed with clubs. It is said that at least one scene in the film was copied by Stanley Kubrick for his Clockwork Orange.

    Filmed in a quasi-documentary way, Privilege was Watkins' only British feature film, and it was both a commercial and critical flop in its time. Privilege has since gained a cult film status, though, even if seeing it these days can be extremely difficult, only semi-bootleg DVD or video copies being available at the moment. (For me, this is another one I have liked to see for years but haven't, because of this poor distribution status.)

    Peter Watkins (born 1935) is known for such controversial film works as The War Game (1965), which with its disturbing scenes depicting the effects of nuclear war was banned by BBC. The Gladiators (1969) was filmed and distributed in Sweden, being another bleak sci-fi satire, this time foreseeing the so-called reality TV phenomenon, when the world governments decide channel man's aggressive instincts to a more controllable manner and start televised contests (with sponsors and commercials) between teams of selected soldiers from each country.

    Privilege @ Peter Watkins' own site

    Privilege article by Tom Sutpen @ Bright Lights Film Journal

    Privilege images @

    Peter Watkins @

    Peter Watkins @ MySpace

    Peter Watkins @ Wikipedia
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